Read Me: The best-athlete argument

29 12 2009

There’s a lot of stuff on the internet. Sometimes, you don’t get a chance to read stuff you should really be reading. From time to time, I like to point you to a certain place on the interwebs, to a certain article or post that you should very much read. This is one of those times.

If you’ve ever spent a significant amount of time around two people who love to talk about sports, you can see discussions happen before they occur. It’s like watching something in slow-motion, and so long as you’re attentive to the world around you — specifically the context clues that occur for the specific discussion that I’m going to map out for you — then it’s like having your own low-wattage super power.

Sooner or later, Sports Enthusiast A, we’ll call him Buford, will say to Sports Enthusiast B, we’ll call her Enid, “Did you see Athlete X make Play Y?” In which Enid will reply, “It was most amazing, he’s one of the best athlete’s I have ever seen.”

They might go back and forth, sharing opinions about who they believe is the best athlete in the sport of note, but eventually, either Enid or Buford will ask this question:

“I think that players in Sport X are the best athletes overall.”

Here’s the question that can turn a nothing comment (“Did you see Athlete X make Play Y?”) into a long and spirited debate, one which can quickly turn into an argument if handled by lessor debaters.

People fall on all sides of the gamut: Some opt for the traditional “power sports”: basketball, football, hockey. Some people go for alternative routes: swimming, wrestling, decathletes, gymnasts. But rarely do people wind up with the same answer.

Why?

Because “the best athlete” is super subjective. Does it mean strength? Speed? Stamina? A concert of the three? What about hand-eye coordination? What about decision making? Where should the line between mental and physical be drawn? See, Buford and Enid won’t have the same formula in their head, which is why their debate will probably end up being pointless and unhelpful.

Until I read this.

The genius at Free Darko is their ability to look past the superficial and bring more salient, important points to light. Congratulations Free Darko, you did it better than I could ever hope to. Instead of making an argument for the best athletes, Free Darko merely helps us understand how we should contextualize the definition of “athlete”.

Read it, then when you see Buford and Enid revving up to have their “the best athletes are found in Sport X”, you can make sure to inform both of them the difficulty of the definition, and maybe even lay some middle ground between the two.

[After a hearty, intellectual stimulating article, sometimes you need to wash it down with a few dick jokes. Drew Magary’s Monday Morning Quarterback columns featuring the ramblings of Peter King always provide.]

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