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Thursday, December 9, 2010

A silly discussion

Steve Sailer ( put up a brief post yesterday about a table ranking various sports by their physical and mental requirements:

You don't have to bother to look at it, it's mostly a bunch of pseudoscientific criteria, i.e., someone's subjective judgment about which sports are the most difficult to perform. (And no, I didn't dislike this study because swimming was given short shrift; it was actually ranked in the middle on most criteria.)

These lists are always absurd. You'll hear these arguments from time to time; just last week I overheard some idiot at my local gym expounding on how cross country skiers were the best athletes. The only logical answer is that any sport's athletes are in the best shape -- for that sport.

Put a competitor from the World's Strongest Man Competition in the Tour de France and he wouldn't last a day. But put a Tour de France cyclist in the World's Strongest Man competition and he'd look like the weakling he is.

Twenty years ago Matt Biondi, the Olympic champion swimmer, participated in the Superstars competition. When he ran the 100 yard dash he looked like a big, ungainly stork, especially next to all the black NFL players (and, somewhat surprisingly, some of the black baseball players as well). But most of those NFL players looked as if they were drowning when they attempted the 50 yard freestyle.

What does all this mean? Nothing.

One similar discussion actually was resolved, about two decades ago. Back in the old days people used to argue about which was the most effective martial art. When the Ultimate Fighting Championships, the first large freestyle tournament, started back in 1993, that argument was definitively decided. Whenever a grappler got into the ring against a striker, he would inevitably render the striker helpless in very short order. End of argument. (These days a fighter has to have all the skills, because grapplers often neutralize each other's grappling techniques.) 

But when it comes to questions of comparing different athletes in different sports, and trying to determine who is better, comparisons are pointless, and a little ridiculous. It's equally pointless to argue about who was more dominant, Roger Federer in tennis or Michael Jordan in basketball.

It's basically like trying to argue about who was greater, Beethoven or Shakespeare.

Time to drop these discussions.

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