ESPN Body Issue 2013: Gary Player Serves Up Sugarless Helping of Truth

Richard Langford@@noontide34Correspondent IJuly 12, 2013

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 09:  Gary Player of South Africa reacts on a green during a practice round prior to the start of the 2013 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2013 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Seemingly buoyed by the fact that he is 77 and ESPN wanted him to pose nude, Gary Player took harsh aim at the overall fitness level of Americans. 

I admit, when I first got wind of his comments, I fell into a patriotic frenzy while muttering, "Who does this astonishingly tone South African senior citizen think he is?" Obviously, I was not prepared to take in any information objectively at that point. 

However, I quickly softened my stance on the nine-time major winner. So, when I read that Chris Strauss of USA Today quoted Player as calling America a "tsunami of obesity," I was able to agree with Player's points. 

Of course, watching this segment from ESPN on his inclusion in ESPN The Magazine's "Body Issue," I'm almost scared not to agree with him:

As they mention in the video, one of Player's nicknames is Mr. Fitness. He was a pioneer of weightlifting and training in golf, and he is still overflowing with the kind of energy typically reserved for toddlers and Jack LaLanne.

There's no denying the guy is aging remarkably well. As he says, he beats his age on the golf course by six shots. I'll be able to do that...if cryogenic freezing is developed in the next 15 years.

There is more to me softening on Player than that video, though. As Strauss points out, Player has 15 American grandchildren and seems genuinely fond of the United States.

His harsh words don't come off as contemptuous—it's more of a cautionary tale. 

As I began to realize this, the mental block that would've kept his words from registering began to fade, and comments like the following began to sink in.

Strauss does an excellent job of framing several lengthy quotes from Player, but what I really took away from it registered best in this Player quote:

America is maybe the most unhealthy nation in the world because they live on crap. They’ve got the best food in the world, the best farmers and the best food, but they live on crap. When [British chef] Jamie Oliver went to America, he went to areas where children never had cabbage or broccoli or spinach or vegetables in their life. People giving their children a soft drink and a doughnut to go to school. No wonder academically they’re affected.

Wait, which areas specifically don't have cabbage and spinach? That sounds amazing. 

After I get past daydreaming of a vegetable-less world, I can't help but think of how right Player is. 

As a society, we've entered a sliding scale of acceptable junk-food intake. 

There was a time when a pop tart or sugary cereal was at least packaged as part of a complete breakfast. Now it is a breakfast side dish to the doughnut.

Not all that long ago, sodas came in 12-ounce cans and not cups so big that they can easily be transformed into small fishing boats. 

Fast food taunts me every day with delicious cheeseburgers on value menus that are cheaper than what I could make at home. Not only that, but I don't even have to get out of a car to get it. 

I can fall into such lazy ruts that I consider exercising pizza carry-out deals a pre-dinner workout.

While there are plenty of fit Americans, Player's comments really highlight the trappings of diets moving away from nutritional value.

This is also hammered home in a recent study reported on by Noam N. Levey of the Los Angeles Times and Marni Jameson of the Orlando Sentinel. The study found that Americans are exercising more than they were a decade ago but that obesity is still rising. 

This is a quote from the report: "Many health experts believe that changing diet may do more than increasing exercise to bring those numbers down."

What? You mean I can't go on a 30-minute jog, eat a bucket of fried chicken and wash it down with a gas tank's worth of soda and lose weight? That doesn't seem fair.

Why does it take longer to burn calories than ingest them? 

Who knows why the human body is this way? Well, Gary Player might, but even if he doesn't, he clearly sees what is leading to our expanding nation. 

I, for one, am inspired.

From now on, I will stop pulling up onto the sidewalk while going to fulfill my end of the carry-out pizza contract.