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Our Strange Obsession With Random Acts of Athleticism, and What Happened to the Athletes Who…

Our Strange Obsession With Random Acts of Athleticism, and What Happened to the Athletes Who Performed Them

The following video is of University of Wisconsin nose tackle Olive Sagapolu doing a backflip on the beach, and it falls into the genre of fat men exhibiting surprising displays of athleticism:

In just a day, the video received more than 500,000 views, a testament to our interest in shockingly nimble husky lads. But the video also falls into an even larger internet video category of Athletes Completing Impressive But Ultimately Meaningless Physical Feats That Trick Us Into Thinking The Person Is More Athletic Than They Are.

That is, every so often, a video will circulate of a previously unknown athlete (usually a football player) completing some remarkable, but non-sports-related physical task. And it inevitably leads to us overestimating just how good that person is at the sport they actually compete in.

The NFL even tried to co-opt the lunacy surrounding all these trick play viral moments with a fantasy football ad campaign that I grudgingly admit is quite entertaining.

For Sagapolu, it’s difficult to definitively say just how much the video above will factor into an NFL executive’s talent evaluation of him, but it’s also hard to dismiss the role these videos play in that kind of decision-making. These viral sensations have a tricky way of lingering in the back of one’s mind. Professional talent evaluators — even highly-paid, highly respected ones — are ultimately human, and thus, susceptible to the same implicit biases that plague us all.

The problem is, the men performing these strange feats of strength almost always end up being massive disappointments once they reach the pros. Case in point…

The Invisible Box Jump Guy You Might Not Have Heard About

Texas high-school cheerleader Ariel Olivar set the world on fire late last year with a Twitter video of her seemingly defying the laws of gravity, and looking as though she were stepping over an imaginary box.

Pretty cool! Except if you’re the guy who originated this strange physical feat, in which case you probably spend your nights cursing Olivar’s name for her copping your style.

The Invisible Box Challenge, as its come to be known, was, in fact, started months earlier by Dontez Hines, then a freshman defensive back at Anderson University, a little-known Division III school in northwest South Carolina with less than 3,000 students.

Not that Hines got no credit for his work: His video still has impressive 6.4 million views, but that’s still a third of the views on Olivar’s version. Plus, Olivar got to be on the Today show, while Hines didn’t.

Hines does seem like a respectable D-III athlete in his own right, though. He got some playing time last year, recording 29 tackles and one pass defended in nine games — no small feat for a freshman who apparently transitioned from safety to cornerback, judging by high school game film. Curiously, though, Hines isn’t on the Ravens’ 2018 roster. I’ve reached out to him on Twitter for comment on his current status, and will update when I receive one. Until then, note that Hines has “a project coming soon,” per his Twitter bio, so tune your radar accordingly.

The UConn Trickshot Quarterback Who Became a Trump Advisor

Most former viral stars are happy to fade into obscurity after their meme career has run its course, but not John McEntee. He infiltrated Donald Trump’s inner circle to become a personal aide and “body man” to the president (which is fancy political jargon for “glorified secretary”). You, though, probably best remember Tanney as the University of Connecticut quarterback who went viral for this YouTube video of him making nifty trick throws around campus:

That compilation would prove to be the highlight of his career, as McEntee had an average career as the Huskies signal caller and never played in the pros. (Fellow trick shot QB Alex Tanney did have a three-year stint in the NFL, however.) He did, however, get unceremoniously fired from his White House gig in March after it was revealed he’s under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for “serious financial crimes.” Almost immediately after he was fired, Trump announced plans to keep the disgraced McEntee on his re-election campaign, thus further proving our reality is a computer-simulated dark comedy.

This French Guy Who Can Do Nothing in Life Except Spectacular Dunks

Frenchman Kadour Ziani was somewhat of a sideshow in the mid-aughts for his staggering 60-inch vertical and his corresponding talents as a dunker. Here’s a pixelated as hell old video of Ziani appearing on the bro-y talk show The Best Damn Sports Show Period and doing all kinds of cool-ass jams and vertical stunts, including dislodging a wedged basketball with his damn feet!

Ziani toured the world as part of a basketball skills troupe called Slam Nation (kind of like the European, dunks-only equivalent to the defunct And1 Mixtape Tour of yesteryear). What makes Ziani jams so visually pleasing is that he’s only 5-foot-11, meaning he has to glide through the air for a considerable amount of time before throwing down. As such, his vertical leap is 56 inches (for those who don’t know, half that would be considered impressive for the average human).

Despite coming to fame just before the internet era, Ziani’s skills have been immortalized via grainy footage uploaded to YouTube. And he’s the subject of a new mini-documentary. He still coaches basketball in his native France, according to this rough Google translation of a French news article. He also advocates for dunking being its own Olympic sport, which would be very badass.

The Back-Flipping Football Prospect

Tarik Cohen’s Instagram account was chock-full of impressive feats, including this remarkable video of him catching two balls, one in each hand, while doing a backflip.

That was three years ago, when Cohen was an undersized prospect out of North Carolina A&T. And he’s one of the few people on this list whose social moment was an indicator of future success. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears and had an eye-popping rookie season, living up to his nickname as “The Human Joystick.”

The Sexy Olympics Sprinter Who Hopped Around That One Time

Australian hurdler Michelle Jenneke achieved viral fame when competing in the 2012 World Junior Championships in Barcelona. But not for her in-race performance — it was her highly-sexualized, very bouncy, hip-swinging, pre-race, warm-up dance jig that vaulted her to international stardom.

