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Is bigger, faster, stronger really better in the long run?


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During my senior year in high school in 1975, I was the biggest player on our football team at 5-foot-10, 234 pounds.

That same year, the National Football League didn’t have a single player who weighed 300 or more pounds. Now, there are nearly 500. What happened?

I accept the fact things change. As technology advances, so does physiology. But that doesn’t explain why people from my era who used to shop at the big and tall stores can now buy off the rack.

In my days, we used to drink from a garden hose, pick sand spurs from our bare feet, naturally wear holes in our jeans and repair them with iron-on patches, climb trees, camp in the woods, have newspaper routes, ride our bicycles, sneak under the fence to see a drive-in movie, sit in cars with chain-smoking parents, stole beers, swam in lakes and made spare money by cutting yards for $5.

No PlayStation consoles, streaming networks or internet games. No air conditioning or Air Jordans. No juice boxes, bottled water or summer camps.

Nobody in my graduating class was allergic to wheat, peanuts or shellfish. And nobody needed a support animal.

Boys tried to grow cheesy mustaches and long sideburns. Girls stuffed their bras with tissues. And the only people with tattoos were sailors and bikers.

Now, boys have full beards, and girls don’t need tissues to fill their undergarments. And just about everyone has ink.

How did things change so dramatically?

Injuries, particularly muscle and ligament tears, are far more prevalent today than 50 years ago because today’s athlete’s body is tuned like a banjo. Each fiber is high-strung for maximum performance, and a little twitch often results in a blowout.

Younger athletes laugh about my generation when they hear we used to say “rub dirt on it,” and we got back in the game. That’s because that’s exactly what we did. We didn’t pull hamstrings or groins. We didn’t know the meaning of a flexor muscle or a hip pointer.

There’s no question that how we eat and what we eat has changed. So much of our food today is loaded with chemicals, preservatives and antibiotics. Maybe that explains why athletes are so much bigger and stronger now than ever before.

When I was a freshman, the Miami Dolphins completed the only perfect season by going 14-0. They had two 1,000-yard rushers and averaged 4.8 yards a carry as a team. I’ve always considered Larry Little the greatest pulling guard I’ve watched in my lifetime. He was the biggest of the team’s starters at 6-1, 265. The other four linemen weighed 253, 250, 250 and 250.

To put that in perspective, the 2024 Florida Gators have 24 players who tip the scales at more than 300 pounds and one at 464 pounds. FSU has 20; UCF has 16; South Florida has 13 and Miami has 12.

The Center for Disease Control said more than 40% of us are now obese, and many are already struggling with comorbidities like Type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Perhaps the biggest reason we’re getting sick is the ultra-processed food in most of our diets.

To figure out which foods are considered ultra-processed, look at the eye-level foods on the shelves of your local grocery store. We get suckered into buying them because they taste good, and we’re conditioned to eat them.

The CDC found that a steady diet of ultra-processed foods like ham, sausage, mass-produced bread, carbonated drinks, fruit-flavored yogurts, breakfast cereals, chips, cookies, microwave-ready meals, energy and granola bars, candy, fast food, deli meats, sweetened coffee and tea, crackers, baked goods and canned and instant soups usually results in an additional 500 calories a day compared to someone not eating ultra-processed foods.

So maybe it’s not all genetics. Perhaps it’s more than a quest to get bigger, faster and stronger. Maybe it’s too many Big Macs, Chips Ahoy!, Snickers, Jimmy Dean Sausage, Cheetos and Fruity Pebbles.

Whatever it is, I was considered big at 5-10, 234, in 1975. I now have an artificial knee. My hip pops in and out of joint, and my ankle always aches.

I wonder what kind of price today’s behemoths will pay down the road?