Issuu on Google+

The Point After

Why You Can’t be an NFL Athlete by Morgan O’Rorke

A

ccording to the NCAA, there are over one million High School football players. Out of those one million players, less than one-tenth of a percent will make it to the pros. What sets the 99.9% apart from the rest? Do they not work as hard the kids who will go pro? Maybe they don’t study enough football. Maybe they don’t have access to their own trainers or good training facilities. Maybe they don’t have the heart or determination to make it all the way. The answer is none of the above. The answer is genetics. Genetics dictate how athletic they’ll be, whether they make it to the pros or not. The National Football League is composed of the world’s greatest athletes. Just about every football-loving boy aspires to be an NFL player at one point in his childhood. This fantasy is supported by parents, coaches, Sports Illustrated

and even NFL athletes themselves. They are constantly fed lies; told by parents that they can be whatever they want, by coaches that they only need the heart and desire, and by athletes that all it takes is hard work and persistence. All of that is bullshit. To say that you only need to want it badly enough and work hard is simply untrue. While these lies are told with good intentions they ultimately lead to false hope for most. They might be beneficial for most by helping them develop a solid work ethic for future endeavors. However, the few that are lucky enough to make it to the pros won the genetic lottery. Their athletic ability comes from their DNA. Sure, they put in a massive amount of hard work, physically and mentally. However, their physical

potential and limits were determined before they were even born. A Tel Aviv University study conducted by Livshits supported the claim that a person’s genetics dictate what they will look like, how tall they’ll be, and even their predisposition to diseases. This study also found that genetics also determine a person’s

athlete, or even a college player, you need to be a mesomorph or close to it. However, just being a mesomorph isn’t enough. You’ll need many more genetic winnings to even have the potential to be a top-level athlete. Why doesn’t society want you to know this? Is it wrong to tell someone they can’t be something because they don’t have the genes for it; that their parents didn’t have the perfect DNA to make them an elite athlete? Society thinks so, that’s what why we prefer to give kids the false hope that if they work hard enough and do all the right things that they can be whatever they want. This makes NFL players into role models, not to say they shouldn’t be, but they should be looked up to for their actions not their athletic talent. It’s time for society to accept the facts, not look past them. We are in a time where people don’t want to be told what they can or cannot do. We believe in freedom and that people can become whoever they want. Want to be rich and successful? Be it. Want to be athletic

...pros won the genetic lottery. build; they might be an ectomorph(skinny), a mesomorph(athletic/ muscular), an endomorph(heavy set), or they might fall somewhere in between. While this is commonly known, society doesn’t like to accept the fact that genetics also determine athletic potential. They don’t tell you that to be an NFL


and famous? Be it. Want to be a cop, firefighter, astronaut, doctor, or truck driver? Be them. Everyone can be anything they want because we are all equal and everything is fair. What we don’t realize is that that’s life. Life isn’t fair, not everyone is equal. Some people are tall, some are short, some people don’t have any hair, some have too much hair. Some people are smarter than others, some more athletic, some are both. That’s the way life is. To tell your kid that he can be an engineer or physicist despite his inability to pass basic high school algebra is simply untrue and misleading. It’s also misleading to tell your obese, 6 foot 6

inch 14-year old son that he can be a jockey. And it’s definitely misleading to tell your 18 year old 46

Sports Illustrated

son who’s never played a down of high school football despite being on the the team for four years that he can play in college or even the NFL. It’s simply untrue. Parents simply don’t want to limit their kids and tell them that they cannot do something, even though they really can’t do something. This is a mistake though. What if you told your kid “Sure Eric, you can play in the NFL if you’re really dedicated and if you really put your mind to it.” Or you could also say, “Eric, you’re not genetically inclined to be a football player. You should dedicate your time to something you can be more successful at like ballet.” It would be good for people to be told the truth. Very little research has been done on genetics and their affect on sports. Even less football-specific research has been done. This would be a problem if DNA only contained information for sports. If genetic code dictated how well a person could throw a baseball, how well they could hit a golf

ball, or their ability to make three pointers then sports would be completely different than they are now. If genetics did that, rich people and governments would be making perfect athletes for every sport. Many aspects go into making an NFL athlete. These aspects change depending on one’s position. An endo-mesomorph (fat, but muscular) is suited to being a lineman and has absolutely no chance to play a “skills” position like receiver or running back. A true mesomorph (muscular) is suited to being a linebacker, fullback, or even a running back. They are almost as strong as the lineman, but have much less fat and a much greater ability to move quickly. Receivers and defensive backs are usually ecto-mesomorphs (skinny, but muscular) who can move extremely quickly. The quarterback need not be the fastest or most muscular player on the field, but that doesn’t mean genetics don’t play critical role in their ability. They need to be tall, and in most cases, very fast. All of these players have a muscle composition dominated by explo-

sive Type-1 muscle fibers and an aerobic capacity defined by the potential for a large peak oxygen

uptake or VO2 max. A look at the history of Olympic events will show that some sports have been dominated by countries for many years. One


example is the longtime success of East African distance runners. A study done by Dr. Robert Scott

and Dr. Yannis Pitsiladis for the International SportMed Journal found that East African athletes had higher level of gene variants than did the rest of the population.

