Wait… you mean there are professional fathletes too???
Trigger warning: Talk of sports-related weight loss and eating disorders.
Timing may not be everything, but it’s important!
It is an auspicious coincidence that my date for posting this blog landed in between Weight Stigma Awareness Week (WSAW) and Love Your Body Day (October 16). Additionally, the timing is fortuitous because October is that glorious time of year (for me at least) when I can watch baseball AND football! I love watching sports: football, baseball, basketball, soccer and even rugby. This time of year is like a Double Stuf Oreo® (my favorite store bought cookie).
But all is not groovy in the clubhouse for me, and I need to just get this off my chest and see what you, the readers, sports fans or not, think about the fact that the world considers fat so fracking newsworthy? That may seem odd considering that I write for a fat-focused website, but honestly, until the world just accepts that some people are fat and some people aren’t and that not all fat people are failures, it is important to write about when fat people do NOT conform to the biased stereotypes in our society. And at the risk of putting myself out of a cause, I long for the day that FAT is NOT a NEWSWORTHY TOPIC.
Sound the alarm!
Okay, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s rewind the tape.
Because most sports somehow involve athletes, it is not unusual for issues of weight to creep into the arena and set off my weight stigma alarm. I am not talking about sports that are weight based like judo or boxing that have different categories for different weights. Those have their own long list of problems as athletes engage in disordered eating behaviors and drastic attempts to weigh in at the appropriate weight for their divisions. Michelle Pittman, wrote a fantastic article about this for the ASDAH Blog, and it is well worth reading. What I am talking about is when an athlete makes the news primarily BECAUSE they are fat. I know this is not a new “news” phenomenon. There is even a slideshow dedicated to what most people perceive is an oxymoron: fat athletes. It’s called Best Out-of-Shape Athletes.
But this year it just seems to be more pervasive than usual! Perhaps it is because I live in Oakland, California. I am an A’s fan (that’s baseball for those of you non-sports fans). Across The Bay is another baseball team, the San Francisco Giants. You may have heard of them. They are much more famous than the A’s and usually draw more attention than the more “blue collar,” smaller-bankrolled A’s. But this season both teams are sharing something in common that has nothing to do with ERA, pitch counts, or RBI’s. This season both teams have star players who are *GASP* fat!!!! I will give you all a moment to compose yourselves from the shock that there can be a successful Major League FAThlete!
Is it a slow news season or what??
It has been a field day this season for the media at the expense of two players because of their weight.
Fathlete #1: Pablo Sandoval
Nickname: Kung Fu Panda
A World Series MVP, born in Venezuela, 27 years old with his official weight being 240 pounds, Pablo Sandoval earns $8.2 million a year as the third baseman for the San Francisco Giants.
Fathlete #2: Bartolo Colon
Nickname: Chubby Checker, or in the inner circles of baseball, Fatolo.
Born in the Dominican Republic, 40 years old with his official weight being 265 pounds, Bartolo Colon earns $3 million a year as a starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics.
Both men have been outstanding in their field (yes, take a moment to picture the two men standing out in a field…I can’t help it…I have a thing for puns). If it weren’t for their size, I assume articles about them would be confined to their baseball stats. But because they are fatter than the average bear, we have been inundated with articles about their weight since spring training. The articles have been so prolific, that because of the word limit of this post I had to pick out a mere fraction of the publicity being generated by the reporters, commentators, and pundits who clearly feel compelled to handle this subject of excessive love handles.
The media have a penchant for this, especially when the love handles are attached to famous people. And sports writers are no exception, as they blew the subject up to Olympic-sized proportions in ways that were infused with fat prejudice and false assumptions.
Example #1: In April 2013, Jason Turbow in an article for the New York Times:
If Pablo Sandoval hits a home run for every pound between his listed 240 and his actual weight, he may end up as the National League’s most valuable player. From the standpoint of body mass and natural ability, it is not such an outlandish proposition. So even if Sandoval’s build seems to garner as much attention as his bat — even if he looks bigger than ever — the man nicknamed Kung Fu Panda seems content with the way things are shaping up.
WOW! You mean you still have to mention his weight even though he is playing well? You can’t just treat him like every other third baseman having a good season? Could you imagine a news headline like this?
Despite his gigantic retro Afro, Coco Crisp is having an amazing season! How does a guy with hair like that play so well?
According to the Times article, Sandoval made the statement, “I’m at the weight that I feel great to play at. If you feel good, you’re going to play good. And I feel great.”
And his performance was great! So why, despite an amazing batting average last year and an impressive start to the 2013 season, does Turbow still need to make this statement in his article:
All of which leads to a question: how does a guy who looks so overstuffed do what Sandoval does at the plate and in the field?
Of course, I forgot! A fat man can’t be effective at any plate other than a dinner plate!!!
Time passed and the articles and radio sports shows continued to make a big deal about Sandoval’s weight. When he had an injury, the Giant’s staff was reported to say that even though his weight was not a cause of the injury, nor would it impede his recovery in any way, that they were making sure he worked on weight loss while he was on the DL (disabled list). Notice that the focus was not on making sure that Sandoval stayed in playing condition, it was on weight loss even though the disclaimer clearly states that his weight was not the cause of his injury or would get in the way of his recovery. Martin Telleria issued the dire warning: “San Francisco Giants: Weight of Pablo Sandoval Will Be His Demise.” Then there was Drew Silva’s article that really made my blood boil.
