Ladies and gentlemen, my purpose in writing this piece is not to end debate or conflict, but spark it.
Here I will be comparing America's three most important sports: football, basketball and baseball. I am sure that many of you are already outraged that I have not included hockey or soccer or your favorite sport, but determining the Good Ol' US of A's most significant sports is an argument for another piece (and besides the more conflict the merrier!). Your first instinct will likely be to side with your favorite sport, but if I could ask one favor of you, it would be to look at this with a fresh set of eyes. But enough delay!
Let the games begin!
There are two ways to measure the difficulty of hitting the big leagues in any sport: circumstance and work ethic. Circumstance being where you were born, what kind of family you were born into, your body type, etc. In contrast, work ethic is what allows an athlete to hone in on his or her skills and hopefully rise above the rest.
Athletes' success is not an either-or situation with work ethic versus circumstance. A major portion of Michael Jordan's legacy was his relentless practice and perseverance to improve. While his sacrifices in order to better his basketball skills are something to marvel at, there was likely someone 10 inches shorter than Jordan who invested the same amount of time in the game and never made it to the NBA. Air Jordan did not make the NBA solely because of work ethic, his God-given talent -- and size -- propelled him as well.
Looking at the NBA specifically, it is circumstantially the most difficult league to go pro in. A team has 10 to 15 players, which is the fewest of any big four sport. The average height of an NBA athlete in the 2007-2008 season was recorded as 6' 6.698" and the average age was 26.89 years. According to the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, virtually 100 percent of males between the ages of 20 and 29 are less than 6'6", meaning that less than one out of a thousand men in this age group are above this height. By these statistics, there are only roughly 150,000 Americans that fit the NBA's required image. In addition, if there are 450 possible NBA roster slots and the NBA is made up of overwhelmingly American athletes, it means that .3 percent of these giants play in the NBA.
While this number may seem tiny, it is astonishingly high for odds of making it into any professional sport. I'm not saying that it doesn't take a great amount of dedication and training to make it to the NBA, but chances are that if you are an NBA player, you have a huge head start over the rest of the United States. Basketball players in the NBA are generally luckier than they are skilled. (However, I have to give major credit to the 5' 9" Nate Robinson.)
Besides, Mr. 6'6" also has the option of playing in China, Spain, or Turkey if he doesn't make the NBA. To a basketball player, the world is open unlike it is to a football or baseball player.
Robinson jumps over 6'11" Dwight Howard in an unforgettable Dunk Contest preformance. The commitment and brutal workouts that football players from college to the NFL endure have been celebrated in our movies, television programs, and Gatorade advertisements. The college recruiting process and the NFL draft have only built upon this grandeur. The work ethic is tremendous and the odds of a local high school star quarterback even making it to play, not even start, in college are extremely low.
However, where NFL athletes have an advantage in their success is that they are not restricted by size. If a wide receiver like Calvin Johnson were five inches shorter, would he be far less productive? Of course he would not be the superstar record-breaker today, but that does not mean that every great wide receiver has to be 6'5". Take a guy like Wes Welker who is only 5'9" and has excelled catching passes from Tom Brady. And other stars such as Steve Smith and Victor Cruz are merely 5'9" and 6' respectively.
As I pointed out before, football is purely an American sport. Yes, there are NFL'ers from other countries, but they make up only a tiny fraction of the 32 53-man rosters in the NFL. Not only does the NFL have around 2,000 available roster spots, but also these spots are not filled for long. With the average NFL career only lasting 3.5 years, the NFL recycles players faster than any of the other big four sports.
So, are you still reading? Do you have steam coming out of your ears because I have told you that your favorite sport is not the most difficult? Are you still waiting for an answer to which sport requires the greatest skill?
Well, ladies and gentlemen... here it is!
You might think that baseball is boring, or the players are grossly overpaid, or they are all using PEDs, but despite your convictions... it still requires the greatest amount of skill to become a pro.
Baseball is played throughout parts of the Caribbean, North America, South America, and Japan. This means that there is talent all across the world that can invest countless hours into improving their skills. While there are many basketball leagues in the world, baseball really only has high paying leagues in the U.S. and Japan. Thus, there is far more global diversity in the MLB than there is in the NFL or NBA.
There are so many baseball players with virtually equal skills that it is extremely difficult to separate yourself from any other player in a scouting program or the minor leagues. Most players signed by a major league organization will not even make it to the MLB.
So fans, even if you don't agree with me... please give a tip of your baseball cap to all these players. It does not matter if they play baseball, football, or basketball, they all chased a dream and worked extremely hard to reach it.