The track world should be made easy on Tyreek Hill. He is not just a football athlete looking for fame.
This is a column for Morgan Campbell, who writes opinions for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC opinion sectionplease look FAQ.
Last Saturday, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreke Hill made his first track and field event since 2014, lining up the 60m 25-29 age group for the USATF Masters Championships.
Until last week, each of the other four racers, probably amateurs looking to beat 7.3 seconds, thought he had a good chance of winning. Then Hill, a seven-time professional bowler, entered the race and ran to victory in 6.70 secondswinning by a margin befitting his nickname.
Tyreke Hill wins the USATF Masters 60m with a score of 6.70. Absolutely LOVE the attention this is bringing to athletics. @cheetah pic.twitter.com/0EOUzPlF1i
The nickname works, of course, because Hill, an all-conference sprinter in Oklahoma State and a 4.25-second 40-yard dash, is the fastest man most people have ever seen.
But most people aren’t hardcore track and field fans, a group of people who have seen Hill’s results flash up on their social media timelines and rightfully have cast a sidelong glance at the level of his competition.
“[Three] High schoolers ran faster this morning at #NBNationals” tweeted Jasmine Toddsprinter and podcaster whose personal best of 7.15 seconds puts her faster than all the men Hill beat on Saturday.
Some track experts are also unhappy with Hill’s clock speed of 6.70.
“Puts him outside of the top 200 in [world]”,” added Travis Miller of NBC Sports.
If you need me to point it out, I:
This is a shadow.
The tweet looks like a prospect but actually hides an outstanding performance. Hill is the best time in Oklahoma State was 6.64 secondsso he’s only half a step behind his college, even though he’s a few pounds heavier these days, he’s got nine more years on the calendar and seven NFL seasons on his odometer.
Track vs football debate
The response to the race also highlights another of Hill’s gifts, the ability to drive people on both sides of the track, rather than the other way around. football debate went crazy.
NFL fans seem to regard Hill as the fastest man on the planet, able to run straight from the stands to the Olympic podium. Our friends in the football media didn’t help when they imposed his 200 meters (20.14 seconds) personal best for the Rio 2016 final, he concluded he had won bronze. then made a video to prove it.
(For reference, Hill is no faster than André De Grasse or Adam Jemil.)
And many track and field fans seem to think of Hill as a cocky NFL player who really only plays fast football. In their world, Hill 6.70 was an ugly win and a humiliating lesson in the gap between field sport speed and world class wheels. And it’s a fact that Trayvon Bromell or Christian Coleman blow the dust off Hill like Hill dusted the weekend warriors off of them last Saturday.
All this duplicity is a product of the data-rich, context-poor environment we all live in, and the world of sports and social media that prioritizes controversy over discussion. So we see Hill and his exploits as arguments in an argument we’re trying to win, instead of just letting the numbers and accolades help us appreciate the once-in-a-generation athlete.
Perhaps living in an era of early sports specialization makes it impossible for us to even be high-level multi-sport athletes. Deion Sanders stopped playing baseball in 2001, so his memory of his last at-bat is older than most of the players he now coaches at the University of Colorado. Most people under 30 have not seen their favorite athlete choose or balance between two sports at a professional level. So if they’re world class in one, we think they’re violators in the other.
Otherwise, why would people classify an athlete with Hill-verified statistics easily found on Google as a purely football player when he laced up his spikes for the first time in nine years? Why do track experts treat him like an unwanted guest and not like a prodigal son?
Again, this gold medalist in the 4×100 relay from the World Junior Championships in 2012. He also won bronze in the 2000s, and finished fourth in the open hundredonly 01 seconds from the bronze medal.
Tyreke Hill in 2012 running the HS track…
Accelerated to 20.94 s at a distance of 200 meters and looked like he hadn’t even tried 💨@cheetah (through @NFHSNetwork) pic.twitter.com/HjezNOQoc3
You can permanently retire with similar credentials or continue your education to reach the next, next, next. next smooth speed. But you should have lifelong immunity from people questioning your integrity in athletics or your intention to compete in the 60 meters. And you don’t need to convince yourself, like many of us, that you are either an athlete or a football player. Win a World Junior title and a Super Bowl and both of you.
It’s easy for football fans to forget, but it’s worth remembering that Hill, whose personal best for the 100m is 10.19 seconds, is not the fastest player in NFL history. That honor could go to Bob Hayes, who set the 100m world record before joining the Dallas Cowboys in 1965, or Tryndon Holliday, former Broncos forwardand a two-time NCAA sprint champion running 10.00 at LSU.
Hill might not even be the fastest player in the NFL right now. Based on the 100m time, this is Cleveland Browns wide receiver Anthony Schwartz, who once ran 10.09.
But Hill has the best combination of agility, positional awareness, ball control and line speed since Hall of Famer Darrell Green. national student champion with a personal best of 10.08 seconds. A rare combination of track speed and game speed. This is Hill’s superpower.
As for his performance over the weekend, Hill is well aware of how comparable he is to a world championship medalist. He knew that 60 seconds in 6.70 seconds would look more impressive in a victory over the weekend warriors than in a loss to a professional who runs 6.45.
He also knows that a speed of 6.70 in the 60s is like running a 100m in 10.20.
Fast enough to make it to the NCAA Conference Finals and threaten the top 200 around the world, which is actually a huge achievement. The 200th best basketball player in the world is still playing in the NBA.
Such a result can only be achieved by training full time, but this is a one-way ticket to what my good friend Melanie Sherenzel-Cherry, former college track and field star and current USC public affairs instructor calls “The Wasteland”. Unimaginably fast by any objective measure, but not fast enough for a comfortable life.
You can still monetize this speedif you put on a superhero costume and Atlanta Braves fan race. Or you can complement it with some other skills to terrorize defenders in Rugby Sevens or the NFL. These sports can bring you more fame than running and make people forget you’ve ever run.
But if you decide to test your top speed on a treadmill sometime during the off-season, you’re not a football athlete dabbling in running for cheap publicity.
You’re just a dual-sport athlete going back to your roots.