It seems like athletes are continually getting bigger, faster and stronger. Every time the Olympics roll around, plenty of records that seemed unbreakable are broken. And we aren’t even all that surprised when it happens. The evolution of the athlete is pretty easily observed when we simply compare the sizes of past athletes to those of today. The graph below depicts the average weight of NFL rookies at each position.
With simple observation, it is easy to see that athletes are getting bigger, faster and stronger.
Of course, as science has advanced, so too has our understanding of the human body. Athletes in modern times have more access than ever before to information about proper nutrition and ideal training habits.
And as we have learned more, society has become less apprehensive about athletic training. As society has learned more about the benefits of lifting weights, more people have acknowledged it as a habit worth the time and effort.
Most importantly though, the evolution of the athlete has occurred as sport has entrenched itself in our culture. Whereas sport was once more of a hobby, it has now turned into a religion. More and more consumers are faithfully following sports, and as a result, there are billions of dollars to be made in the sports entertainment industry. Although maybe once thought to be ludicrous, it is now a reality that people can be paid millions and millions of dollars to play a game.
Of course, there are only so many roster spots to be held, and a limited number of professional opportunities, in any given professional league. As this is such, competition for employment has pushed athletes to new anatomical frontiers. Athletes train more, and innovate in their training, in order to pursue their sport as a profession. In our modern culture, elite athleticism is a livelihood and sport is a profession.
And as sport has become a religion, its best athletes have become gods, especially to children who look to their divine role models for guidance. A kid who worships Lebron James, the patron saint of dominance, they will look to emulate him, so that they too might one day make basketball their profession. Essentially, as role models become bigger, faster and stronger, the worshipping generation will look to do the same.
There are plenty of ethical puzzles that come along with the evolution and idealization of our athletes. What is the physical toll on the athlete who pushes their body to the max, and what is the psychological toll on the athletes from which we expect so much? There are plenty of other ethical questions surrounding the issue, but the high salaries of professional athletes and the high demand for sports entertainment is usually enough to push those ethical questions into the background.
It remains to be seen just how incredible our athletes can become. As the profits made by pro sports leagues continue to increase, and the salaries of athletes multiply, the next few years will teach us a lot about the capacity and the limits of the human body.