Wilfork is an Athlete, Hunter is a Hack

When I saw the name of Paul Hunter’s article my blood immediately started to boil “Are very hefty NFLers like Vince Wilfork real athletes?”  This is right up there with “Can you be fit and fat?”  as questions to which the answer is “Yes. Spend 10 minutes researching on Google, and stop asking”.

First let’s tease out the four different things that this article seems to think are interchangeable. Stereotypical beauty,  weight, athleticism, and health. These are four separate concepts and people can be any combination of the four including all of them or none of them.

Let’s start with stereotypical beauty.  We shouldn’t even have to mention this since the article is supposed to be about being an athlete but when Hunter chooses to quote a TSN football analyst saying “From the outside, not being derogatory, this guy looks like a fat pig” then we have to talk about it.  One wonders what Chris Schultz would have said if he WAS being derogatory?  In this article an elite athlete who keeps up a training tempo that most people couldn’t possibly match is also called “he poster boy for those who look like butter sculptures”.  Why do these reporters persist with the belief that everyone in the world need to fit their stereotype of beauty?  Vince isn’t asking Paul Hunter a date, he’s an elite athlete who is at the top of his game. I counted 12 fat jokes in this article. Try harder Paul.  Stop talking about his looks – it’s disrespectful and has nothing to do with anything.

Weight.  This is a big flaming sack of who cares.  The article comes very close to accusing him of lying about his weight. Let’s keep our eye on the ball here people – Vince can run the 40 in just over 5 seconds.  Go ahead and try to match that time, I’ll wait. Most people will not make it. Athletes come in all sizes, this is the size that Vince comes in.  Back off.

Health. The article does say that he does not have diabetes.  Other than that we don’t know anything about his health.  There is some talk about how when these guys stop playing they become much less active but eat the same amount of food and have health problems.  That seems to speak to the need for some optional transitional coaching to help these guys figure out life after football, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not he is an athlete.  There are athletes of all sizes and all abilities with all kinds of health issues.

Athleticism:  Let’s get this into perspective.  He can run a 5 second 50, he is one of the .2% of high school football players who ever make the NFL, and he is one of the even smaller group whose team made the damn Super Bowl.  What else do you want from this guy? Happily amidst all the fat jokes are quotes from people who actually know what they are doing who say that he and other athletes his size are unequivocally athletes. Hey, look over there, it’s a big flaming sack of Duh!

Throughout the article various “experts” call athleticism in people this size “puzzl[ing], absolutely stunning, shocking, really amazing, inspirational in some ways.” These are examples of weight bias. These things are only shocking because people have incorrect preconceived notions of what people of size can do.  If you’re struggling with this concept, try to imagine the feedback to an article that said “in spite of being women, they were really good at math.  It was shocking, puzzling, and inspirational in some ways.”

This is another example of the bullshit idea that the only “correct” outcome of exercise is thinness, when in fact many studies show that exercise mitigates most of the health issues correlated with being fat, but is not likely to make us thinner.

Let’s take a minute to examine this lose/lose scenario:  If we are fat they make fat jokes about us and tell us to exercise.  If we exercise and become successful professional athletes but fail to become thin, then we have to deal with articles that ask if fat people can be called athletes and a barrage of fat jokes, (instead of what should happen which is an apology and respect from people who are seriously rethinking their stereotypes).  Did anybody else see the movie “War Games”?  The only way to win is not to play.

But that doesn’t mean don’t move your body if that’s what you want to do, or give up on being an athlete.  It just means to remember that Paul Hunter and writers like him are hacks who go for the cheap fat joke, and those who choose to maintain weight biases are bigots and they can do that but we don’t have to buy into it.  We’ve already discussed the ridiculousness of the idea of a dancer’s body or a swimmer’s build, this is an extension of that.  If you want to be healthier, most studies say about 30 minutes of moderate exercise (which you can absolutely break up throughout the day) about 5 days a week will do it. If you want to take it farther and train for a sport, let me suggest that you ignore idiots and jerks, focus on your training and athleticism, and let your body size sort itself out.

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19 thoughts on “Wilfork is an Athlete, Hunter is a Hack

  1. You KNOW society’s attitude needs adjusting when men start making snide fat jokes at EACH OTHER!

    As for the billboard campaign, is there a deadline date to raise the money or the 1000 donors?

  2. Is it true that quite a number of sports writers are sports men that didn’t make it as far as they expected in their chosen field? If it is true that might go some way towards explaining their attitude.

    ❤ Pyx

    P.S. ❤ the War Games quote.

  3. Thanks for taking that nonsense apart in your usual incisive manner – It was so full of WTFery all I could do was yell ARRRGGGGH!!! while I was reading. I do intend to send the editor and writer a nasty e-mail once I calm down, as I am doubly annoyed that it appeared in my city paper.

  4. The article has at least one more infuriating detail– it attributes football players’ health problems to overeating/not losing weight after retirement.

    Recent research (and it hasn’t exactly been a secret) discovered that the reason football players die shockingly young (*average* life spans in their fifties) is cumulative brain damage from concussions and lesser impacts to their heads.

    I’m the only person I’ve seen hammering on the way people jump to the conclusion that the problem was fatness.

    Details of the research, and some comparisons to dog-fighting:
    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/10/19/091019fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=all

    Subconcussive trauma in high school football players:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/the_hidden_brain/2011/01/the_national_braindamage_league.single.html

  5. Reminds me of what one of my colleagues remarked at a conference on amateur sport where we were working: “Isn’t it great, there are no fat men here!” I responded that weight and good health are not inextricably bound together. She looked at me like a deer in the headlights and changed the topic.

