Friday night topic: On the arbitrariness of sports

I was watching an NFL playoff game a few weeks ago when the camera cut to Troy Aikman providing some commentary. He was gesturing with his hand as he spoke, which caused my wife to recoil with disgust at the ridiculously enormous size of the guy's mitt. I mean, seriously, the fingers spread out into a web way bigger than a person's head. "That," I told her, "is the hand of a three-time Superbowl winning quarterback." The guy has other athletic virtues, I know, but his incredibly outsized palms and fingers no doubt played a major part in his success.

The funny thing is, football originally was played with a rugby ball, as I understand it, and the forward pass wasn't a part of the game. The pigskin was designed to be carried, not tossed. When the forward pass was added, Wikipedia tells me, the ball was narrowed a bit. Still, one can't help but think that the rules of that particular game have caused us to prize some strange traits, like hands the size of dinner plates, and reward people with those attributes with incredible fame and fortune.

Much the same goes for basketball. I doubt the originators of the game envisioned a freakish tentpole like Yao Ming when they came up with the idea of shooting a ball through a hoop, but here we are, with NBA players who are at the absolute outer edges of human size doing their thing.

As these sports have become professional spectator events, the way certain attributes are prized is kind of crazy, isn't it? Golfers are even more specialized—amazing athletes with an insanely narrow skill set.

The related questions are: what sports instead prize "pure" or general athletic ability, separate from outlier traits? Which sport has the best overall athletes? Discuss.

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