It’s a tradition unlike any other. Faces drawn at the end of a long and gray offseason, visors snug on our heads, a brand new year close and yet still so distant … when suddenly a crisp Twitter zephyr sweeps into the room: SO-AND-SO GOT FAT IN THE OFFSEASON!!! The Kool-Aid Man bursts through your brick wall, except he is a giant siren emoji instead of a pitcher of vermillion sugar solution, and he is screaming: FAT FAT FAT FAT FAT FAT FAT! A brick strikes his glowing red orb, and he flickers briefly. FAT FAT FAT FAT!
Today’s candidate is Tony Romo, whose story started the usual way: An unflattering picture was taken during the first week of Cowboys training camp, capturing at an angle a gut that was not there the last time we gazed upon his navel. The snarky headlines emerged; the tee-hee-hee-ing that he “looked a little, um, pudgy”; the insistence by team staff he is fine and is in fact in “great shape”; the Kool-Aid siren purring ohhhh yeeaahhhh. It happens all the time.
In 2015, perennial fat-shamee Pablo Sandoval was welcomed to the Red Sox with labored discussion of the “fat problem with Pablo Sandoval” as a picture of his belly poking out of a T-shirt at spring training made the rounds. In 2013, it was Eddie Lacy stomping around like — or so you might have believed if you checked social media that week — a bloated stegosaurus at training camp. In 2012, we learned that “Overweight Pineda” — these things have a way of inspiring adjective-heavy (heavy-adjectived?) nicknames — was liable to lose his job with the Yankees. Headlines like: “Fat Jesus Montero on His Offseason: ‘All I Did Was Eat.’” Even Kobe Bryant was the subject of serious discussion over whether his face was looking rounder and what that might mean for his legacy. (This issue is similar to the SO-AND-SO GOT SWOLE!!! phenomenon, which is just as voyeuristic but a lot less unkind.)
On the one hand, we are encouraged as fans to consider athletes’ weights. With their (listed, at least) poundage blown up in flashing lights on the Jumbotron and present on every player profile, it’s clear that we have decided collectively that weight is an important metric, and one that has some effect on performance. On the other hand, the mean, puerile, internet bullies should leave poor Eddie “now extremely slim for reasons that probably, maybe, possibly have nothing to do with our collective bullying” Lacy alone.
As with everything except for avoiding paying for pornography, the internet has made the problem worse. Beat writers are out there at training camp with iPhones, ready to beam the first inopportune jiggle back to thousands of NFL-starved followers, who, safely ensconced behind egg avatars, are free to tease or fret that the XL edition of their favorite player won’t be able to perform, as if they have any idea what the exact performance mechanics are for people who consume 10,000 calories a days and specialize in (a) running/kicking/throwing past fellow giants and/or (b) crushing other giants to the ground. (I don’t have any idea what goes into being a professional athlete either; as I write this, my hands are stained purply-green from an unfortunate bag of Goldfish Colors, which are the worst kind of Goldfish but also had the distinct advantage of being in my house. You would have to eat about 4,000 Goldfish to hit the 10,000-calorie mark, FYI.)
So come on, guys. If a player comes back from the offseason and starts licking donuts and eating frogs and wrestling coolers out of the hands of shocked and no doubt extremely trim and good-looking fans, then: Yes, maybe we should think about their habits — eating and otherwise. If a player comes back from the offseason a Lil Bit Tubby (LBT™) and is now, suddenly and dramatically, bad at their sport of choice and bunching up their stomach at press conferences and saying, “This, here, this is why I am bad at my sport now, and I do not like it,” then maybe — maybe — we can talk about it, gently, if at all. But perhaps, short of either of those outcomes, we can just be ever so slightly nicer to each other, because we are talking after all about the living human bodies of people with living human feelings and, good grief, if they are happy and healthy as they actively sacrifice their braincases for our Sundays, can we just let them live, please?*
(*If your retort to this sentence is “but they are rich” or “but they have chosen to be famous” or “if I [fedora twirl] were a professional athlete” or “but really, they are so rich,” I hope you wake up tomorrow on a desert island where there are only rainbow-colored Goldfish and you slowly develop scurvy and all your teeth fall out and then you have to grind up the colored Goldfish into a purply-green paste and eat them that way instead, while also talking to them because they are your only friend. Please be polite. OK.)
Does obsessing over a photo of a maybe-huskier athlete at the start of a new season seem nice? Does it seem good or productive? Do you want to live in a world where the Kool-Aid Man screams FAT FAT FAT at you? I don’t. Please help me defeat him. Tony Romo is fine.