January 16, 2004

ESPN asks you to rank Top 25 Atletes from last 25 years.: Is this a good list? Who is missing? Who shouldn't be there? Are race car drivers athletes?

posted by scully to general at 01:13 PM - 49 comments

Are race car drivers athletes? Yes

posted by garfield at 01:15 PM on January 16

Once you have ranked the list, and submit your results, the screen shows your rankings, but apparently the output is some sort of image because I wasn't able to cut-n-paste my rankings. Garfield: Care to elaborate? Personally I consider them competitors, and not athletes. Granted it takes some serious skills and endurance to participate, but I still say that race car drivers are like jockeys, where the horse is the actual athletes. Only cars aren't alive ;) [and sorry for the typo in the post]

posted by scully at 01:18 PM on January 16

No Michael Johnson? Admittedly I don't know anything about half the people on the list, but Johnson surely is better than some of the other track athletes included - especially Flo-Jo, say, in that his records are as far off the scale as her, in comparison to everybody else in his events, and his career lasted ten years, too.

posted by dng at 01:31 PM on January 16

I feel like someone from baseball is missing and I can't put my finger on it right yet.

posted by jerseygirl at 01:36 PM on January 16

Sid Fernandez?

posted by 86 at 01:42 PM on January 16

Anyone able to actually do the ranking? It's not letting me drag the numbers.

posted by swank6 at 01:46 PM on January 16

What is an athlete? A person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina. Take into consideration the mental and physical duress experienced for extended periods of time on a regular basis, and I'd say drivers are athletes. They train for both strength and endurance. Some lose like 300 pounds of water during a race, due to heat and exhaustion. And everyone knows what it feels like to resist the G-forces when you make a hard and fast turn in your car. I like your analogy to jockeys. Alot, actually. That's a really interesting way to look at it. I'm going to have to stew on that for a while. Either way, driving is no joke.

posted by garfield at 01:49 PM on January 16

I'm having no luck with the link either.

posted by garfield at 01:51 PM on January 16

jerseygirl: jim rice? nomar?

posted by djacobs at 01:53 PM on January 16

I'd go for the driver-as-jockey analogy once jockeys start doing 250 laps. Until then, they are riders, and race drivers are athletes, according to all of garfield's examples, IMO. It's definitely more physically demanding than baseball and golf...

posted by MeatSaber at 02:26 PM on January 16

For the record, I don't feel strongly about the race car drivers as athletes idea. It is just that my wife (she's a NASCAR fan) and I were discussing this recently--as well as what is the difference between a sport and a competition. We brought up other "sports" and were debating them. These others included ice skating, syncronised swimming, curling, etc. When it came to what constitutes a sport or not, I generally argued that those competitions where scoring was arbitrary were not sports, while those where points were earned based on some criteria were. So, while we watched curling I said "Curling is a sport, but curlers are not athletes." "Ice skating is not a sport but ice skaters are athletes." etc, etc, etc. So, when I saw Earnhart (who didn't make my Top 25) on that list I decided to include the question about race drivers in the post. Thought it might make for an interesting discussion.

posted by scully at 03:01 PM on January 16

Jockeys are definitely athletes. Try holding your body in racing position for several minutes -- let alone while you're balanced on top of something that big, moving that fast.

posted by jeffmshaw at 03:08 PM on January 16

Here's a fine article that explains the physical demands of driving. I also remember a tv program, on PBS I think, on which it was shown that drivers as a group had the best hand-eye coordination/timing of any group of athletes.

posted by jason streed at 03:17 PM on January 16

It's definitely more physically demanding than baseball driving is more demanding than baseball? being a racecar driver is more physically taxing than being a pitcher?

posted by jerseygirl at 03:22 PM on January 16

being a racecar driver is more physically taxing than being a pitcher? If David Wells can excel in the majors, than yes, being a pitcher cannot be *too* demanding...

posted by MeatSaber at 03:30 PM on January 16

it was shown that drivers as a group had the best hand-eye coordination/timing of any group of athletes. I bet you any solid Quake/Counter-Strike player is up there too, and points there are not earned arbitrarily, so is your national/international competing game player an athlete too? Or, if not athlete, is that a sport too? </endless and tiresome debate>

posted by mkn at 03:49 PM on January 16

Quake is a sport, but the players are not athletes, until they have to fight the steering wheel and 2-3Gs.

posted by tieguy at 03:54 PM on January 16

Pretty gratuitious calling this a "North American" list by slipping Wayne Gretzky in there, considering many (most?) Americans never heard of him until he got shipped to L.A.

posted by smithers at 03:57 PM on January 16

Didn't Pele play for the New York Cosmos at one point? Where is he?

