Pittsburgh Sports Report
September 2004

Mad World
Fatter Kills
By Mark Madden

The Post-Gazette recently published a story about a 410-pound high school football player. His grandiose size is noted via grandiose nicknames, because it's obligatory to tell the fat guy he's fat even if you do so in non-insulting fashion. The insults will come, fast and furious, too, once he's done playing football.

This kid supposedly has all sorts of scholarship offers on the table. But if his high school coach really wanted to look out for him, he'd be advising him about weight-loss programs, not which college to pick. When said player gets to college, weighing 410 will hurt him. His edge in size will be more than offset by deficiencies in speed and agility.

All-Pro linemen don't weigh 400 pounds. Few linemen in pro and college weigh 400 pounds. There's a reason for that. You can be too big.

In high school football, this kid has a freak-show advantage. He will overwhelm and intimidate via size. He's not just a blob; he has extremely impressive strength.

But in college football, all of the lineman have impressive strength. And they won't be scared.

It's also worth noting that many colleges are pointedly not interested in this behemoth. 'They're afraid of his weight,' his coach said.

First and foremost, this kid should lose weight so he lives longer. American sports are like a sumo culture where bigger is better.

But fatter isn't better. Fatter kills. To glorify this kid's girth is to contribute to his misery and, ultimately, his demise. To exploit it borders on being criminal. Maybe he'll lose weight after he's finished with football and go on to lead a happy, healthy life. But I doubt it. The longer you're overweight, the harder it is to lose those extra pounds.

In the meantime, we get folksy stories. Like the time he ate 100 chicken wings at one sitting. That isn't cute. That is the act of a glutton. It took an extensive search to find a helmet big enough to fit his head. The next step: A custom coffin.

Among his peers, this kid may be accepted as a teammate. But, at that size, he isn't accepted as a human being. His fellow players whisper and giggle behind his back. I guarantee it. I bet his coaches do, too. And I bet he's become adept at not hearing it.

I haven't mentioned this young man's name in this story because I can't come up with a good reason to further romanticize his weight. He needs help, not more publicity.

Being fat is nothing to be ashamed of. But it is something to correct.

I've been overweight my whole life. It's affected my health adversely , that can't help but happen, and it's cost me countless opportunities.

If I were more reasonably sized, I'm sure I'd be asked to appear on programs like ESPN's 'Around the Horn.' I'd have a much better shot at being a World Wrestling Entertainment announcer. I've learned second-hand that, despite WWE's respect for my work with now-defunct World Championship Wrestling, I just don't have the WWE 'look.' Simply put, I have a body made for radio.

Sure, fat guys have a chance to succeed in the entertainment industry. They get to play fat guys. Chris Farley once described his role thusly: 'Fatty fall down.' The resulting lack of self-esteem made him medicate himself to death. Ethan Suplee is Hollywood's endomorph du jour. He hasn't had any romantic roles yet, oddly enough.

Professional problems aside, I can't even begin to describe the social nightmare that is being fat. If you're heavy, you understand. If you're not, you couldn't possibly.

Thin people want fat people to stay fat. It makes them feel better about themselves. I've tried numerous diets. It's never a fellow fat person who urges you to have that second helping, to eschew your regimen for a 'special occasion.' It's someone who looks good standing next to you.

Fat guys come in handy when it comes to a sport like football. Twerps blocking for twerps just doesn't work.

Obese people also give society a foolproof target for abuse and humor. Members of my profession have never been reprimanded for telling a fat joke. But I could get fired for telling virtually the same gag about most ethnic and religious groups.

It's always better to not be overweight. Always. This 410-pound high school football player could lose 75 pounds and probably be just as good, maybe better.

But it's easier to just shove him out on the field as is. His teammates crack jokes behind his ample back, the opposition undoubtedly tortures him verbally, he's on the fast track to being miserable and on a faster track to bad health.

But boy, he can sure open a hole for the running back. We wouldn't want to put that at risk, would we?

God, I could cry right now. I really could.

Mark Madden hosts a sports talk show 3-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN Radio 1250.

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