Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

By Alec Nathan

Basketball pioneer Kenny Sailors, who has been credited with inventing the modern-day jump shot, died at 95 years old Saturday, the Wyoming Cowboys men’s basketball program announced.

“The University of Wyoming has lost one of its great heroes and ambassadors with the death of Kenny Sailors,” University of Wyoming President Dick McGinity said. “As the entire university community mourns his passing and celebrates his life, we offer our thoughts and prayers to his family.”

A standout at Wyoming, Sailors helped put the school’s basketball program on the map as he led the Cowboys to the 1942-43 NCAA championship while becoming the fifth-ever winner of the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player Award, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

n a 2015 interview with CBS Sports’ Brad Botkin, Sailors explained that he was motivated to develop the jump shot because his older brother, Bud, was 6’5″ and repeatedly blocked his shots during their individual battles:

So one day, finally, I guess the good Lord just put it in my head that if I jumped up higher than [Bud], and if he didn’t time everything just right and jump up with me, he couldn’t block my shot. So that’s what I did. I ran right up to him and jumped straight out of the dribble, and I shot it one-handed, because I found that I could get more height that way.

Following his historic stretch at Wyoming, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Famer went on to play five seasons at the professional level with the Cleveland Rebels, Chicago Stags, Philadelphia Warriors, Providence Steam Rollers, Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics and Baltimore Bullets.

As he bounced around from team to team from 1946 to 1951, Sailors averaged 12.6 points and 2.8 assists per game. Following the 1948-49 Basketball Association of America campaign, Sailors earned second-team All-BAA honors while posting 15.8 points per contest.

Kenny Sailors, Credited with Inventing Jump Shot, Dies at Age 95

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Jets linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (55) wears special contact lenses and a helmet shade to prevent migraines.

By ZACH SCHONBRUN

FWhen he woke last Sunday morning, Jeremy Kerley sensed trouble already coming on. Fitful sleep is often his trigger, he said. The migraine eventually hit him like an anvil late in last week’s game against the Giants.

His eyes grew blurry and he felt what he described as a “sharp, shooting, throbbing pain.” He wanted to sit down. He wanted to lie down. He knew he needed to leave the field.

Kerley, the Jets’ punt returner, departed to the locker room and did not return. As the Jets came from behind to beat the Giants in overtime, he was receiving intravenous fluids and oxygen to help relieve the anguish from a struggle that has afflicted him since high school.

For Kerley, migraines are the silent menace that constantly lurks. They ambush him almost once a month, even though he rarely talks about it. He knew his grandfather got them; only recently, he discovered that his dad did, too. He just never knows when they will affect him.

Though Kerley is one of approximately 38 million Americans who suffer from them, migraines are not something that is openly discussed in N.F.L. locker rooms. They are far more common in women, and often minimized as simply a headache, a stigma that Kerley acknowledged could make it difficult to pull himself out of a game.

But those who do struggle with migraines — which the Migraine Research Foundation considers a neurological disease, like epilepsy — understand the plight. When Kerley felt a severe headache coming on last season after a game at Minnesota, his teammate Percy Harvin patted him on the back.

“I know how you feel,” Harvin said quietly. He has struggled with migraines throughout his career.

Kerley did the same thing earlier this season, after linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin revealed that he had had migraines since adolescence. Kerley gave him recommendations about nutritional supplements that he found helpful, like fish oil and magnesium. Mauldin also now takes prescription medication to both relieve and prevent severe headaches.

He said that light could often trigger his migraine episodes, so Mauldin wears special contact lenses and a protective shade on his helmet.

“It hurts because it’s pulsating and you can’t really stop it,” Mauldin said. “With a bruise or something, you can put alcohol or peroxide over it and it’ll be fine. Or if you’ve hurt a muscle, you can ice it. But you can’t put ice over a migraine.”

In September, a migraine forced Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones to the emergency room, something that is not uncommon, said Dr. Melissa Leber, the director of emergency department sports medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She typically treats patients intravenously. But that often cannot relieve the crippling symptoms right away.

“Some people can’t even get out of bed,” Leber said. “Others can function just while not feeling well. It really runs the gamut for how debilitating it can be.”

