If you're looking for the theoretical ideal of American beauty, you watch the Miss America Pageant. (Or so they say.) If you are looking for the ideal professional football player, you watch the NFL Combine.
Both spectacles consist primarily of events in which contestants compete against themselves: right up to the moment that judges/teams have to rank them for the crown or the draft board. The Miss America Organization "distinguishes Miss America via a form of Olympic scoring." Honest. Look it up.
Both contests feature young people groomed for this moment from childhood. And both include skill, intelligence and poise components.
Our top beauty queen is judged by:
• Lifestyle/Fitness in Swimsuit/Evening Wear - 35%
• Talent - 35%
• Interviews - 25%
• On-Stage Questions - 5%
Substituting NFL jargon:
• Body stats - 35%
• Performance drills and college film - 35%
• Interviews - 25%
• Media Poise - 5%
NFL candidates probably need not espouse their dedication to world peace, but they had better smoothly explain any youthful transgressions -- repeatedly.
Top contemporary beauty queens are all Dean's List students. Thankfully, today's Miss Americas usually aspire to joining the bar rather than to teaching home economics (with all due respect to Betty Crocker).
As for prospective NFL players, it's all about the infamous Wonderlic. This mini-intelligence exam is a critical evaluation tool, particularly for the "thinking" positions of quarterback, center and middle linebacker. The 12-minute, 50-question test purportedly measures aptitude for learning and problem solving. It's not rocket science.
Instead of "Train X is traveling eastish at a speed of 150 mph and Plane Q is flying random loops at 125 mph -- when will they meet?" you get "If running back A averages 100 yards per game, how many yards will he gain in a season?"
The English vocabulary questions are depressingly similar to the famous Sesame Street segment "which of these things is not like the other?" Oooh-kay.
According to Paul Zimmerman's Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football, out of a possible score of 50, the average NFL Combine participant totals 24. Teams have even determined the minimum score needed for positional success. Interestingly, centers are required to have a higher score than quarterbacks. I keep telling everyone that the offensive line is the most important unit on the gridiron.
Former Harvard QB Ryan Fitzpatrick scored 48, Eli Manning scored 39 and Dan Marino scored... 16. Oh well, no system is perfect.
The NFL Draft is particularly imperfect. In 2008, Yahoo Sports' draft specialist ranked the top five quarterback prospects as (in order):
• JaMarcus Russell
• Brady Quinn
• Trent Edwards
• Kevin Kolb
• Drew Stanton
Let that sink in for a moment and you'll realize that all of this pre-draft hyperbole's sole value is recreational.
But the contest element that causes the most consternation, debate and guilty pleasure among viewers, whether you are Miss Iowa or the Hawkeye's top offensive guard, is the extensive inspection of every hopeful's physique.
From quarterback to cornerback, each young man stands in a long line (in his underwear) waiting to be scrutinized "in the flesh." Officials scrupulously record height, weight, arm length and hand width. Tom Brady's gangly Combine photo is going to follow him all the way to the Senate -- or wherever. Darn, at least they let the women wear makeup.
Pro Football Weekly's Draft Guide is published every spring and includes a "prototype" designation for each football position. Apparently the ideal quarterback is 6'2", 215 lbs., with 31" arms and a 9" hand. If they say so.
Miss Americas also have "perfect" proportions, although the pageant stopped recording breast size in 1987 in deference to political correctness. You think?
Nevertheless, the data exists and the ideal female figure still demands a 9" differential between bust/hip and waist size. Of course bust and hip size must be equal or skewed towards larger tops than bottoms. Imagine that.
Over the years the physical standards for both competitions have shifted in unhealthy ways. The archetypal nose tackle is now 6'3" and 340 lbs. with a 33" arm and 10" hand. And how many of these giant men are dead before the age of 60?
Miss America has gotten taller -- and thinner. Beauty queens and celebrities are currently hovering around 15% or less of the medically recommended "body weight in regard to their age and height, a major [indicator] of anorexia nervosa."
Maybe, we need to stop over-refining our concepts of the ideal. When you watch classic NFL games from the 1980's everyone on the field was some version of 6'1" and 235 lbs. (except Joe Montana, but his chicken legs were an anomaly from Day One).
Now we have Maurice Jones-Drew lining up next to a guard who is 6'9", 335 lbs. and suffers from sleep apnea. The male ideal of female beauty existed biologically in order to choose healthy mates who could reproduce. Now it exists to promote designer clothes.
"Miss America is both a business and a culturally specific brand." Isn't that a perfect definition of the NFL? The connection between Miss America and the NFL became official when current queen Laura Kaeppeler (the former Miss Wisconsin) went on television and asked Aaron Rodgers to "call her." For some inexplicable reason, he has not.
Both businesses flourish by incorporating shameless objectification into their selection processes. From a strictly entertainment perspective, this isn't horrible. Most men snoozing next to their wives during the big pageant perk up when it comes swimsuit time.
And I freely admit to thoroughly enjoying wide receivers running drills in spandex. Although can we require the linemen to wear gym shorts? Please? I'm trying to have a little completely sexist fun here.