Eddie Lacy

Fans taking shots at athletes for their weight or appearance is anything but new, but with the spread of social media, it’s far easier to fire off taunts that will actually get to them. Some recent examples of those mocked for their weight include a whole ton of Olympic athletes, San Francisco Giants’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, and Seattle Seahawks’ running back Eddie Lacy.

Lacy gave one of the most insightful interviews about that, though, speaking with Kevin Van Valkenberg for an ESPN The Magazine piece published online Wednesday. In that piece, Lacy talks about how he doesn’t understand the trolling mindset, and how he figures he’d still take massive criticism even if he lost more weight than he’s been asked to:

“I could pull up my Twitter right now and there would be a fat comment in there somewhere,” he says. “Like I could tweet, ‘Today is a beautiful day!’ and someone would be like, ‘Oh yeah? You fat.’ I sit there and wonder: ‘What do you get out of that?'”

…And while he lost weight — albeit slowly — getting down to where he wanted (around 240 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame) and keeping it off was a miserable slog during his Packers years. In the meantime, people photoshopped pictures of Lacy’s stomach to make it seem like he had a Santa Claus physique. Someone searched through his Twitter account and noticed that back in college he had an affinity for Chinese food, and he loved tweeting about it. They screenshotted every tweet and made a collage that quickly went viral.

“I always called it China food,” Lacy, 27, says with a grin. “There is no way around it, I love sesame chicken and shrimp fried rice so much. It’s awesome.”

He chuckled at first, but the collage also stung. It kept showing up in his feed, an endless cycle of snark, rebooted each day. “It sucks,” Lacy says. “It definitely sent me into a funk. I wish I could understand what they get out of it.”

…Lacy is bombarded with insults every time he opens an app on his phone.

“You just can’t shake it,” he says. “And no matter what, you can’t say nothing back to them. You just have to read it, get mad or however it makes you feel, and move on. I could be 225 and they’d still be like, ‘You’re still a fat piece of s — .'”

Heckling athletes isn’t new, but it feels different when it’s about weight or appearance. For one thing, it’s a much more personal criticism than “You missed that cut!” or even “Why’d you fumble, idiot?” Beyond that, it leads to easy jokes, and that’s something that’s been the case long before social media; everyone from Babe Ruth to Eddy Curry took blasts in the papers over their weight. But weight-based criticism also feels like it’s more widespread because someone’s weight is a data point (well, at least when it’s publicly reported, the way Lacy’s cutdowns and targets have been) rather than an opinion, and one that doesn’t need much knowledge to reference or agree with. If you’re criticizing Lacy’s work as a blocking back, or his cut on a particular carry, there may be some blowback if you’re wrong, but pointing out that he’s at a certain weight is indisputable.

The conclusions that people draw from that weight are disputable, though, and it often feels like weight is ignored if someone’s playing well (or even generally liked, like Bartolo Colon), but then used as a point of attack when their on-field performance is subpar, even if that isn’t necessarily anything to do with their weight. And part of that may be from the perceived ease of losing weight relative to other athletic skills, or at least from how relatable it is. It’s tough to tell someone like Tim Tebow “throw better passes!” or “just hit the curveball!”, as those are things that most people can’t do at a professional level.

But weight appears more controllable, and even though many non-athletes struggle with it, athletes are seen as people who “should be able to do it” given their salaries. And there’s a lot of garbage logic out there about weight, such as the USA Today op-ed last fall that saw two professors with dubious credentials and a weight-loss CEO suggest that too many baseball players are fat because of the widely-criticized body mass index. (Kevin Draper has a thorough takedown of that piece here.)

It’s not just weight that leads to criticism, though. The appearance of being overweight or unathletic often comes into it as well, and that’s certainly been the case with Lacy. A lot of the stuff that circulated around him was from particular photos that made him look fat, or photos of him with food. Or consider Bengals’ tackle Andre Smith, or MMA fighter Darrill Schoonover, both mocked for their “man boobs.” None of that necessarily impacted their performance, but they didn’t look how you’d expect athletes to look, and that drew criticism and mockery. It’s interesting that, as Sports Illustrated‘s Austin Murphy wrote back in 2013, coaches don’t always want the most ripped linemen imaginable, though:

[Chance] Warmack was one of a handful of prospective offensive and defensive linemen who agreed to pose shirtless for SI, revealing the raw clay from which tomorrow’s All-Pros will be sculpted. And while a few looked conventionally athletic, most carried various layers of fat: over pectorals devoid of definition; around doughy midsections and pachydermlike posteriors. Photographed at various states of preparation for the NFL combine and pro days, some could just as easily have been girding themselves for hibernation.

…”Your power comes from your hips and your ass, that’s where your biggest muscles are,” says one of those admirers, Joe Pendry, an O-line coach for 45 years in the NFL and in college, including Bama’s 2009 championship season. “That’s your power pack. Some guys got a gut sticking out over top of that, but they can still use the power pack. They can get the job done for 16 weeks.”

…Take heart, pear-shaped prospects! Or, as Howard Mudd puts it, “It’s not about what you look like on the beach.” Mudd played seven NFL seasons, then coached offensive linemen for another 38. “I had a guy in Indianapolis by the name of Tarik Glenn,” he remembers. “Bad-looking body. His legs were short and shaped kind of funny. He looked a little like Charlie Chaplin.” But he earned three trips to the Pro Bowl while protecting Peyton Manning’s blind side.

Murphy’s story has a lot of insight into the challenges many athletes face in finding and keeping their ideal playing weight, and it’s not a simple or easy thing. Van Valkenberg’s story on Lacy illustrates that too;  many of the nutritional challenges he faced growing up were related to his family’s displacement and financial struggles in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and many of the issues he’s faced in the pros haven’t simply been about weight, or have had more to them (for example, an ankle injury made it particularly tough for him to work out and keep his weight down). At any rate, it’s a worthwhile read for a look into the mind of a player on the receiving end of weight-based criticism. And maybe it will make some think twice before just typing “Oh yeah? You fat.”


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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