Migraines are thought to be related to the brain’s trigeminal nerve, which can grow hypersensitive and cause pain signals to fire throughout the brain, typically concentrated around the eyes or temples. Though migraines are strongly hereditary, showing up in people who have had no sports history, they are often clinically similar to post-traumatic headaches, like the headaches that arise after a concussion, according to Dr. Tad Seifert, a neurologist at Norton Healthcare in Louisville, Ky.

During the summer, Seifert led a study of 74 high school football players in the Louisville area and found that 33.8 percent of them suffered from migraines, a rate twice that of the normal population. The rate rose to 37.5 percent in players who reported having sustained a concussion once in their lives, and 40.7 percent in those who reported multiple concussions.

“The elephant in the room is whether there is some influence of contact sports and the development of frequent or chronic headache later in life,” Seifert said. “And if so, how much?”

Seifert, who also chairs an N.C.A.A. task force on headaches, said that he expected to publish a similar report involving 834 Division I athletes in the spring. Though he would not go into detail about the results, he said that it looked to be “very similar to what we’ve found in this sample of high school players.” Mauldin, it should be noted, sustained a concussion earlier this season.

There is no cure for migraines, and sufferers often go the rest of their lives “controlling” the issue, Seifert said, comparing it to those dealing with high blood pressure or diabetes. What concerns him, though, are the studies that have shown that people with migraines are more susceptible to concussions, and when they do sustain one, it takes them longer to recover.

“We know that the migraine brain is just wired differently,” Seifert said. “And we know that it’s a brain that is hypersensitive to external injury. And those pain receptors that are in overdrive — it takes that much longer to calm down and return to baseline.”

In the time it takes for the receptors to settle, though, the pain can bring a linebacker to his knees.

“When they pop up out of nowhere, you start to feel a sensation like in between the middle of your forehead,” Mauldin said. “But it’s in the back of your head as well. It’s like somebody’s punching you in the side of the head.”

Kerley said he had yet to receive a migraine disease diagnosis, but he thinks it could be related to difficulties he regularly has with sleeping, being someone who has sleep apnea. When he feels a headache coming on, he has a nasal spray that he said often cured his symptoms within a half-hour. But last Sunday, it was too late.

“If you don’t catch it while it’s early, it could get pretty bad,” Kerley said. “Mine got there.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/13/sports/football/migraine-headaches-a-lurking-malady-in-the-nfl.html?emc=edit_th_20151213&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=41412344&_r=0

Some NFL players spend their offseason working out. Others travel around the world. Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel has done both while also getting an article published in a math journal.

Urschel, the Ravens’ 2014 fifth-round pick who graduated from Penn State with 4.0 GPA, also happens to be a brilliant mathematician. This week he and several co-authors published a piece titled “A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians” in the Journal of Computational Mathematics. You can read the full piece here: http://arxiv.org/abs/1412.0565

Here’s the summary of the paper:

“In this paper, we develop a cascadic multigrid algorithm for fast computation of the Fiedler vector of a graph Laplacian, namely, the eigenvector corresponding to the second smallest eigenvalue. This vector has been found to have applications in fields such as graph partitioning and graph drawing. The algorithm is a purely algebraic approach based on a heavy edge coarsening scheme and pointwise smoothing for refinement. To gain theoretical insight, we also consider the related cascadic multigrid method in the geometric setting for elliptic eigenvalue problems and show its uniform convergence under certain assumptions. Numerical tests are presented for computing the Fiedler vector of several practical graphs, and numerical results show the efficiency and optimality of our proposed cascadic multigrid algorithm.”

When he’s not protecting Joe Flacco, the 23-year-old Urschel enjoys digging into extremely complicated mathematical models.

“I am a mathematical researcher in my spare time, continuing to do research in the areas of numerical linear algebra, multigrid methods, spectral graph theory and machine learning. I’m also an avid chess player, and I have aspirations of eventually being a titled player one day.”

– See more at: http://yahoo.thepostgame.com/blog/balancing-act/201503/john-urschel-baltimore-ravens-nfl-football-math#sthash.avUHj2Tm.dpuf

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.


