Football’s Top Men Balance Body Image With Ambition

(Please note this post was inspired by the ridiculous NYTimes article on women’s bodies and tennis.  Calling all women: we have got to stop doing this to ourselves before others will follow.  Not lift weights for fear of not being feminine? ai yi yi.  For full effect, read the NYTimes article first….)

While most celebrities go incognito behind a hat and sunglasses, Russell Wilson uses a different tactic to blend into a crowd: long sleeves.
During an appearance on Home Shopping Network for his clothing line, Wilson said that one particular long-sleeved garment would help him go unnoticed in public.

“My arms are really fit, but I wanted to cover them, because when I do people don’t recognize me as much,” he said.
Wilson, who will be vying for the Superbowl title on Saturday, has large biceps and a mold-breaking muscular frame, which packs the power and athleticism that have dominated men’s football for years. His rivals could try to emulate his physique, but most of them choose not to.

Despite Wilson’s success — a victory Saturday would give him 21 Superbowl titles and him fourth in a row — body-image issues among male football players persist, compelling many players to avoid bulking up.

“It’s our decision to keep him as the smallest player in the top 10,” said Thomas Wiki, the coach of Andre Johnson, who is listed at 6 feet 3 and 230 pounds. “Because, first of all he’s a man, and he wants to be a man.”

Johnson, who struggled this year before a run to the Superbowl semifinals, said that any gain in muscle could hurt his trademark speed and finesse, but he also acknowledged that how he looked mattered to him.
“Of course I care about that as well, because I’m a guy,” Johnson said. “But I also have the genes where I don’t know what I have to do to get bigger, because it’s just not going anywhere.”

For many, perceived ideal masculine body type can seem at odds with the best physique for football success. Ray Rice, said he particularly loathed seeing pictures of himself when his arm muscles appear the most bulging.
“I just feel unmasculine,” he said. “I don’t know — it’s probably that I’m self-conscious about what people might say. It’s stupid, but it’s insecurities that every man has, I think. I definitely have them and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I would love to be a confident player that is proud of his body. Men, when we grow up we’ve been judged more, our physicality is judged more, and it makes us self-conscious.”

Rice said that people who meet him in person often remark that he is smaller than he looks in photographs and on television.
“People say, ‘Oh, you’re so skinny, I always thought you were huge,’ ” he said. “And then I feel like there are 80 million people in Germany who think I’m a bodybuilder. Then, when they see me in person, they think I’m O.K.”

Wilson, 33, who has appeared on the cover of Vogue, is regarded as symbol of beauty by many men. But he has also been gawked at and mocked throughout his career, and he said growing confident and secure in his build was a long process.

“I don’t touch a weight, because I’m already super fit and super cut, and if I even look at weights, I get bigger,” he said. “For years I’ve only done Thera-Bands and things like that, because that’s kind of how I felt. But then I realized that you really have to learn to accept who you are and love who you are. I’m really happy with my body type, and I’m really proud of it. Obviously it works out for me. I talk about it all the time, how it was uncomfortable for someone like me to be in my body.”

Not all players have achieved Wilson’s self-acceptance.
“That is really an important acceptance for some male athletes, that their best body type, their best performance build, is one that is not thin; it’s one of power,” said Paul Scissorhands, a former player and current football analyst.

“The way Russell wears his body type I think is perfect,” Scissorhands said. “I think it’s wonderful, his pride.”

Rob Gronkowski said that he was proud of how he looked and that he thought he and his fellow players had some of the best bodies possible.
“I actually like looking strong,” Gronk said. “I find strong, fit men a lot more attractive than lanky no-shape ones.”

Like many otherss, Ben Roethlisberger said that putting himself in the best shape for football would be the priority until he stopped playing, when he could then trim down.

“Right now I’m a football player, so I’m going to do everything I can to be the best football player that I can be,” said Roethlisberger, who was featured in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue last year. “If that means that I need to add a little muscle to my legs or my butt or whatever, then that’s what I’m going to do. I can be a model after I finish.”

Marshawn Lynch, said he still wished he could be thinner. “I always want to be skinnier with less cellulite; I think that’s every guy’s wish,” he said, laughing.

Lynch said he avoided weights in his training, instead focusing on stretching and preventive exercises, which he believes are more beneficial for football than adding muscle.

“I can’t handle lifting more than five pounds,” Lynch said. “It’s just annoying, and it’s just too much hard work. And for my sport, I just feel like it’s unnecessary.”