    Well, at least I didn’t let her stupid comment go unchallenged.

  6. This is the one Super Bowl related article I can read today. The rest just make me want to vomit. But I congratulated my Giants fan coworker, because I’m gracious like that. My favorite (living) author posted about the game in his blog today (because dead authors can’t blog). Nothing constructive, mostly “Belichick is evil” (dead authors can’t blog and some living authors just shouldn’t). I’m scouring the Interwebs looking for proof. I must have missed the “Belichick invaded Poland and sent people to gulags in Siberia” lesson in Western Civ. Then again, I grew up in New England and we’re all biased and shit. Maybe my high school rewrote the history text books.

    Anyhoo, great great post. I love Wilfork and I love watching him play. The man is a beast, and has the biggest heart. I’m fat and a former athlete, and I was fat when I was an athlete, and I’m still incredibly athletic. I cannot believe how many people think that “you’re more athletic than you look!” is a compliment. I’ve been trying to think of a good comeback. “You’re smarter than you look” or “you’re a bigger bitch than you look” is just stooping to their level.

    1. I am very sorry for your loss. 🙂 I am neither a Giants fan nor a Patriots fan, but I live in the heart of my college football rival’s territory so I can relate. May next year be better for you.

      1. I think it’s less the loss that’s getting me (but that obviously stings) as it is the mean haters coming out of the woodwork and taking the opportunity to rub it in my face. Like, these people who watched the Puppy Bowl or just the commercials are popping up out of nowhere and teasing me. It’s stupid. I swear, some people just enjoy being mean-spirited.

  7. “Not being derogatory, but…”????

    Why am I reminded by the Southern “Well, bless her heart, but…” followed by nasty commentary.

    You don’t get to say anything you want about people simply by prefacing it with “Not being derogatory” or “Bless her heart.”

  8. Correction: “The only winning move is not to play.” #geekout 😉

    I ninjaed that article, albeit not in the best way. I said, “My counter question is, “Can someone who writes sensationalist, entertainment-based stories for the purpose of garnering attention for a living instead of real news still be considered a journalist?”

    From Merriam-Webster:

    ath·lete (noun) \ˈath-ˌlēt, ÷ˈa-thə-ˌlēt\ : a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina

    jour·nal·ist (noun) \-nə-list\ 1a : a person engaged in journalism; especially : a writer or editor for a news medium b : a writer who aims at a mass audience

    I guess the answer to both questions is a resounding yes.

  9. “If you’re struggling with this concept, try to imagine the feedback to an article that said “in spite of being women, they were really good at math. It was shocking, puzzling, and inspirational in some ways.””

    This reminded me of the “true story” (I put that in quotes because, really, you never know for sure unless there’s undeniable proof) circulating on FB about the lady on the airplane making a huge fuss about having to sit next to a black guy on a full airplane and the guy gets moved up to first class because he shouldn’t have to sit next to an insufferable person.

    Almost everyone who has re-posted it has been up in arms about how a person (the lady) could still hold onto such horrible views.

    Yes, I’m with them, but it makes me sad because I think, “you know, if you substitute the color with size, I wonder how that would be resolved/receipted?” Would it even be brought up? Would the people who cheer on the decision to move the man up to first class cheer on the decision to move a large person up to first class? How many people would complain that someone’s lack of self control gives them perks and it’s not fair? Or how about someone that big shouldn’t even fly?

    Not to harsh on a great story about a justice served, but there’s still so much more hateful ignorance that people don’t see as being just as horrible!

  10. Two words.

    Babe Ruth.

    One of the best pitchers of his day, until the Yankees bought him, and turned him into the best hitter ever. (Yes, some of his stats have been passed. No other player, however, has ever been as far ahead of his contemporaries – who are playing the same teams under the same conditions.)

    He was fat. By many standards, even of his time, he was badly out of shape. He couldn’t run worth anything… But anyone who can *both* pitch and hit as well as he did is unquestionably an athlete, and a remarkable one.

  11. Good post! I have nothing else to say, except holy crap 40 in 5 seconds? I don’t think I know anyone, skinny or otherwise, who could do that! whoa!

  12. When I was REALLY good at going to the gym, and had been focusing on weights for about six months, a random man came up to me one night in the grunting room (my name for the room with weights where the men grunt and develop hernias) and put his hand on my arm, looked sincerely into my eyes, “I wanted to let you know how proud I am of you.”

    I am sure some of his best friends are fat.

    More power to this football player I have never heard of! Go team!

  13. “Hey, look over there, it’s a big flaming sack of Duh!” That gave me a much needed smile. Just tonight my Mom was telling me how Jorge Garcia looks like a heart attack waiting to happen, and moments before making my way over here I saw a particularly egregious Weight Watchers commercial that made me flip off the TV and shout “$#@! you all!” (It included the line “I thought I’d be overweight and unhealthy all my life.” My head nearly exploded.)

    Thanks for being an oasis of sanity and compassion.

  14. That seems to speak to the need for some optional transitional coaching to help these guys figure out life after football, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not he is an athlete.

    I really agree with this and think exactly the same about lay people. HAES should very much be about that, transitioning from where you are so you can get towards where you would like to be. (If that’s what you want).

    Similarly those transitioning from disordered eating/eating disorders and weight loss dieting-let’s face it they are much of a muchness-should also have a sort of “cool down” phase.

    This is needed between any excess of inactivity or excess of activity and restoring a place of equilibrium.

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