World Cup soccer players with higher facial-width-to-height ratios are more likely to commit fouls, score goals and make assists, according to a study by a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The structure of a soccer player’s face can predict his performance on the field—including his likelihood of scoring goals, making assists and committing fouls—according to a study led by a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The scientists studied the facial-width-to-height ratio (FHWR) of about 1,000 players from 32 countries who competed in the 2010 World Cup. The results, published in the journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, showed that midfielders, who play both offense and defense, and forwards, who lead the offense, with higher FWHRs were more likely to commit fouls. Forwards with higher FWHRs also were more likely to score goals or make assists.

“Previous research into facial structure of athletes has been primarily in the United States and Canada,” said Keith Welker, a postdoctoral researcher in CU-Boulder Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and the lead author of the paper. “No one had really looked at how facial-width-to-height ratio is associated with athletic performance by comparing people from across the world.”

FWHR is the distance between the cheekbones divided by the distance between the mid-brow and the upper lip. Past studies have shown that a high FWHR is associated with more aggressive behavior, with both positive and negative results. For example, high FWHR correlates with greater antisocial and unethical behavior, but it also correlates with greater success among CEOs and achievement drive among U.S. presidents. However, some previous research has failed to find a correlation between FWHR and aggressive behavior in certain populations.

The new study adds weight to the argument that FWHR does correlate with aggression. Welker and his colleagues chose to look at the 2010 World Cup because of the quality and quantity of the data available. “There are a lot of athletic data out there,” Welker said. “We were exploring contexts to look at aggressive behavior and found that the World Cup, which quantifies goals, fouls and assists, provides a multinational way of addressing whether facial structure produces this aggressive behavior and performance.”

Scientists have several ideas about how FWHR might be associated with aggression. One possibility is that it’s related to testosterone exposure earlier in life. Testosterone during puberty can affect a variety of physical traits, including bone density, muscle growth and cranial shape, Welker said.

Co-authors of the study were Stefan Goetz, Shyneth Galicia and Jordan Liphardt of Wayne State University in Michigan and Justin Carré of Nipissing University in Ontario, Canada. –

See more at: http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2014/11/11/facial-structure-predicts-goals-fouls-among-world-cup-soccer-players#sthash.mAvOP9oO.dpuf

By Stephanie Meade
Founder, Editor-in-Chief of InCultureParent.com

When the multilingual Coke ad came under siege at first I couldn’t be bothered to listen to the noise, because that’s all it was to me — misguided rumbling that didn’t deserve attention. But as the #speakamerican clamor crowded headlines and my twitter stream, I knew our children were the ones who had the most powerful message for us all.

Bilingualism is the proud voice of the U.S. with a growing percentage of children growing up bilingual and multilingual. For these kids, bilingualism is just as American as French fries, apple pies and pizza. And then add in some curry, tagine and tamales too. Currently one in five households, including my own, speak a language other than English at home. And those statistics don’t even count the speakers of English at home that are learning a new language at school. There are over 530 immersion schools in this country and demand for them is outpacing supply in many communities. When I hear polemics about English only, it confounds me why so many see language in zero-sum terms. English can and does peacefully coexist together with hundreds of other languages, as it always has. English-only discourses are a rearview mirror perspective of our nation, one that fails to confront the reality of the present or consider the future of our country in the context of a globalized world.

Speaking another language is not a threat to the fabric of the U.S. — it is the very thread that makes the fabric beautiful. And more than that, it is the thread that when woven together gives us strength. So let’s stop looking in the rearview mirror and start considering the America that will lead us into the future.

What language does America speak? English and over 300 other languages.

I speak English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. I’ve studied Russian, Japanese and German. And I’m learning Arabic.

#ispeakamerican

What languages do you speak?

* Please note: We tried very hard to find a Native American language to represent in our clip, and regret we could not find one in time. There were also many other languages we wanted to include, and it was strictly a matter of timing that we couldn’t represent more.

This video was originally published on InCultureParent, an online magazine for parents raising little global citizens.

Follow Stephanie Meade on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/incultureparent

texas1

Six years ago, Michael Sorrell made a decision that threatened his reputation and maybe his job. His tenure as president of Paul Quinn College started in 2007 and, shortly thereafter, he opted to cut football in an effort to save money. The response on campus was not pleasant.

“Predictably, we had folks who were, I guess, the reaction was loud,” Sorrell says.

