Sports

SIDELINES: The super-sizing of football players just keeps going and going

Last weekend marked the opening of the 2012 high school football season in Washington.

It also marked the first time I watched the 2004 documentary “Super Size Me.” I know, I’m way late to the party, but during the documentary, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock eats only McDonald’s food for 30 days and gains 25 pounds.

The reason for Spurlock’s investigation was the increasing spread of obesity throughout the United States, which the Surgeon General declared “epidemic.”

Needless to say, “Super Size Me” got me thinking and, like most things in my life, I compared the documentary to sports. That’s just what I do.

Football has long been a game for big dudes. Since the game was invented, bigger and stronger has been the mantra for all coaches and players.

There’s a reason why football is the king, queen, princess, prince and every other royal title to fans in the United States. Football is the gladiator sport for the modern world. It’s awesome.

But lately, it seems like super-sizing has been taken to another level, starting in high school and rolling all the way into the NFL.

It’s a trickle-down effect. High school players are mimicking the best college athletes, who dream of becoming stars in the National Football League.

Between 1970 and 2006, according to an analysis by a newspaper in Florida, the average size of an NFL offensive lineman increased 62 pounds during those 36 years. Pretty amazing stuff. And I’m pretty sure that number is even more pronounced at the high school level.

Back in the ‘90s, when I was in high school, a 220-plus pounder was a beast. Now, it isn’t odd to see a 220-pound quarterback or running back.

All you have to do is look at the “best of the best” football players the state of Washington has to offer to come to the conclusion that bigger is better. According to the Seattle Times’ 2012 Preseason All-State Team, only six of the 24 players are listed under 200 pounds, and those include a running back, two wide receivers and three defensive backs.

The All-State offensive line, the true gauge of extra girth, averages an astounding 6-foot-6, 317 pounds, led by the mountainous Leo Keilani from Rainier Beach. Keilani is listed at 6-foot-9, 380 pounds.

To further illustrate the point, Bear Bryant’s 1966 undefeated Alabama team had only 19 players who weighed more than 200 pounds. The heaviest weighed 223. The linemen averaged 194 pounds. In 1988, only three NFL players weighed 300 or more pounds. In 2011, according to pro-football-reference.com, there were 352.

Obviously, Big Macs aren’t the only reason for the added bulk. High schools now feature sophisticated weight training programs. Height and muscle-building supplements are also part of it. So is genetics. People are just bigger nowadays.

Take the fourth-ranked Federal Way High School football team. The Eagles, who finished 10-1 a season ago, feature 18 players on their varsity roster listed at 235 pounds and above. And those guys aren’t all offensive linemen. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Rod Jones plays running back and middle linebacker for the Eagles and will play in college next fall.

The added weight does have its problems, obviously. Doctors and trainers are reporting increases in certain injuries in recent years — stress-related muscle and ligament tears, knee sprains and foot fractures — that can be directly attributed to the strains placed on developing bodies by extra bulk.

And that doesn’t even go into the big increase in concussions the added weight and speed throughout football are causing. That’s another column entirely.

The weight issue also goes beyond the football field and into everyday life, as evidenced by “Super Size Me.”

Obesity rates have increased for all population groups in the United States over the past several decades. Between 1986 and 2000, the prevalence of severe obesity quadrupled from one in 200 Americans to one in 50. There have been similar increases seen in children and adolescents, with the prevalence of obesity nearly tripling over the same period. Approximately 9 million children over 6 years of age are considered obese.

The Federal Way school district has made some major meal changes this year. The district is now requiring students to take a serving of a fruit or vegetable. More whole grain foods will be available, along with plain low-fat or fat-free milk or flavored fat-free milk. All meals will now contain 0 grams of trans fats.

The question is, when will the super-sizing stop on and off the football field? In 20 years, will there be 300 pounders running the ball behind 400-pound offensive linemen? We will have to wait and see.

 

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