The video earned her a spot in Sports Illustrated’s 2013 swimsuit edition, and a sponsorship from Coca-Cola at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, where she performed so poorly that the Australian Olympic body stopped funding her athletic training.

Look, it’s hard to pretend Jenneke’s celebrity is anything other than horny sports fans objectifying a female athlete and caring nothing for her athleticism. But Jenneke still competes and plans to redeem herself in future races, so a 2020 Olympics comeback story isn’t out of the question. Oh, and she has an engineering degree, lest you think her talents are limited.

The Preternaturally Talented Long Snap Trick Shot Artist Turned Finance Guy

Long snapper is an inherently thankless position, one that often only gets recognition on a botched punt or field-goal attempt. But USC long snapper Zach Smith elevated the skill to a genuine art when he showcased his accuracy long-snapping balls into trash cans from insane distances.

Smith had a “flawless” four-year run as USC’s long snapper, but that wasn’t enough to earn him a spot in the NFL. His LinkedIn page lists him as working as a financial analyst in L.A.

All The Quarterbacks Who Could Throw Really Far From Their Knees and Not Much Else

No skill better encapsulates the absurdity of the talent-evaluation-industrial complex than our collective infatuation with how far a quarterback can throw from his knee.

This frenzy started in 2007 with Oakland Raiders first-round pick JaMarcus Russell, who could reportedly throw the ball 70 yards, and parlayed that rare talent into being one of the biggest busts in NFL history. There’s footage of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller throwing 80 yards while taking a knee. He also was a bust. Strong-armed Ohio State legend Cardale Jones was clocked throwing footballs 61 miles per hour from his knees, harder than most pro QBs throw standing up, but he, too, has yet to do anything meaningful in the league. And most recently, Josh Allen, the №7 overall pick in this year’s draft, was clocked hitting the crossbar from 60 yards away on his knees.

“Why would throwing from your knees be of any value in football, where a quarterback taking a knee means he’s down and therefore ineligible to throw the ball at all?” you ask.

Exactly.

The fact we continue to ascribed any value to this vanity metric despite the ample evidence that it has no correlation to how well a quarterback quarterbacks has turned the knee throw into a joke in-and-of-itself.

The White Guy Dunker Who Conned His Way to an NCAA Slam Dunk Title

Jacob Tucker, an overlooked guard from lowly D-III school Illinois College, leapt into the national spotlight in 2011 with a YouTube video of him throwing down vicious dunks.

Similar to Ziani, Tucker was 5-foot-11 with a 50-inch vertical at the height of his powers. And his video worked — it helped him secure a spot at the 2011 NCAA slam dunk contest, which he won with an impressive array of NBA Hangtime-esque acrobatics. He was the the first non-Division I player to do so.

That wasn’t it, though, for Tucker. He went on to sign a contract with the Harlem Globetrotters. His nickname was “Hops,” making him an inspiration to white hoopers the nation over.

These days, Tucker’s Twitter and Instagram accounts describe him as a competitive CrossFitter and trainer, apparently teaching kids how to get hops like his own. And, uh, oh yeah, dude’s still got it.

That High School Softball Pitcher Who Absolutely Smoked People in Dodgeball

If you find joy in watching someone get straight obliterated in a friendly game of dodgeball, you’ll adore this video as though it were family.

It might be the unorthodox, underhand delivery, but this young woman snipes her opponents as though they were stuck in quicksand, and the internet enjoyed it thoroughly. The assailant was later identified as 15-year-old softball pitcher Adyson Slayback of Heyworth, Illinois, where she holds an impressive 2.32 ERA in her two years as a varsity pitcher, according to recruiting website Maxpreps. Her Instagram says she’s committed to playing softball at Drexel University, but she may have a future in competitive dodgeball if such a thing ever exists.

Jarron Gilbert, The Pool Jump Originator

No conversation about placing too much stock in a meaningless athletic feat would be complete without Jarron Gilbert, the former NFL prospect who started this unfortunate trend with a 2008 video of him jumping out of a swimming pool and onto the surrounding deck.

In retrospect, it’s hard to understand why this was so impressive at the time. Perhaps because it was 2008, when virality itself was still a nascent phenomenon. Perhaps it was because no one had thought to try to jump out of a pool before, let alone record such an act. And maybe that was because jumping out of a pool, while a cool visual stunt, doesn’t translate to any other discernible real-world skill. It’s a parlor trick, at best.

Whatever the case, Gilbert’s jump had an immediate and lasting cultural impact. Gilbert’s video wowed scouts, and inspired a copycat video from D-II NFL hopeful Keith Eloi, who showed off his 44-inch vertical by jumping from solid ground into the bed of a Ford F-150. The video helped Eloi earn a preseason contract with the Washington Redskins, but he never played a game in the NFL. In fact, several players tried to replicate Gilbert’s social media success.

As for Gilbert, he’d go on to get drafted by the Bears in the third round of the 2009 draft, one of a litany of terrible early-round picks in the past several years by the franchise. Gilbert recorded just four tackles his rookie season, and was out of the league two years later, a certified flop.

All of which brings us back to Sagapolu. It seems almost inevitable that his 15 seconds of viral fame will be brought up when he enters the draft in the near future. And it will inevitably stick out in the mind of some gullible general manager who, consciously or not, will think Sagapolu’s backflip is somehow indicative of his on-field athleticism, at which point said GM will draft Sagapolu at least one round too early. And then the NFL Network guys will run the clip of Sagapolu doing backflips and say something along the lines of, “You might remember this guy from the videos of him doing backflips on the beach! I mean, this guy is light on his feet, folks!” as if it means anything at all.