This was in football-nuts Dallas, only seven miles from the heart of the city. Sorrell was not anti-sports, either. He played basketball and loved football. He just felt the sport was “something economically we could not justify.”

Sorrell made an offer to the angry defenders of the sport: Raise $2 million to save football, and he would match it. “To date,” Sorrell says, “no one has raised a dollar.”

College football is dealing with an emerging financial crisis. It’s plaguing programs as large as the University of Tennessee, which was a reported $200 million in debt over the summer, and as small as Grambling, which is begging alums for donations after poor facilities led to a player mutiny earlier this month. Escalating coaches’ salaries and declining attendance have led to real concern that the entire college football complex will become insolvent, leaving only a few schools with thriving programs.

“We are standing on the precipice of an economic day of reckoning in higher education,” Sorrell says. “I think there will be more schools to do this. I think we’re just early.”

Football was eating $600,000 of Sorrell’s budget, and Paul Quinn is a tiny school of only 250 students. How could he continue to educate when so much funding was going to something that wasn’t building an academic reputation? He simply couldn’t. So the field sat vacant.

Sorrell moved on to a much bigger issue: his school is located in a food desert with neither a restaurant nor a grocery store nearby, and many of the students at the oldest historically black college west of the Mississippi are poor. Eighty percent of the students at Paul Quinn are Pell Grant-eligible. There’s a “clothes closet” on campus where students can get business casualwear for free, and money had to be raised so students could afford eyeglasses to read.

A year after the end of football, Sorrell was meeting with a real estate investor named Trammell Crow. They bandied about the idea of devoting a tract of land to producing food for the community. But where?

Sorrell joked that they should just build a farm on the football field. The jest quickly turned into a reality, and the school’s future was changed for the better. Some of the produce grown in full view of the scoreboard would go to local food banks and the surrounding community. Some of it, eventually, could be sold. Crow helped fund the farm, and slowly crops began to yield produce: kale, sweet potatoes, herbs, cilantro. In 2009, two years removed from the end of Paul Quinn College’s football life, a rather famous client struck a deal with the school for its food: Cowboy’s Stadium.

Legends Hospitality is now Paul Quinn College’s largest buyer for the “WE over Me Farm,” and the school has run a surplus of six or seven figures in four of the past five years. The money budgeted for football now goes to academic scholarships. This is a school that had one month’s worth of cash when Sorrell took over in 2007.

A potential disaster has turned into one of the most inspired decisions made at the college level. It’s not like Paul Quinn is SMU – the NAIA school is smaller than a lot of Dallas high schools – but it shows life after football isn’t necessarily bleak.

“We turned our football field into an organic farm,” Sorrell says. “It’s made us a national leader on this issue. There are no regrets. We didn’t have the resources necessary to change and really build a football program in the way we wanted to do it. This is what was right for us.”

Students who work on the farm are paid $10 an hour for overseeing the project, which will produce 17,500 lbs. of food for Cowboys fans this season.

“I’m in love with what we’re doing with the field,” says Shon Griggs, Jr., a legal-studies major who played football at his Atlanta high school. “It’s exciting and I’ve learned so much. I’ve personally gotten more out of the farm than the football field.”

Griggs spends 12 hours a week on the farm, and he considers it “a workout” that has benefits beyond sports.

“When I played football, I was able to strengthen my body,” he says. “Here, we’re impacting community, changing lives, teaching kids, and learning about nature.”
Griggs says the only downside is the coyotes that come around at night and try to break into the chicken coop.

The goalposts are still up at Paul Quinn College, and so are the scoreboard and the ticket booth, but nobody misses the sport much anymore. The treasure everyone guards most is that farm. Asked what would happen if those two acres were razed again, Griggs doesn’t hesitate.

“We would have a problem,” he says. “There would be a revolt. This is big.”