posted by smithers at 03:59 PM on January 16

Didn't Pele play for the New York Cosmos at one point? Where is he? My best guess is at home in Brazil. :p

posted by lilnemo at 04:01 PM on January 16

Off the top of my head, I came up with these "missing in action" lists: Missing Baseball Players: Ken Griffey Jr. Greg Maddux Mark McGwire Tony Gwynn Missing Hockey Players: Mark Messier Ray Bourque Dominik Hasek The kicker is that it seems to be only athletes that played ENTIRELY between 1979-2003. So stars like Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Phil Esposito don't qualify.

posted by grum@work at 04:07 PM on January 16

Pele wouldn't qualify because his career was already established before 1979.

posted by grum@work at 04:08 PM on January 16

If David Wells can excel in the majors, than yes, being a pitcher cannot be *too* demanding... Right-o then. Not physically straining on the body at all. Pitching and most pitches are asking the body to do something it doesn't naturally do. Most pitches are not natural movements. I think baseball ranks quite a bit higher on the physical stress charts than driving/racing a car.

posted by jerseygirl at 04:13 PM on January 16

Am I the only person who this page isn't loading for. I just see the blurb about voting, but I don't see a list of 'athletes'. I think too many pro sports players are given the term 'athlete'. So many sports these days really don't require athetisim. I have a very hard time thinking that any picher in baseball is an athlete. Sure they have great hand eye coordination and strength, but I don't think that makes you 'athletic'. In order to be an athlete your activity should include at least 2 of strength, agility and endurance. This would exculde people like weight lifters, golfers, race car drivers (sorry it might be hard work, but a drivers strength doesn't factor in too highly), and jockeys. That's my $0.02 CDN (which is worth a lot more these days!)

posted by camcanuck at 04:48 PM on January 16

A total of four women out of twenty-five athletes? Yeah, that just about figures, coming from ESPN.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 05:34 PM on January 16

"Pitching and most pitches are asking the body to do something it doesn't naturally do. Most pitches are not natural movements...I think baseball ranks quite a bit higher on the physical stress charts than driving/racing a car." Yes, because throwing a ball is so much less "natural" and so much more stressful than withstanding multiple G-forces over and over.

posted by mr_crash_davis at 05:35 PM on January 16

There are 6 women out of 35 and considering the content of the list, I would say that is about right.

posted by dales15 at 05:58 PM on January 16

Yes, because throwing a ball is so much less "natural" and so much more stressful than withstanding multiple G-forces over and over. Not to mention the fact that it's 100+ degrees inside the car, going 180 MPH in a crowd that's all inches apart. Have you ever driven your own car fast? Know how much it vibrates? Imagine that doubled or tripled...for 4 hours. Ever gone on a long road trip, like 10 hours? Know how stiff and wore out you feel at the end? Imagine doing the same thing, but cram the same stress on your body and mind into 1/3 the time. And this is just NASCAR. There's other racing circuits, with a whole new set of demands on the drivers. Ever watch F1? Or rally races? Or the 24 hours of Le Mans? Compared to that, pitchers, and every other baseball players, are pampered babies...

posted by MeatSaber at 06:17 PM on January 16

Okay, here comes the "car racing is easy, it's just the car" and "pitchers are all fat slobs and pampered" arguments. Let's get this out of the way: Driving a race car is a very physically demanding feat. The multiple g-forces, the concentration, the heat, the endurance required...all take extreme physical effort. To suggest that it's like a Sunday drive through the country back roads is ridiculous. Throwing a baseball overhand while imparting spin in either direction, is not a natural movement. Doing so over 100 times a game, 30 times a year (not including warm up pitches and practise) produces insanely dangerous amounts of wear and tear on the human body (wrist, elbow, shoulder, back). There is a reason why many great young pitchers never make it to the big leagues (see Anderson, Ryan): the damage from throwing a ball becomes so severe that it ruins the body for the REST OF THEIR LIVES.

posted by grum@work at 06:35 PM on January 16

I read an article about formula 1 the other day - no idea, sorry, how F1 relates to NASCAR, in that I know nothing about NASCAR, but I assume its fairly similar - and F1 drivers have to drive for 1 and a half hours while their cockpit temperature is at least 40 degrees C - 104F according to google - while experiencing forces up to 3G during breaking, accelerating and cornering, all the time driving cars with, basically, no suspension, and sounds measuring upto 135db - which is above the human pain threshold. All that, coupled with the hand eye coordination and concentration aspects of the sport would suggest to me that competitive motorists are certianly athletes. (Michael Schumacher has a pulse rate of about 35 bpm - roughly the same as Lance Armstrong) And I don't even really like motor sport, but if it isn't a sport, I don't really know what is. (Then again, I think chess is a sport, so what the fuck do I know)

posted by dng at 08:48 PM on January 16

A total of four women out of twenty-five athletes? Yeah, that just about figures, coming from ESPN. I just wanted to say, I really like lil_brown_bat.

