Perpetuated by celebrity influences, aspirational advertising and the dark, swirling world of social media, the ugly act of body shaming takes shape both within private conversations with friends and very public conversations on the Internet. It’s a sad truth, but it’s one that needs to be addressed because of the incessant nasty comments that have the propensity to invoke anxiety, depression and prolonged issues with self-confidence that can permeate people’s lives.
While this is true for all people, it’s important to understand this also needs to be true in sports. Two glaring, easily accessible examples are the recent headlines surrounding Pablo Sandoval of the Boston Red Sox and Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers.
Both sports fans, and even sports writers (especially editors of student newspapers), don’t understand the lives of professional athletes. Some have better relationships and, thus, better access to players’ lives than others. But for the majority of people who pay close attention to sports, it’s simply not possible to understand anything beyond what we see on the field and what we’re told in mostly sterile media availability sessions. This applies not only to athlete’s playing styles, love interests, fashion choices and rhetoric, but also to their physical characteristics.
There’s no use in beating around the bush. Eddie Lacy looked overweight last season with the Packers. Gone was the explosiveness he displayed in 2014, and eviscerated was the speed and downright electric running style that defined his time with the Crimson Tide. There’s nothing wrong with making that obvious observation.
Where things go astray is when it is assumed Lacy looks the way he does because he doesn’t care. Because he eats too much. Because he’s lazy. The amount of unsubstantiated, presumptive moxie needed to make such an observation, whether in conversation or in a more public forum, is staggering. It ignores what’s going on in Lacy’s life, the factors that shape who he is and circumstances around him that alter his attitude. That type of supposition is thin, because it’s derived from a pale-minded perspective.
The same applies to Sandoval, and his criticism was further amplified because of the sport he plays. Baseball is undeniably slower, less involved aerobically and, unlike in other sports, players can chew tobacco and spit sunflower seeds while simultaneously getting shit done. It’s a game that involves a higher degree of tightly functional strength and skill without necessarily having to look like an NFL linebacker.
When unflattering photos of Sandoval surfaced last week as the Red Sox kicked off spring training, a flurry of social media posts, headlines and cable TV networks jumped all over the third baseman. Sandoval defended his fitness, but otherwise, no one really knows what went on with him this offseason, especially amid reports that he suffers from an eating disorder.
Being scrutinized is a natural part of living a life very much in the spotlight, but the body shaming of athletes needs to stop. I’ve been guilty of it, even recently, and even in reference to both Lacy and Sandoval. It’s another sad part of sports fandom that ignores the human factor that lives within, well, the humans we watch play sports. The common sentiment that athletes should always be chiseled, Gordon Hayward-looking statues because they’re paid to play sports is a simplistic declaration. It’s time to stop making presumptions and realize what we’re really doing, and who we’re really talking about. There’s an entire sea of emotional complexities that lie within the players we adore to watch, and even if those individualities are displayed physically in a seemingly negative fashion, it’s no one’s place to draw assumptions and engage in the ugly act of body shaming.