These genetic mutations were made possible by the isolation of the East Africans. The Soviet Union used to dominate Olympic weightlifting, but not because they were more likely to have a genetic mutation. They dominated the sport by selecting those who were genetically inclined to be good weightlifters. Soviet coaches would go to elementary schools and tell every kid to jump as high as they could. They would take the top kids from each school and train them to become weightlifters. Jumping, being a test of explosive power, was used to determine muscle fiber composition. A high level of explosive Type-1 muscle fibers is crucial to be successful in the sport of weightlifting. A collaborative study carried out by the top universities and research centers of Portugal and Spain found the genetic effect on peak oxygen uptake to be from 40-70% and 30-90% for anaerobic power. Not only did they find that a person’s VO2 max was heavily influenced by genetics, but the trainability of their VO2 max was also heavily influenced as well. This indicates that genetics influence both an initial starting rate and

a potential for improvement. A study done by Wolanski using twin siblings found a high level of genetic influence on phenotypes responsible for hand grip strength and running speed. This study furthered the notion that genetics play a crucial role in athletic ability. If you ever find yourself on the sideline of an NFL game, or even in the lower seats you’ll realize just how big and fast these athletes are. The sheer size of the players is sure to drop jaws. One thing that almost all NFL players share is their large size. The average American male is around 5’9’’ tall and 172 pounds according to a study carried out by the National Center for Health Statistics. The average NFL athlete is 6’2’’ and 255 pounds. This is significantly taller and heavier than the average male. A study consisting of 180,000 people found that up to 90% of height variation is due to genetic factors. Hirschorn and Lettre were able to identify more than 108 influencing genetic variants. The importance of size in NFL athletes is even more crucial with lineman. The average NFL lineman is 6’5’’ and weighs an immense 320 pounds. It’s obvious that height alone is an ex-

tremely important genetic factor for NFL athletes. Height and body size is one thing that no amount of training can improve. This is why NFL, College, and even High School scouts look for athletes who are tall and have a large body. They know that they can do absolutely nothing to influence a player’s height and very little to change their body size. While an athlete can go up or down in weight, especially with the help of performance enhancing drugs, they can not change their body frame or their potential for muscle mass. What about performance enhancing drugs, better known as steroids? The use of steroids in competitive sports has been around for over 50 years. About 20 years after the development of steroids, the Soviets began to administer testosterone via injection to their weightlifters. They revealed this to the U.S. Weightlifting doctor who began to work on a refined version without the side effects of testosterone. He developed dianabol, used by former governor and professional bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, it remains one of the most commonly used 47


steroids today. The taboo surrounding steroids has made them out to be something they’re not. Steroids are not, and will never be, a substitute for genetics. You could take all the steroids you want, but you still would never look like Arnold, play like Terry Bradshaw, or bike like Lance Armstrong. Steroids are a means to temporarily surpass one’s genetic limitations. Few athletes have admitted to using steroids in fear of being labeled a cheater. What most people don’t know is that a large percentage of NFL players use, or have used, performance enhancing drugs. Research carried out by the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill linking muscle and joint injuries to steroid use found that nearly 10% of retired NFL athletes admitted to using steroids. Injury rates have increased dramatically despite the advancements made in protective equipment and athletic care. The correlation between injury rates and steroid use along with testimonies from current players indicates that steroid use may be much more common than once believed. While steroid use among players is more common than most would like to believe, it is not the reason they are 48

Sports Illustrated

able to play in the NFL, it is merely a performance enhancer. There has been one study aimed specifically at NFL athletes and their genetics. 23AndMe, a personal genetics company, carried out the study by comparing 100 current and former NFL athletes to the average Joe. The study looked at the players’ genetic code in an attempt to identify any genetic variations associated with athletic ability. They also looked at a few specific genes linked to athletic ability. 23AndMe did not find genes linked to athleticism to be any more common in NFL athletes than the average Joe. So that proves that anyone can play in the NFL if they just work hard enough, right? Wrong, Daniel MacArthur of ScienceBlogs describes 23andMe’s claims as “fallacious.” He points out that 23andMe’s genotyping chip “doesn’t include any variants with an extremely strong association with NFL prowess.” He also points out that a study aimed to identify a “highly complex trait” that has a sample size of only 100 has almost no chance of finding any positive results. Family and twin studies have already linked athletic ability to

genetics; this study attempted to link specific genetic variants to a very small sample size, unsurprisingly yielding no positive result. The study also involved players of every position so 23andMe’s inability to find any common genetic variants is again unsurprising. Athletic ability is heavily influenced by genetics as demonstrated by studies of genetic mutations and variants and twin studies. Variants in genes and specific generic traits can dictate a one’s potential for athletic ability. These variants also dictate a list of qualities critical to making a successful NFL athlete like height and body type. Just the fact that NFL athletes, on average, are five inches taller and 83 pounds heavier than the average American male indicates that genetics are crucial to a successful football career. To add to that, the influence of genetics on body type, muscle composition, and aerobic

capacity only puts the icing on the cake. These qualities are extremely important in determining athletic potential. You need to have great genetics for all of these traits to even have the potential to be an NFL athlete. Then you’ll need years and years of hard work and knowledge of football to have the chance to play in the NFL. So I’m sorry to the 99.99946% of you, but you can’t be an NFL athlete.


Why You Can't be an NFL Athlete