posted by Ufez Jones at 09:27 PM on January 16

"Pitching and most pitches are asking the body to do something it doesn't naturally do. Most pitches are not natural movements...I think baseball ranks quite a bit higher on the physical stress charts than driving/racing a car." So's tossing a disc in disc golf, but I don't see (statistically speaking) history's most dominate athlete in there. I know, I'm being pedantic and disc golf is a very niche sport, but still... If you want to talk true athletism, there should probably be some water polo guys, rugby players, and marathoners in there. But, for what it's worth, this is just another fun link for people to barb for their personal favorite sports/athletes.

posted by Ufez Jones at 09:30 PM on January 16

Um, Dominant. Apologies.

posted by Ufez Jones at 09:30 PM on January 16

Everyone agrees that Lance Armstrong should be number one though, right? RIGHT?

posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:39 PM on January 16

I voted Barry Bonds as number one. Admittedly, I give him extra points because he so angers all the sportswriters. John Kruk's jokes notwithstanding, even a tubby baseball player is an athlete. This body type is also seen in American football, and I don't think anyone would deny that an offensive lineman is an athlete. Going somewhat off-topic, but as far as athletes who aren't in a sport, how about Mikhail Baryshnikov? Any guys here think you could take him?

posted by alex_reno at 12:45 AM on January 17

Alex: if you mean tongue wrestling, Sarah Jessica Parker seems to be doing pretty well these days... and she's a short hebraic chick with a big butt... but some seriously defined arm muskles. /defusing flamewar by noting "i LOVES me some short hebraic chicks with big butts and seriously defined arm muskles". Seriously.

posted by forksclovetofu at 02:51 AM on January 17

While I am glad to see so much interest in the thread, I am starting to regret even mentioning car racing. The results are making this thread read like MeFi. ;) How about a change of direction? Who did you rank #1? I chose Cal Ripken, Jr.

posted by scully at 08:15 AM on January 17

Number 1? I'd vote for Jordan or Woods. They're tied in my book. Yeah, and I know it's a boring choice.

posted by 86 at 09:07 AM on January 17

I picked Jordan.....

posted by smithers at 11:43 AM on January 17

I picked Gretzky. His absolute dominance of the game is what did it for me.

posted by grum@work at 02:30 PM on January 17

Cal Ripken---Are you serious??? Thats serious hometown bias. I picked Jordan, Gretzky 2....I fear the Gretzky may get undervalued overall in the poll though.

posted by dales15 at 03:05 PM on January 17

It isn't hometown bias because I am not an Oriole's fan. Hell, I am not even much of a baseball fan for that matter, prefering soccer, college basketball, and American football. I have only two words to support my position, even though I could spend hours discussing his contributions to the game and sports in general: The Streak.

posted by scully at 03:55 PM on January 17

The Streak is impressive, but I'm still more impressed by this one or even this one.

posted by grum@work at 05:57 PM on January 17

I put Rice #1, Jordan #2... yeah, a little hometown bias, but not much.

posted by swank6 at 12:26 PM on January 18

I think Serena Williams is a little out of place on this list. I mean, she's good and all, but she's got 3 grand slam titles under her belt and hasn't begun to hit Navratilova level just yet. She's got a ways to go before she's at that level. I also think that while Dale Earnhardt is a sentimental favourite, there have been better drivers out there than him in the last 25 years. Michael Schumacher comes to mind. Different type of racing, but his records are pretty incredible. And Shaq but no Karl Malone? Puh-leeze. The guy is going to have more points than anyone else when he's done. Shaq, simply put, won't. Individually, they're not even comparable yet. Maybe Jack Nicklaus should be on here somewhere too. I give them credit though; that's a tough list to put together and everyone's a critic. Number one for me? Lance Armstrong, hands down.

posted by dfleming at 09:35 PM on January 18

Michael Schumacher comes to mind....Maybe Jack Nicklaus should be on here somewhere too. Like was mentioned before, they are only including players whose entire North American career existed between 1979 and 2004. That would exclude Nicklaus (established before 1979) and Schumacher (European only).

posted by grum@work at 08:08 AM on January 19

There are a lot of people missing from the list. Just using my hometown bias, what about Isiah Thomas, Steve Yzerman, or even Joe Dumars? Sure, Joe D. doesn't have impressive numbers, but shouldn't his ability to put the clamps on the best basketball player ever count for something? And what about the most athletic basketball player ever, Dennis Rodman?

posted by MeatSaber at 03:11 PM on January 19

Joe Dumars? I'm sorry , what?

posted by forksclovetofu at 04:17 PM on January 19

That can't be serious. Larry, Magic, Michael, Shaq, Duncan......and Dumars. I can think of 15 basketball players that could be listed before Dumars and that doesn't even account for the other sports.

posted by dales15 at 09:11 PM on January 21

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