Recently Nike has once again shaken up the distance running world by announcing that their runners wore a special shoe during the Olympic Marathon Trials, one that is only now being released to the public. For those of you, and I would assume this is the majority of you, this seems like nothing. I mean, it is a just a shoe. But to some professional, non-Nike runners, this was blasphemous, and almost immediately people called for investigations on if this shoe gave the runners an unfair advantage, some even calling for apologies from Nike athletes.
All in all, I would have to say that I agree with the former group. It is just a shoe. The amount of effect that a shoe can have on the outcome of a marathon is likely minimal. However, it brings up an important discussion that has always been a hot-button topic in athletics — how do we determine what is fair?
Fairness is something that athletes crave. This can be seen in the intensive anti-doping campaigns that extend into monitoring even prescription medications that athletes are taking. Some sports have major and minor leagues that do not play each other, because that would be an unfair talent advantage. In races we have men and women separate, because to expect both genders to hit the same standards would be unfair. Last semester in my genetics class, we discussed the possibility of humans genetically choosing their children to be athletically dominant, and nearly everyone in the class was in agreeance that this would undoubtedly be wrong, because that would be unfair.
However, though many may not see it this way, I would argue that sports are not fair, and can literally never be that way. There will alway be talent, body type and other genetic factors that we can not (or debatably, should not), control. For example, I am a girl who is (sadly) only 5 foot 2 inches. No matter how obsessed with football I am, and no matter how hard I work and practice, I will never be a defensive tackle in the NFL. Going back to our olympic marathon friends, if you took a picture of the women on that line, they would all be about the same height and have a distinctive low body fat to lean muscle ratio that just is not healthy for many women to reach. In any sport you look at, there will be situations like these that the athletes, just happened to have the right traits.
Now is it fair, per say, that because of my chromosomes I will never be in the NFL? I would say no. But sports are unfair, and that is part of what makes them cool. If anyone could really do any sport they wanted, and if hard work really did beat talent, then we would not be able to watch in awe as these athletes did amazing things like throw balls at 90 mph or swim for a continuous mile, or run 26.2 miles at 4:45 minutes per mile pace.
Of course I’m not advocating we throw away our anti-doping standards and just let sports be a free for all. Some rules and regulations are good. What I am saying is that a shoe is a shoe, and sometimes things are just not fair. Instead of aiming for this subjective fairness, we should aim for our sports to be natural. If we can stick to natural talent versus other natural talent, our sports will remain fun to watch, clean and as fair as humanly possible.