Shame on us

With the NBA and NHL postseasons underway, and a fresh new baseball season upon us, I thought I’d take the opportunity to ignore those boring things and write about something of deep social importance. One issue, in particular, has my attention this week, and I’m pretty sure I’m the first journalist brave enough to take it on.

I’m talking about body-shaming in professional football.

I didn’t realize how big this problem was until I saw it happen to a player I greatly admire, Packers running back Eddie Lacy. At the close of last season, Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy publicly shamed Lacy for being overweight after having benched him repeatedly down the stretch.

“He cannot play at the weight he was at this year,” McCarthy said in a January press conference, adding: “he’s got a lot of work to do.”

According to some accounts, Lacy has lost 50lbs. since McCarthy’s public fat-shaming. If Lacy continues to wither away at this rate, he’ll weigh less than his pads by mid-season. Scary.

The Lacy incident opened my eyes to the truth about body-shaming in pro football. It’s everywhere, and it has been for a long time.

When Iowa Hawkeyes star offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga entered the NFL Draft in 2010, scout after scout shamed Bulaga for having short arms. Because of these mean-spirited attacks, the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year fell all the way to the 23rd pick in the draft, costing him tens of millions of dollars over the life of his rookie contract, and probably hurting his feelings. Iowa lineman Riley Reiff was arm-length-shamed the same way when he came out in 2014, and there are countless other cases every year.

It needs to stop.

One need look no further than the very top of the 2016 NFL Draft for an example of body-shaming that’s happening right now. Most everyone agrees that the top two picks in next week’s draft will be spent on quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, but there doesn’t seem to be a real consensus as to whom the newly-re-relocated Los Angeles Rams traded a king’s ransom to draft No. 1 overall.

If the body-shamers have their way, it will be Wentz.

Just look at these descriptions of Goff from his scouting reports on NFL.com:

“While Goff (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) has the type of height coaches want in their quarterbacks, he still possesses a relatively thin frame that could use another 10 pounds…a little leaner in the lower body than teams might like.”

Why not just hand the kid a gallon of Haagen-Dazs and a razorblade?

Now look at what the scouts have to say about Wentz’s body:

“Carson Wentz (6-5 1/4) is not only more than an inch taller than Goff, he’s also 237 pounds and well-proportioned…a body type that is as prototypical as they come…”

The glowing praises being heaped upon Wentz are sending the message that there’s only one right way for a body to look. It’s disgusting.

But the body-shaming scouts don’t stop with Goff’s weight. The Cal QB, like reality television star Donald Trump, has dealt with public ridicule over the size of his hands, too. The shame-wolves started howling when Goff’s hands measured in at nine inches during the NFL Scouting Combine. Strangely, upon being re-measured a month later, Goff’s hands had grown by an eighth of an inch. It’s unclear whether Goff utilized drugs, surgery, or some sort of pumping apparatus to achieve his enhanced length, but what is clear is this: the young man was hand-shamed into physically modifying his body in order to conform to someone else’s standard. It’s deeply disturbing.

NFL body-shaming isn’t always as obvious as the cases I’ve described here, and we’ve come a long way since the days when Jared Lorenzen was openly mocked on national television with epithets too offensive to print here. But the problem is real, and it won’t go away until the NFL changes its culture. League officials are always talking about player safety being a top priority. If that’s true, NFL players should be allowed to do their jobs in a safe space, where they’re free to be comfortable in their own bodies.

Until we as a society stand up and put an end to this destructive practice, shame on us.

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