Why Do We Admire Athletes?

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20th Sep 2010

Physical prowess and athleticism have been prized traits throughout human evolution. Though originally prized for ability to hunt or defend others, physical fitness and skill are still admired attributes in modern day society. Today, success in sports improves one’s status in a group and makes it easier for them to find a mate.

Sports establish a social hierarchy based on physical ability. By showcasing their athletic skills (and by extension their good genes), athletes establish their place in the social hierarchy and establish dominance over less able peers. Extreme sports often require physical activities above and beyond what normal people possess, so by engaging in these kind of sports, extreme sports participants are unconsciously trying to show how strong and fit they are so that people will hold them in higher regard, and, most importantly, they will be able to pass on their genes.

Having offspring was one of the most important tasks of the early humans, and physical prowess was one of the main qualities that the people of that era would look for as a mate. Athletes are also desired mates “because performance in competitive sports can signal phenotype quality and fighting ability. High level performance in sports, especially on the part of men, is likely to be attractive to the opposite sex” (Faurie, Pontier, Raymond, 2004). This research found that athletes, especially talented ones, have more sexual partners than their non-athletic counterparts. Especially for men, having more sexual partners probably means that they will have more offspring, and their genes will continue on to future generations.

Because extreme sports are so physically demanding, participants will show anyone watching that they have the right genetic makeup for reproduction, which they show with their feats of death defying skill.