It is big. Those who work on the farm not only have experience and some take-home pay, but a built-in connection to one of the most famous buildings in America. The director of food and beverage at Legends Hospitality at Cowboys Stadium is George Wasai, who went to Paul Quinn College. He played football there.

http://sports.yahoo.com/news/ncaaf–how-one-small-texas-college-made-money-by-saying-no-to-football-065751785.html

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

malcolm-gladwell

Toward the end of “The Sports Gene” (Penguin/Current), David Epstein makes his way to a remote corner of Finland to visit a man named Eero Mäntyranta. Mäntyranta lives in a small house next to a lake, among the pine and spruce trees north of the Arctic Circle. He is in his seventies. There is a statue of him in the nearby village. “Everything about him has a certain width to it,” Epstein writes. “The bulbous nose in the middle of a softly rounded face. His thick fingers, broad jaw, and a barrel chest covered by a red knit sweater with a stern-faced reindeer across the middle. He is a remarkable-looking man.” What’s most remarkable is the color of his face. It is a “shade of cardinal, mottled in places with purple,” and evocative of “the hue of the red paint that comes from this region’s iron-rich soil.”

Mäntyranta carries a rare genetic mutation. His DNA has an anomaly that causes his bone marrow to overproduce red blood cells. That accounts for the color of his skin, and also for his extraordinary career as a competitive cross-country skier. In cross-country skiing, athletes propel themselves over distances of ten and twenty miles—a physical challenge that places intense demands on the ability of their red blood cells to deliver oxygen to their muscles. Mäntyranta, by virtue of his unique physiology, had something like sixty-five per cent more red blood cells than the normal adult male. In the 1960, 1964, and 1968 Winter Olympic Games, he won a total of seven medals—three golds, two silvers, and two bronzes—and in the same period he also won two world-championship victories in the thirty-kilometre race. In the 1964 Olympics, he beat his closest competitor in the fifteen-kilometre race by forty seconds, a margin of victory, Epstein says, “never equaled in that event at the Olympics before or since.”

In “The Sports Gene,” there are countless tales like this, examples of all the ways that the greatest athletes are different from the rest of us. They respond more effectively to training. The shape of their bodies is optimized for certain kinds of athletic activities. They carry genes that put them far ahead of ordinary athletes.

Epstein tells the story of Donald Thomas, who on the seventh high jump of his life cleared 7′ 3.25″—practically a world-class height. The next year, after a grand total of eight months of training, Thomas won the world championships. How did he do it? He was blessed, among other things, with unusually long legs and a strikingly long Achilles tendon—ten and a quarter inches in length—which acted as a kind of spring, catapulting him high into the air when he planted his foot for a jump. (Kangaroos have long tendons as well, Epstein tells us, which is what gives them their special hop.)

Why do so many of the world’s best distance runners come from Kenya and Ethiopia? The answer, Epstein explains, begins with weight. A runner needs not just to be skinny but—more specifically—to have skinny calves and ankles, because every extra pound carried on your extremities costs more than a pound carried on your torso. That’s why shaving even a few ounces off a pair of running shoes can have a significant effect. Runners from the Kalenjin tribe, in Kenya—where the majority of the country’s best runners come from—turn out to be skinny in exactly this way. Epstein cites a study comparing Kalenjins with Danes; the Kalenjins were shorter and had longer legs, and their lower legs were nearly a pound lighter. That translates to eight per cent less energy consumed per kilometre. (For evidence of the peculiar Kalenjin lower leg, look up pictures of the great Kenyan miler Asbel Kiprop, a tall and elegant man who runs on what appear to be two ebony-colored pencils.) According to Epstein, there’s an evolutionary explanation for all this: hot and dry environments favor very thin, long-limbed frames, which are easy to cool, just as cold climates favor thick, squat bodies, which are better at conserving heat.

Distance runners also get a big advantage from living at high altitudes, where the body is typically forced to compensate for the lack of oxygen by producing extra red blood cells. Not too high up, mind you. In the Andes, for example, the air is too rarefied for the kind of workouts necessary to be a world-class runner. The optimal range is six to nine thousand feet. The best runners in Ethiopia and Kenya come from the ridges of the Rift Valley, which, Epstein writes, are “plumb in the sweet spot.” When Kenyans compete against Europeans or North Americans, the Kenyans come to the track with an enormous head start.

