Scott Baker’s Walkin’ the Sidelines: Equality in sports

Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence wrote, “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.”

Jefferson was clearly referencing that there is to be no difference in the rights and opportunities that people have in life, not that they have equal talents and abilities. While I can’t state for fact, Jefferson was most assuredly not referencing sports in his introduction to the very famous declaration.

However, despite this, many in today’s athletics world seem to get confused on what is or should be equal. You see, to think that all men, or women, are created equal in an athletic sense would be preposterous.

However, some believe it is true. Or at the very least, they want it to be that way. It doesn’t take a hall of fame coach to figure out that some athletes are highly gifted while others have difficulty walking and chewing gum at the same time. If you don’t believe this, ask yourself why only a select few end up playing at the highest levels of their sport while the rest make their stops along the way? Why do only a microscopically small percentage of those who play sports make it to the NBA, MLB, NFL, or any other pro league or for that matter, college?

Is it because team owners and coaches pick and play only their favorites? You know like those who have the right name? Or the ones whose parents do the most fundraising? Preposterous. The players that get picked for and ultimately have the opportunity to play at the highest levels are those who are very much unequal to others. They’re highly gifted and have likely outworked others and or both.

So let’s just accept the fact that in an athletics sense, all men and woman are not created equal.

Some athletes are naturally big like a mountain or tall like a skyscraper. Those attributes could be helpful. Some athletes are fast like a rabbit. That could be helpful. Some can jump. That is a helpful attribute in many athletic situations. There are other physical skills that some have and others do not.

Is this fair?

Probably not but you know what, don’t shoot the messenger on this one; it is fact, and it is life. So, all athletes are not equal. It’s best if we can just accept that fact and move on to what we can control. So what is that? What every aspiring athlete can control is how much better he or she can become. Some are big but not strong. Ok, so do some strength training to become stronger. Some are slow. Ok, do drills designed to make you faster. Some are land lovers, i.e., they can’t jump. Ok, work on it.

You see, to put it in real simple terms, while all athletes are in fact created unequal, all aspiring athletes have an equal opportunity to work on improving the abilities that they have been naturally given.

Yes, equal opportunity.

What every athlete has is equal time and equal opportunity to get better. In fact, they all have the same amount of time and opportunities to get better. Equality. Yep, some things in athletics are equal… time and opportunity. What an athlete chooses to do with that time and those opportunities will be a huge difference maker. Perhaps it will be THE difference maker.

Some who are naturally too small to play their particular sport understand that they must get bigger and stronger in order to be successful or for that matter to even survive in their sport. So, they commit to strength training. They make themselves bigger and stronger. Some who are naturally too slow to play their sport of choice work on becoming quicker and faster in order to succeed or even survive in their sport. The key is that those who are successful in sports recognize that their physical attributes are not equal to others. They recognize that they must work to make up for inequalities that they might have.

Work? Yes, work.

Since they are not a naturally gifted athlete, they must work to overcome those inequalities. They recognize that they have just one thing that is surely equal to all other athletes and that is the time and opportunities that they have to make themselves better. They recognize that in order to play and be successful in their sport of choice, work will be required.

Sadly, far too many athletes and even those who advise them allow them to adhere to Jefferson’s line “all men are created equal.” Doing so only ensures that they fail to have any shot of recognizing what truly is equal and taking full advantage of the time and opportunities that they have to “get in the game.” Sadly too, “getting in the game is not equal.”

Some will play more than others. Usually, it will be those who have some talent but mostly it is those who have worked exceptionally hard to make themselves unequal to others. We must stop expecting and allowing our young athletes to expect that everyone gets equal playing time. Rather, we must teach that in sports work can be a great equalizer and encourage them to do it at an unequal level.

Perhaps it would be nice if we all had the same physical attributes. We could all then play sports at the same level as others. Maybe then we wouldn’t even have to worry about winners and losers because theoretically there would be none. That is obviously fantasyland.

In reality, we are all created physically different. Yet, we have equality of opportunity to do things that will allow us to make up for the natural differences that we were born with. It is that equality that we should celebrate and embrace. It is that equality that in all honesty makes us different. Some will be unequal in their usage of the time and opportunities that they have. They will not waste time. They will not waste opportunities. Others, some who are very naturally gifted will waste time, waste opportunities.

This is where the true inequalities in athletes and athletics occur. This is where those who accept inequalities become the ones who overcome them and actually become the ones who succeed. They overcome their natural physical obstacles and thus find that what is also unequal in sports is success. They work to prove that through their unequalled approach to work, and they achieve success at an unequal level. In other words, some win and some lose. Accept the inequalities in sports and for that matter, life and use them to your advantage.

Time and opportunity can and will make you unequal to others. That is in fact a good thing. That is in fact an inequality to embrace and celebrate.