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ISSUE 119 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/16/2005

Inside the Lines: Size matters

By Ryan Maus
Staff Writer

Friday, September 16, 2005

The sports world has undergone so many changes over the past half century that it is nearly impossible to list them all. Who, in 1955, would have foreseen that football would become America’s new national pastime? Who might have guessed that female participation in college athletics would reach over 150,000 in the 21st century? Who would have fathomed that professional athletes would someday earn millions of dollars simply for playing a game?

Despite the myriad of changes, almost nothing in sports has changed more in the past half century than the size of our top athletes themselves. Compare, for example, the top major league baseball players of the 1950s with the stars of today. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle (three of the greatest ballplayers ever) stood at an average height of 5’11” and weighed about 185 pounds each. 21st century superstars Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, and Vladimir Guerrero are all listed as being 6’3” and 225 pounds.

The height of the average American male has changed relatively little over the past forty or fifty years (it remains about 5’9”), but a considerable gap has been growing between top professional/collegiate athletes and the general population during that span. NFL linemen are the most obvious example of this trend. The weight of an average football “giant” rose from about 260 pounds in the 1970s to roughly 285 pounds by the late 1980s. Today, even though the average pro lineman is only an inch taller than he was in the 70s, he usually weighs 315-320 pounds. The NFL, which had only about two dozen 300-pounders in the early 1980s, but will feature almost 500 this season.

It seems that America’s obsession with super-sizing has spread to the sports world. Nowadays, a college lineman is barely recruited unless he is at least 280 pounds, a major league scout will hardly glance at a pitcher who’s under six feet tall and center who’s not a seven-footer won’t get a sniff in the NBA. Size is often the most important factor in determining how far an athlete will progress in his or her career.

Even in sports such as baseball and hockey, where size does not give one an inherent advantage (as it does in football and basketball), bigger players tend to play at higher levels. Compare the baseball and hockey teams from St. Olaf and the University of Minnesota. The average Ole baseball player is 6’0” 180 pounds, and the average Ole male puckster is 5’11” 185 pounds. At the U of M, a baseball player is most likely to 6’2” and almost 190 pounds, while a Gopher hockey player is 6’1” 195 pounds. For an aspiring athlete, two inches and ten pounds could mean the difference between a college scholarship and paying their own way through school.

At first glance, it seems only natural that athletes would become bigger, faster and stronger over time. However, the consequences of this size explosion have already devastated the sports world. Last month, 23-year old San Francisco 49ers lineman Thomas Herrion (who weighed 320 pounds) died of a heart attack after a preseason game. In wake of the tragedy, the NFL revealed that over 25 percent of its players are medically classified as “obese”, which poses serious health problems for them. Carrying around 95 extra “unnatural” pounds poses a serious health risk.

So no matter what your significant other tells you, know this: size does matter… At least when it comes to sports.

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