What we are watching when we watch élite sports, then, is a contest among wildly disparate groups of people, who approach the starting line with an uneven set of genetic endowments and natural advantages. There will be Donald Thomases who barely have to train, and there will be Eero Mäntyrantas, who carry around in their blood, by dumb genetic luck, the ability to finish forty seconds ahead of their competitors. Élite sports supply, as Epstein puts it, a “splendid stage for the fantastic menagerie that is human biological diversity.” The menagerie is what makes sports fascinating. But it has also burdened high-level competition with a contradiction. We want sports to be fair and we take elaborate measures to make sure that no one competitor has an advantage over any other. But how can a fantastic menagerie ever be a contest among equals?

During the First World War, the U.S. Army noticed a puzzling pattern among the young men drafted into military service. Soldiers from some parts of the country had a high incidence of goitre—a lump on their neck caused by the swelling of the thyroid gland. Thousands of recruits could not button the collar of their uniform. The average I.Q. of draftees, we now suspect, also varied according to the same pattern. Soldiers from coastal regions seemed more “normal” than soldiers from other parts of the country.

The culprit turned out to be a lack of iodine. Iodine is an essential micronutrient. Without it, the human brain does not develop normally and the thyroid begins to enlarge. And in certain parts of the United States in those years there wasn’t enough iodine in the local diet. As the economists James Feyrer, Dimitra Politi, and David Weil write, in a recent paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research:

Ocean water is rich in iodine, which is why endemic goiter is not observed in coastal areas. From the ocean, iodine is transferred to the soil by rain. This process, however, only reaches the upper layers of soil, and it can take thousands of years to complete. Heavy rainfall can cause soil erosion, in which case the iodine-rich upper layers of soil are washed away. The last glacial period had the same effect: iodine-rich soil was substituted by iodine-poor soil from crystalline rocks. This explains the prevalence of endemic goiter in regions that were marked by intense glaciation, such as Switzerland and the Great Lakes region.

After the First World War, the U.S. War Department published a report called “Defects Found in Drafted Men,” which detailed how the incidence of goitre varied from state to state, with rates forty to fifty times as high in places like Idaho, Michigan, and Montana as in coastal areas.

The story is not dissimilar from Epstein’s account of Kenyan distance runners, in whom accidents of climate and geography combine to create dramatic differences in abilities. In the early years of the twentieth century, the physiological development of American children was an example of the “fantastic menagerie that is human biological diversity.”

In this case, of course, we didn’t like the fantastic menagerie. In 1924, the Morton Salt Company, at the urging of public-health officials, began adding iodine to its salt, and initiated an advertising campaign touting its benefits. That practice has been applied successfully in many developing countries in the world: iodine supplementation has raised I.Q. scores by as much as thirteen points—an extraordinary increase. The iodized salt in your cupboard is an intervention in the natural order of things. When a student from the iodine-poor mountains of Idaho was called upon to compete against a student from iodine-rich coastal Maine, we thought of it as our moral obligation to redress their natural inequality. The reason debates over élite performance have become so contentious in recent years, however, is that in the world of sport there is little of that clarity. What if those two students were competing in a race? Should we still be able to give the naturally disadvantaged one the equivalent of iodine? We can’t decide.

Epstein tells us that baseball players have, as a group, remarkable eyesight. The ophthalmologist Louis Rosenbaum tested close to four hundred major- and minor-league baseball players over four years and found an average visual acuity of about 20/13; that is, the typical professional baseball player can see at twenty feet what the rest of us can see at thirteen feet. When Rosenbaum looked at the Los Angeles Dodgers, he found that half had 20/10 vision and a small number fell below 20/9, “flirting with the theoretical limit of the human eye,” as Epstein points out. The ability to consistently hit a baseball thrown at speeds approaching a hundred miles an hour, with a baffling array of spins and curves, requires the kind of eyesight commonly found in only a tiny fraction of the general population.

Eyesight can be improved—in some cases dramatically—through laser surgery or implantable lenses. Should a promising young baseball player cursed with normal vision be allowed to get that kind of corrective surgery? In this instance, Major League Baseball says yes. Major League Baseball also permits pitchers to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow of their throwing arm with a tendon taken from a cadaver or elsewhere in the athlete’s body. Tendon-replacement surgery is similar to laser surgery: it turns the athlete into an improved version of his natural self.

But when it comes to drugs Major League Baseball—like most sports—draws the line. An athlete cannot use a drug to become an improved version of his natural self, even if the drug is used in doses that are not harmful, and is something that—like testosterone—is no more than a copy of a naturally occurring hormone, available by prescription to anyone, virtually anywhere in the world.

