Opinion: We Need to Ditch the Idea of Arts Vs. Athletics


Athletes are artists.

The thought re-occurred to me watching Adidas’ latest “Here to Create” ad during March Madness. (Shoutouts Villanova!)

If you haven’t seen it, the ad features an array of athletes looking into the camera, and telling the audience: “see my creativity.” It’s a quick 30-second watch, check it out:

The whole thing got my gears turning about something I’ve been wrestling with for more than a decade. Athletes are creatives—even if society likes to play up those who play sports athletics and those who create art as opposites. 

Sure, there's crossover between the two worlds when it comes to activities like dance, or even yoga… But chiefly, the image of athletes being pure sweat and grit is often a foil against the sensitive and soulful artist. 

For a long time, I believed I had to choose. 

In high school, I thought of myself as artsy and misunderstood. Sweating was for JOCKS. I probably unfairly wrote off some of my athletic classmates as shallow… But then, it wasn’t like I had constructed this notion from nowhere—the media was there to back me up.

Movies and television reinforce the identity story of athleticism vs. pretty much every other interest—think: The Breakfast Club, think Mean Girls. You can’t be a great poet and kill it at lacrosse. You can’t have a photographic eye and a killer right hook.

Every once in awhile, Zac Efron wins the big basketball game AND nails the singing audition—but on the whole, the media keeps resubscribing us to the idea of these two things are enemies (#fakenews). The problem is we believe it, and now the next generation is growing up believing it. Finally though, our stories have begun to change. Finally, we're catching up. 

Now that I’m older, I'm a writer and a runner. I know that the call to an athletic vocation can pull at the soul as much as any artistic endeavour. Just like an artist has to discover where their talent and passion lies, so does an athlete—painting or poetry? Sprinting or ski jumping?

There are stories in my sweat.

When they find what speaks to them, both put in the hours to hone their craft. There is deep digging. There is soul searching. There are failures, improvements, and masterpieces. (Think game-winning slapshots in OT or Best Original Screenplay.) There are experiments—new paints, new shoes. There are competitive meets and opening nights. There is struggle—and there is always art in struggle. 

Studies have shown that athletes can make better students. Without the stranglehold notion of arts and sports as war enemies, I'd bet they can make great artists too—and vice versa.

In my personal experience, practicing my sport amplifies my creativity. There are stories in my sweat. I’ve been been struck by the opening line of a poem mid-run, and spent the last miles writing it in my head. I connect with music the most deeply when I’m moving to it. When I got a tattoo after my half marathon last year, I felt both like art and artist. Watching people cry on the Olympic podium or celebrate at marathon finish line move me as much as any Oscar-winning performance. 

Sports shake off the sleep of everyday existence. We are awake, so we create. 

In the future, athletics could be the place where the pumping heart meets the artistic soul—we just have to start talking about it. Stop making people—especially young people—choose. Spread the word: you can have it all. You can do both. You're not the only one out there smashing the standard—in fact, you're in pretty good company.

Serena Williams paints. Terry Crews is an amazing artist and actor. Britney Spears was a point guard in high school (and honey if you think busting moves and singing on stage at the same time isn’t athletic as hell, get on board). 

So what’s your sport? What’s your art? How do they work together? It's time to be proud of your intersections. It’s time to smash the myth and create a whole new generation of Zac Efrons. (...Err...)

Maybe it starts with a TV ad. Maybe it starts with us.

Personally, I’ll be brainstorming the next time I put on my running shoes.

How to Feel Like a "Real" Runner in One Easy Move

Question: what's a "real" runner? 

For some, it's simple. You run? You're the real deal. Still, people use excuses to call themselves anything BUT, or worse, find ways to bar other people from the title. How far you run, where you do it, what you wear, if you listen to music or not—too many qualifiers have been part of the debate over time. Lucky for us, times are a changin'. 

"I Run, but I'm Not a Runner."

In the "before" we had one idea of what a runner looked like: the gazelle-human hybrids with calves of steel, shredding any distance like so much iceberg lettuce, leaving the world huffing their dust. Now, the definition has opened up as Instagram tags, podcasts, and even advertising campaigns show us that real runners come in every size, at every speed.

If you're someone who is struggling to accept your title—aren't I just a JOGGER?—I've got one easy move to turn those tables. Ready? Of course you are.

The Move

1. Run outside. See other runner approaching from opposite direction.

2. As you come within eyesight of that runner, just as you're passing, elevate and then drop your chin in a nodding motion. Alternatively, give them a small wave. Soldier on.

That's it.

It's called the Nod, or the Wave. (Creative, I know.) If you've ever received one, you know how awesome it feels. During my first half marathon training last year, one windy, rainy Sunday I had to tackle 14 kms, a distance I'd never taken on before. It was early. I left behind my sleeping friends and crept outside to brave the elements, feeling unsteady about the distance literally stretching ahead of me.

Then a fellow runner braving the elements gave me the Nod. It was like I had been accepted into a secret club. I was running solo, but I wasn't alone. I ran 16 km. 

Community Building 101

This simple, powerful gesture turns random people into a community, and transforms joggers into runners. The Nod tells us we're all in this together. It says, "I see you." It says, "you're one of us!"

There is a small caveat that some runners may not return the gesture—don't take it personally. As Marc Parent wrote in his Runner's World piece "You Know You're A Runner When..."

"...when I see runners, I not only trust them, I wonder who they are. I think they could be my friends. I think we would feel the same about everything. We would like the same bands. The runners who frown when I smile and wave just don't understand that yet."

By giving someone ELSE the Nod, you recognize that you're doing the same thing they're doing. They run. You run. They're a runner? You're a runner. Boom. Welcome home. 

Maybe this sounds ridiculous, but it's important that title of "runner" be shared by as MANY people as possible. We are not VIP. We are the literal human race. The more people who call themselves runners, the more we expand the scope of our sport. Outsiders might see themselves in our movement, and get courage to change their lives. More victories. More friends.

The running community, and the fitness community as a whole, improves as it grows and changes. And really, the more people who feel included, the stronger and more vibrant our movement becomes. We need to expand and welcome—nod if you agree.