Wednesday, May 26, 2010

When reality contrasts with appearance

One man described himself as having "hands and wrists that don't work" and four bolts holding his spine in place. He spent much of the last two years flat on his back.

Another man was barely able to pick up a fork or sign his autograph.

What do these two have in common? Our perception of them as superior athletes. Because they were.

The first man, subject of a recent T.J. Simers column, is former basketball great Bill Walton. The second one was football great Johnny Unitas (obituary here).

When young kids are encouraged to participate in athletic activity, they are told to model healthy habits so that they can be as healthy as professional athletes.

But as the stories of Bill Walton, Johnny Unitas, and countless others show, professional athletes aren't all that healthy. And you can also look at current athletes - just looking at my local basketball team, the Los Angeles Lakers, there are a number of players (Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum, Bill Walton's son Luke, and others) who are battling or have battled injuries over the last few weeks.

The Simers story on Walton prompted me to tweet

the @LATimesTJSimers column on bill walton's medical woes reminded me - pro sports stars seem to be the unhealthiest people on earth.

And I'm only focusing on people who are playing the game correctly. When you include people like Lyle Alzado who abused their bodies, the percentage of unhealthy athletes rises.

But there are many of these contrasts. Not only do we have reputed athletes who are unhealthy, we also have reputed innovators who don't innovate, reputed open source champions who run extremely proprietary operations...the list goes on.
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