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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