Baseball is in the middle of one of its periodic doping scandals, centering on one of the game’s best players, Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez is among the most disliked players of his generation. He tried to recover from injury and extend his career through illicit means. (He has appealed his recent suspension, which was based on these allegations.) It is hard to think about Rodriguez, however, and not think about Tommy John, who, in 1974, was the first player to trade in his ulnar collateral ligament for an improved version. John used modern medicine to recover from injury and extend his career. He won a hundred and sixty-four games after his transformation, far more than he did before science intervened. He had one of the longest careers in baseball history, retiring at the age of forty-six. His bionic arm enabled him to win at least twenty games a season, the benchmark of pitching excellence. People loved Tommy John. Maybe Alex Rodriguez looks at Tommy John—and at the fact that at least a third of current major-league pitchers have had the same surgery—and is genuinely baffled about why baseball has drawn a bright moral line between the performance-enhancing products of modern endocrinology and those offered by orthopedics.

The other great doping pariah is Lance Armstrong. He apparently removed large quantities of his own blood and then re-infused himself before competition, in order to boost the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in his system. Armstrong wanted to be like Eero Mäntyranta. He wanted to match, through his own efforts, what some very lucky people already do naturally and legally. Before we condemn him, though, shouldn’t we have to come up with a good reason that one man is allowed to have lots of red blood cells and another man is not?

“I’ve always said you could have hooked us up to the best lie detectors on the planet and asked us if we were cheating, and we’d have passed,” Lance Armstrong’s former teammate Tyler Hamilton writes in his autobiography, “The Secret Race” (co-written with Daniel Coyle; Bantam). “Not because we were delusional—we knew we were breaking the rules—but because we didn’t think of it as cheating. It felt fair to break the rules.”

“The Secret Race” deserves to be read alongside “The Sports Gene,” because it describes the flip side of the question that Epstein explores. What if you aren’t Eero Mäntyranta?

Hamilton was a skier who came late to cycling, and he paints himself as an underdog. When he first met Armstrong—at the Tour DuPont, in Delaware—he looked around at the other professional riders and became acutely conscious that he didn’t look the part. “You can tell a rider’s fitness by the shape of his ass and the veins in his legs, and these asses were bionic, smaller and more powerful than any I’d ever seen,” he writes. The riders’ “leg veins looked like highway maps. Their arms were toothpicks. . . . They were like racehorses.” Hamilton’s trunk was oversized. His leg veins did not pop. He had a skier’s thighs. His arms were too muscled, and he pedalled with an ungainly “potato-masher stroke.”

When Hamilton joined Armstrong on the U.S. Postal Service racing team, he was forced to relearn the sport, to leave behind, as he puts it, the romantic world “where I used to climb on my bike and simply hope I had a good day.” The makeover began with his weight. When Michele Ferrari, the key Postal Service adviser, first saw Hamilton, he told him he was too fat, and in cycling terms he was. Riding a bicycle quickly is a function of the power you apply to the pedals divided by the weight you are carrying, and it’s easier to reduce the weight than to increase the power. Hamilton says he would come home from a workout, after burning thousands of calories, drink a large bottle of seltzer water, take two or three sleeping pills—and hope to sleep through dinner and, ideally, breakfast the following morning. At dinner with friends, Hamilton would take a large bite, fake a sneeze, spit the food into a napkin, and then run off to the bathroom to dispose of it. He knew that he was getting into shape, he says, when his skin got thin and papery, when it hurt to sit down on a wooden chair because his buttocks had disappeared, and when his jersey sleeve was so loose around his biceps that it flapped in the wind. At the most basic level, cycling was about physical transformation: it was about taking the body that nature had given you and forcibly changing it.

“Lance and Ferrari showed me there were more variables than I’d ever imagined, and they all mattered: wattages, cadence, intervals, zones, joules, lactic acid, and, of course, hematocrit,” Hamilton writes. “Each ride was a math problem: a precisely mapped set of numbers for us to hit. . . . It’s one thing to go ride for six hours. It’s another to ride for six hours following a program of wattages and cadences, especially when those wattages and cadences are set to push you to the ragged edge of your abilities.”

