Size used to be an advantage for NFL running back Eddie Lacy. NFL scouts said he possessed a “powerful, workhorse-back type build” and the talent to succeed in the NFL. And he initially delivered on that promise, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year after his first season in Green Bay, and following it up with another 1,100 yard season.
But Lacy’s size and career have had an inverse relationship ever since. Lacy’s on-field production plummeted to 758 yards and a measly 360 yards the following two seasons, while his weight ballooned to 267 pounds. It was hard not to notice the physical transformation and the supposed effect it was having on Lacy’s career; that being the case, NFL fans began tweeting photos of Lacy’s prodigious gut and trolling the running back in his mentions.
Now, as Lacy embarks on his fifth season, this one with the Seattle Seahawks, and attempts to redeem his former glory, a debate has sparked over whether making fun of his weight is fair game, or if it constitutes fat-shaming.
The answer is no.
But also yes.
It’s hard to feel sympathy for a guy who makes $4.25 million a year and can thus afford all the resources one might need — world-class personal chefs, dieticians and trainers — to stay in shape.
That’s especially true when the man in question is a professional athlete, who has access to the most cutting-edge training regimens and exercise equipment in the known universe, and whose livelihood is predicated on him being in peak physical condition.
It’s even harder yet when that athlete has a lengthy record of tweeting about all the Sonic and “China food” he eats.
Judging players’ physiques is an inherent part of football. The NFL Draft combine involves scouts measuring literally every inch of a player’s near-naked body and making judgements about how that will affect their play. Lacy had no problem running his 40-yard dash shirtless during his draft pro day, back when he was a relatively svelte 231 pounds of muscle.
In that sense, it’s perfectly acceptable to point out Lacy isn’t taking care of himself, and that it’s having a self-destructive effect on his career. Football is body positive in the sense there’s a position and specialty for men of every body type, but each player must maintain the physique needed for his given station. And Lacy is very out of shape for a running back.
His struggle to keep his weight down is so prominent that the Seahawks worked weight-related bonuses into his new contract. Every time he hits a weight target, he’s rewarded $55,000.
Yet it’s hard not to read this recent ESPN: The Magazine profile of Lacy and think that he is indeed the object of fat shaming.
“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?’”
The man obviously has a tortured relationship with food. He was raised on a diet of delicious but unhealthy southern Louisiana cuisine, and like so many athletes, he wasn’t taught about proper nutrition. “I love sesame chicken and shrimp fried rice so much. It’s awesome,” he told ESPN: The Magazine. At the same time, he recognizes that love is the source of his issues.
The fat jokes continues apace, however. In fact, Eddie Lacy fat jokes have now reached a rare meme status — where the meme has taken on a life of its own, and the act of replicating the worn-out joke is funnier than the actual content of the joke.
The jokes are so ubiquitous that Lacy is convinced he’ll never be safe from them, no matter what his size.
“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 shit.’”
That’s the line between making an objective assessment about an athlete’s body and how it pertains to his on-field performance, and being downright cruel, just for the sake of it.