A Level Playing Field

In lecture last week it was brought up that “the best way to be an outstanding athlete is to choose your parents”. Although this is perhaps not how we usually want to perceive athletic excellence, the merit within the statement is undeniable. The immediate instance that comes to my mind is that of the Manning family. Peyton and Eli Manning are not only brothers but also extremely talented and renowned NFL quarterbacks.

Brothers Eli and Peyton Manning congratulating each other after a game.
Brothers Eli and Peyton Manning congratulating each other after a game.

Eli Manning is twice a super bowl champion and MVP, and also holds the consecutive start record in the NFL. Peyton Manning is a five-time league MVP, a thirteen time pro-bowl selection, a super bowl champion and MVP, and just recently the holder of the new career touchdown pass record in the NFL. These boys definitely fall within the category of being a “freak of nature”. And one can argue it mostly originated from their luck of birth, to be born into a family in which their father was the talented Archie Manning. Archie was a beloved quarterback at Ole Miss, where he was named the South-Eastern Conference Quarterback of the Quarter Century. Even with a less than auspicious NFL career, he is still regarded as an extremely talented athlete, a trait that was doubtlessly passed on to his two sons.

This brings up our debate during discussion on equality, specifically the equality in competitive sports. Is there equality in professional sports if Peyton and Eli have these inherited genes for athletic prowess from their NFL father, whilst playing against guys whose parents’ athletic accomplishments amount to nothing more than middle school football teams? Does this really fit under the title of “fair”? This insinuates that perhaps there is more to talent that just some random distribution due to chance or luck.

The Manning lineage sets up for a throw.
The Manning lineage sets up for a throw.

But really what this all hinges upon is how we want to define equality. Is it the equality of opportunity? Maybe it’s the fairness of the game, that one player shouldn’t have any great advantage over another. But imagine if this “no advantage” idea was taken all the way down to the genetic and hormonal level. In the case of Caster Semenya, that would mean giving her hormone injections to boost her “femininity” or even in a more imagined sense, changing her genetic makeup to fit that of the average female. This would be equivalent to suggesting that every player in the NBA should be the same height because only then would it be completely equal.

Personally, I believe that equality of opportunity is the best we could hope for; that every child is given the same chances to improve or to try out for the next level. If they are blessed with some type of innate talent, well then that is just what makes our sports as interesting, diverse, and competitive as they are.

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9 thoughts on “A Level Playing Field

  1. This article addresses a fascinating issue, which is making it to the top with innate or inherited athletic ability versus working hard to make it. The reality is it takes both. The Michael Jordan’s of the sports world are once in a generation because he had more talent and still worked harder than anyone else in documented history. Hard work beats ‘talent’ when ‘talent’ doesn’t work hard but when ‘talent’ does work hard, the result is a once in a generation athlete.

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  2. Genetics has always been a central idea surrounding the world of sports. We see time and time again the sons and daughters of world-class athletes become extremely successful in the world of sports as well. Was their athleticism inherited from their parents or is it just a coincidence that they are great athletes like mom and dad? This is a compelling question that leads to the idea of equality in sports. In my opinion, there is no such thing as equality in the sports world, or in life for that matter, and if there was it wouldn’t make sports what it is today. If every basketball player was the same exact height and the same exact speed, there wouldn’t be five distinct positions. Furthermore, if everyone was the same there would be a constant struggle and there would not be an emergence of superstars. As sports fans we live for greatness. Guys like Lebron James and Michael Jordan keep us glued to the sport because we always want more. If everyone was equal, there wouldn’t be guys like Lebron or MJ. Nobody is the same, and nobody is created equal and that is what makes the world go round. Just as the author of this blog stated, I think the best we can strive for is equality of opportunity, and even that is a hard goal to reach.