Hematocrit, the last of those variables, was the number they cared about most. It refers to the percentage of the body’s blood that is made up of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. The higher the hematocrit, the more endurance you have. (Mäntyranta had a very high hematocrit.) The paradox of endurance sports is that an athlete can never work as hard as he wants, because if he pushes himself too far his hematocrit will fall. Hamilton had a natural hematocrit of forty-two per cent—which is on the low end of normal. By the third week of the Tour de France, he would be at thirty-six per cent, which meant a six-per-cent decrease in his power—in the force he could apply to his pedals. In a sport where power differentials of a tenth of a per cent can be decisive, this “qualifies as a deal breaker.”

For the members of the Postal Service squad, the solution was to use the hormone EPO and blood transfusions to boost their hematocrits as high as they could without raising suspicion. (Before 2000, there was no test for EPO itself, so riders were not allowed to exceed a hematocrit of fifty per cent.) Then they would add maintenance doses over time, to counteract the deterioration in their hematocrit caused by races and workouts. The procedures were precise and sophisticated. Testosterone capsules were added to the mix to aid recovery. They were referred to as “red eggs.” EPO (a.k.a. erythropoietin), a naturally occurring hormone that increases the production of red blood cells, was Edgar—short for Edgar Allan Poe. During the Tour de France, and other races, bags of each rider’s blood were collected in secret locations at predetermined intervals, then surreptitiously ferried from stage to stage in refrigerated containers for strategic transfusions. The window of vulnerability after taking a drug—the interval during which doping could be detected—was called “glowtime.” Most riders who doped (and in the Armstrong era, it now appears, nearly all the top riders did) would take two thousand units of Edgar subcutaneously every couple of days, which meant they “glowed” for a dangerously long time. Armstrong and his crew practiced microdosing, taking five hundred units of Edgar nightly and injecting the drug directly into the vein, where it was dispersed much more quickly.

“The Secret Race” is full of paragraphs like this:

The trick with getting Edgar in your vein, of course, is that you have to get it in the vein. Miss the vein—inject it in the surrounding tissue—and Edgar stays in your body far longer; you might test positive. Thus, microdosing requires a steady hand and a good sense of feel, and a lot of practice; you have to sense the tip of the needle piercing the wall of the vein, and draw back the plunger to get a little bit of blood so you know you’re in. In this, as in other things, Lance was blessed: he had veins like water mains. Mine were small, which was a recurring headache.

Hamilton was eventually caught and was suspended from professional cycling. He became one of the first in his circle to implicate Lance Armstrong, testifying before federal investigators and appearing on “60 Minutes.” He says that he regrets his years of using performance-enhancing drugs. The lies and duplicity became an unbearable burden. His marriage fell apart. He sank into a depression. His book is supposed to serve as his apology. At that task, it fails. Try as he might—and sometimes he doesn’t seem to be trying very hard—Hamilton cannot explain why a sport that has no problem with the voluntary induction of anorexia as a performance-enhancing measure is so upset about athletes infusing themselves with their own blood.

“Dope is not really a magical boost as much as it is a way to control against declines,” Hamilton writes. Doping meant that cyclists finally could train as hard as they wanted. It was the means by which pudgy underdogs could compete with natural wonders. “People think doping is for lazy people who want to avoid hard work,” Hamilton writes. For many riders, the opposite was true:

EPO granted the ability to suffer more; to push yourself farther and harder than you’d ever imagined, in both training and racing. It rewarded precisely what I was good at: having a great work ethic, pushing myself to the limit and past it. I felt almost giddy: this was a new landscape. I began to see races differently. They weren’t rolls of the genetic dice, or who happened to be on form that day. They didn’t depend on who you were. They depended on what you did—how hard you worked, how attentive and professional you were in your preparation.

This is a long way from the exploits of genial old men living among the pristine pines of northern Finland. It is a vision of sports in which the object of competition is to use science, intelligence, and sheer will to conquer natural difference. Hamilton and Armstrong may simply be athletes who regard this kind of achievement as worthier than the gold medals of a man with the dumb luck to be born with a random genetic mutation. ♦

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2013/09/09/130909crat_atlarge_gladwell?currentPage=all

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.