The world of sports is littered with sad stories of failure — failure that has come as a result of a myriad of issues. We’ve seen drugs rob athletes. On the other side of the spectrum, we’ve seen many promising athletes have their careers destroyed by injury. Somewhere in the middle, between destroying their own career through a destructive lifestyle (gambling, excessive spending, drugs) and failing through no fault of their own (injury), are the athletes who, while successful, have no hope of reaching their full potential because of their own personal choices. Pablo Sandoval, the third baseman for the San Francisco Giants, falls right into that category. Beloved by all in the Bay Area for his cheerful personality and love of the game, the man affectionately known as the “Kung Fu Panda” looks like just that: a panda — a big, out-of-shape one at that. It’s a reality every fan knows and has sadly accepted. His prowess with the bat and nimbleness for his size have always gotten him a pass. After all, if the man is producing, who are we to say anything?
That’s correct. Who are they to say anything??? EXCEPT THEY DID!!! EVERYONE DID. And if you read through the Sandoval articles, they are like reading about a stock I once owned. Sandoval’s weight is UP! Sandoval’s weight is down. Sandoval has regained all of his losses. He was put on program after program, weight loss regimes and intensive workout schedules and yet, he never maintained the weight loss. Hmmmm, this sounds a bit like yo-yo dieting to me. And we know how well that works! More recently in an article by Andrew Baggarly, we learn that Sandoval has now “revealed that he’s dropped 22 pounds in six weeks, and he has his oldest brother, Luis, to thank for it. Luis Sandoval recently graduated from a culinary school in Miami and is under his little brother’s full-time employment as his personal chef.”
So when he is successful in weight loss, all the credit goes to his brother, but when he fails it’s all his fault.
Dr. Deah’s disclaimer
I am not a medical doctor and I am not an expert in sports physiology. And granted, a third baseman needs to be able to run quickly in order to make some crucial plays. And let’s just agree for a moment that he is better at executing those types of plays when he is thinner. I still have a problem with the FAT BASHING attached to Sandoval’s weight. And while not all fat people have eating disorders, most people who have an eating disorder started off by dieting to lose weight. The pressure on Sandoval to lose weight using restrictive dieting techniques may have resulted in his extreme weight fluctuations, which in turn can impact his fitness levels and efficacy on the field.
If Sandoval does have an eating disorder, then he should receive the same level of support and empathy that Aldon Smith (a football player for the SF 49ers) just received for his drug problem. He was not ostracized or berated in the news; he was offered sympathy and the Niners sent him to rehab in an effort to rescue him from being another casualty as per Silva’s Category 1. And that’s awesome for Aldon, but the double standard enrages me. Especially considering that if Sandoval’s weight does impact his performance on the field, why is it that the reporters don’t take any responsibility for making a difficult situation worse? Let’s suppose that Sandoval has an eating disorder, how is anyone helping him by encouraging the very behaviors that may have caused the eating disorder in the first place? Error! Foul! Red card! Any way you look at it, it’s wrong.
As for Bartolo Colon, perhaps it is because he is a lowly Oakland A, or perhaps it is because he is a pitcher and doesn’t need to execute the same physical level of speed and coordination, but there are less overtly negative articles about Colon’s weight. Along with the articles that do mention his weight, the authors include sophomoric bully-like name-calling (e.g., Chubby and Fatolo Colon).
Colon is the 40-year-old ace of the Oakland Athletics, the only All-Star on the team leading the American League West. Few players are older or seemingly in worse shape than Colon, who is 5 feet 11 inches and every bit of his listed weight of 267 pounds.
He seems to command a more mixed pitch count:
When Bartolo Colon sits down to the dinner table, he takes no prisoners — and leaves no scraps. He owns the plate when he steps on the mound, too. Baseball’s most consistent winner since the late 1990s, he has been devouring big-league hitters for nearly a decade, and now has a Cy Young award to show for it. Mocked for his Ruthian waistline but hailed for his Gibson-like stuff, Bartolo has baseball fans and experts asking, “Would you rather have a skinny guy spooning up fat pitches, or a fat guy slicing the corner with 97-mph fastballs?” This is his story.
Or this one by Larry Brown Sports:
If you’re a long-time LBS reader, you know that we have no problem with fat baseball players. In fact, most of the time the media complains about players being fat they are complaining about ones who are highly productive. Fat pitchers even started to become a trend at one point. C.C. Sabathia, arguably the best pitcher in the American League, is always being questioned for his weight. However, let’s not take our viewpoint to mean we don’t find it funny. When a player has gotten as fat as Bartolo Colon over the years and is still playing baseball, you have to laugh.
Is that a curve ball or WHAT??
I guess that as long as there still seems to be an obsession to focus on weight instead of fitness and the prevailing belief that a fathlete is an oddity that needs to be paraded around as either an exception to the rule or proving the rule, we will continue to be inundated with these kinds of meaningless stories that do nothing to help the player. In the meantime, it is important to bash stereotypes out of the ballpark with the kinds of articles found on this and other Fat/Size Acceptance websites. But underneath it all is my enduring, impatient question…