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  3. Good job pointing out the Manning brothers, i hadn’t thought of that. I would argue however that gene pools don’t necessarily. I can guarantee that there are countless extremely athletic parents who kids are either not at all athletic or not as athletic as there parents. Im also sure the inverse is true. While they may be the exception not the rule, when you get to this level of competition. The best athletes in the NFL probably didn’t have parents who were that athletic. And if these same athletes have kids, i doubt there kids will be this athletic. Within the same gene pool there is a lot of variation. The manning brothers are the perfect example. They come from the same parents but you would be hard pressed to find someone who think Eli is even close to as good as Peyton and this is coming from a Giants fan.

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  4. This post’s connection to the Manning family is a great one. Athletic ability, along with many other skills are usually possessed by parents first, and then passed down to the kids. Equality is what everyone yearns for; we all want the equal chance of being the star quarterback, but many times that just will not happen due to many factors not just dealing with genetics. Sometimes it has to do with a child’s upbringing and what their parents value as important, and other times it has to do with the surrounding environment. While the Manning brothers both were given extreme athletic skills, they were also brought up in an environment where football was a major part of life. If Archie Manning decided not to let his boys play football, then we could possibly have missed out on two of the greatest quarterbacks of our generation. Making the playing field at a professional level equal is just not what makes sense after the years of hard work that these athletes must endure to be the best at their profession.

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  5. By bringing up the idea of genetically modifying people to be completely equal, you’ve brought to mind two interesting points. Firstly, by crediting the Manning’s dad as the origin of their talents, the idea is left open that pro-athletes could feasibly all get married, and have children that are extraordinarily athletically gifted. I don’t know how often pro-athletes marry one another, but it would be an interesting study to observe the physical abilities of their children. Secondly, if we give hormone supplements to athletes like Caster, or regulate the height of our professional athletes like the Manning brothers, physical characteristics will stop being defining of athletic ability. If everyone has equal physical talents, differences in sports, and consequently competition, will become determined by people’s minds. The ability to win will come from having the best strategy, or the best mind for the sport. It is not a far jump then that, after forcibly regulating and equalizing people’s physical abilities, scientists and sports regulators would demand that everyone had the same intelligence too.

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  6. I totally agree & this reminds of me our discussion a couple weeks ago! When Rae asked if it would be fair to genetically/hormonally leveled the playing field and someone suggested that that would actually be a good idea! What at all would be the point of sports then? Sports would be boring and be based on luck, not on skill whatsoever. This relates to Hobbes’s idea of fairness in unfairness; athletes have different levels of hormones/different genetics, and each athlete has their own secret weapon that gives them a slight advantage over the guy next to them on the field.

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  7. I completely agree that equality in sports should be limited to equality of opportunity. The entertaining and thrilling part about sports is that there is a difference in skill level. We see superstars, we see role players, and we see cinderella stories. The deviation of skill level and talent paves the way for hard work and coaching. Without competition, where does coaching come in? I enjoyed the part about the Manning brothers, but I do not necessarily agree with it. Some of the greatest athletes of today are individuals who were just born with motivation to be the best.

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  8. Great post! I agree that having athletically gifted parents is a very helpful factor in becoming a star athlete, but that alone is not nearly enough. Hard work and insane amounts of training, in addition to natural given ability, is the only way to become a star athlete. Many professional athletes do not have superstar parents. They put forth enormous effort to get to the elite level that they are at. There are also many children of star athletes that do not go on to become pro athletes due to other interests or the fact that they just did not work hard enough or have the right opportunity to make it.

    I would finally like to agree with you that innate talent is what makes sports so interesting. If everyone in sports were equal, games and matches would be pointless and predictable. I personally love rooting for the “underdog” is sporting events because the odds are stacked agains that team. Having less talented or weaker teams is what drives competition. Athletes want to be the best, and if they are not the best, they will work even harder to be at the top.

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  9. Great post! Obviously some people are genetically built to be more athletic than others, but I think that in terms of the Mannings, it wasn’t simply their genetic make up. Their uprising in terms of their work ethic and their training are what has made them excel. A lot of people have the athleticism to compete with them, to be just as successful as they are, however it is their dedication that has gotten them to where they are. Everybody has the potential to be great at something whether it be athletics or something else, however I believe that it depends on what you do with those talents that makes you great.

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