Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wow, ESPNW has some weight issues

I've been lukewarm on ESPNW since its inception for many reasons.
Now I have one more: this article about how fat baseball players are. Well, not exactly an article. It is listed as an opinion piece. Still...
So in light of MLB's All-Star Game and based on some observations, writer Amanda Rykoff is pointing out how large some baseball players are--as in overweight. An additional motivation, as stated in the opening paragraph is "to laugh and poke fun at some absurdities in the sports world."
Let me just own up to the fact that I was observing a young guy in the gym the other day who has clearly bulked up in the last year. He was wearing a UMass Baseball t-shirt. And it made me think "is he too big to play baseball effectively?" Of course he could simply be a fan and not a player. And he isn't fat--just bulky. Still, I thought about how/why larger players can and are prized in baseball. I have theories about the focus on home runs and some masculinity issues, that I won't explore here. But in the end, I just thought that it must be more difficult--if you don't hit the home run--to get around the bases when you are carrying more weight--whether that weight is muscle or fat.
But of course different sports--and different positions within any one sport--require different physiques. As Rykoff herself notes, larger pitchers have been found to be more effective than smaller ones. Unfortunately she kind of presents it in a Barbie-I don't-really-know-what-this-science-thing means way:
"We won't get into the physics of it, and frankly we're not even sure why it's true."
It's problematic that she is implicating all of ESPNW and saying that these women basically don't know what they're talking about here.
Which, in the end, makes the piece look even cattier. While there may be overweight players, their performance cannot be so hampered by their weight that they are grossly ineffective. This is professional sports, people. They aren't paying these men millions to play poorly. If this is a commentary on baseball--that it's a game where overweight people can be successful--then say that.
But you can't say that, right? Because there are plenty of sports where being bigger is an asset--a necessity even. And there are sports where slimming down helps performance even when the sport requires a larger physique.* And there are always trade-offs.
Even as Rykoff keeps a light tone and tries to present this opinion piece as just a little jab at fat baseball players, she is potentially implying so many other things. Fat is gross. We don't want to see it. No athlete should have fat. Having fat makes you less of an athlete and fat athletes reflect poorly on and bring down their sport.
Here's the thing, though. I kind of get it. Even knowing that successful athletes are required to come in all different shapes and sizes, I think it still stinks that male athletes get away with being overweight in a way that female athletes do not. And by get away with, I mean they are criticized far less. That criticism about their weight, when it comes, is made in relation to performance and not aesthetics.
I'm not a proponent of equal opportunity bad behavior, but Rykoff is doing what countless writers and commentators have done to female athletes. It's not right. But if fat is "gross" on a female athlete, and it isn't viewed similarly--or as similarly--on male athletes, well...double standard.
But, unfortunately, this is not the point Rykoff makes. She doesn't even come close to it. It's just a jab. It doesn't make the larger point about how overweight female athletes are treated differently--are less prized--ignored even.
And that is one of my big problems with ESPNW. They aren't doing the hard work. They're taking pot shots and leaving the bigger issues unaddressed. And I think it makes them look bad.

* I saw, last week, an MTV True Life about former high school football player Holly Mangold who is now trying to become an Olympic weight lifter. She slimmed down, which helped her performance, but is still a large woman. I plan on writing more about her and the show later.

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