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

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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.