Do Handsome Men Make Better Athletes?

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The New Scientist, which looked at a number of studies on both tennis players and football quarterbacks, says yes:

The better an American football player, the more attractive he is, concludes a team led by Justin Park at the University of Bristol, UK. Park’s team had women rate the attractiveness of National Football League (NFL) quarterbacks: all were elite players, but the best were rated as more desirable.

To test attractiveness within a single position, Park’s new study focused on NFL quarterbacks, whose passer ratings are an objective, fairly independent gauge of performance. The rating is an amalgamation of several stats, including completed passes, yardage gained, touchdowns and interceptions, and it ranges between 0 and 158.3.

Both studies turned up small but statistically significant correlations between good looks and passer rating, similar to New Scientist’s findings with tennis players.

Fun as these links are, Park’s team – and New Scientist – didn’t conduct these studies only to fuel pub banter. The results tie in with previous work suggesting that traits such as good looks and athleticism are genetically related.

I am really (really) not qualified to write anything about tennis.  But I think that, in the case of football players, these scientists are making things unnecessarily complicated.  It makes perfect sense that the best quarterbacks should be attractive – in fact, it’s practically built into the system.

Look: in the football world, a quarterback’s physical performance is only part of his job.  He also has to be a leader of men, and we have a certain idea of what a leader looks like.  He has a square-jaw, a five o’clock shadow, and ice-blue eyes that glint with determination.  His voice is gravelly and level, although it is sometimes – at crucial moments – choked with emotion.  He possesses an almost supernatural level of self-confidence.  In short, he’s Tom Brady, and I guarantee that at every level of Brady’s career, players and coaches have responded to him because he looks like our idea of a perfect leader.

It may very well turn out that there’s a genetic link between attractiveness and athletic ability.  But I think that, by focusing on quarterbacks, this study undermines itself.  Being handsome is not ancillary to playing quarterback; it’s almost a requirement.