Poor Karl Malone.

It seems no matter how hard the poor guy tries, he can't seem to please everybody. He pounds up and down the basketball court game after game working like a draft horse but can't quite bring home a ring for himself and a title for the fans.And then, when he decides to do something just for the fun of it, he gets lambasted by every sportswriter in town for "lowering himself" and degrading the elevated business of playing basketball for a living.

C'mon.

Karl isn't exactly a brain surgeon or a cancer researcher. He's not the mayor or even an official in his church (as far as I know). The image everybody seems so worried he might tarnish is the image of a professional athlete, after all.

When Karl climbed in the ring last weekend with Dennis Rodman and a bunch of professional wrestlers, he wasn't lowering his standards. I'm not even sure where the career standards of a professional basketball player would fall in the rankings, but, wrestler or hoop king, what professional athletes do for a living is entertain. Different audiences, maybe. Maybe not. But it's all a physical contest - both in appearance and performance.

I say let the man have his fun. Actually, we should applaud Karl for doing something he really wanted to do and telling the media and the rest of the world to go climb a tree.

I can empathize. Though Karl and I are a few years apart, I remember well being in my mid-30s and feeling the pangs of my first mid-(early/late-or-whatever)-life crisis. In my case, I'd spent my 20s finishing school, being pregnant, nursing babies and changing diapers. By the time I hit 34, I was ready for something totally different - and more fun.

I started running in races, playing soccer, coaching, staying away from home as much as possible and dragging the kids with me - they were young enough to be forced into it.

When I saw Karl making a perfectly wonderful fool of himself with the likes of Diamond Dallas Page and Hollywood Hogan, not to mention our pal Rodman, I couldn't help but recall some of my soccer buddies and the hilarious good times we all had.

A certain goalkeeper had a particularly widespread reputation. Her name was Bambi and she bore a marked resemblance to Diamond Dallas. She had a habit of hunching over, apelike, in the goal and making gutteral sounds when opposing players brought the ball into her territory. Her job was to intimidate the other team's forwards. She was good at her job.

Then there were a pair of sisters whose name escapes me. These were forceful women I'd put up against Malone in the ring any day. One was ejected from a game - and the league - for knocking an opponent to the ground, then kneeling over her, choking her.

So I understand. Wrestling probably isn't what Karl wants to do for the rest of his life, but it's a good midlife change of pace for a guy who's just a little tired of the same ol' thing.

I heard Karl tell an interviewer that he thinks it's time he did "what Karl wants to do." He said he loves basketball but rasslin' was something he'd always loved to watch and wanted to try. I say go for it, Karl. It isn't any more demeaning than appearing on late-night talk shows.

And if you want to try beach volleyball or bull riding or sky diving, I think you should do that, too. Those years slip away quickly, and sometimes the body goes with them. There comes a point when people - no matter what their state of inebriation - won't be interested in watching you rassle shirtless.

Life's too short to worry about your image. Go for it, Karl.