This is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC Opinion Departmentwatch this FAQ.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill ran in his first track meet since 2014 last Saturday, clearing the 60 meters in the 25 to 29-year-old division at the USATF Masters Championships.
Before last week, each of the other four players in the race, hobbyists probably trying to drop 7.3 seconds, thought he had a strong chance of winning. Then Hill, a seven-time Pro Bowler, entered the fray and sprint to victory in 6.70 secondswinning by a margin befitting his nickname.
Tyreek Hill wins USATF Masters 60m Dash in 6.70. I LOVE SO MUCH the attention this sport of track and field brings. @cheetah pic.twitter.com/ 0EOUzPlF1i
The nickname works, of course, because Hill, an all-conference sprinter at Oklahoma State and owner of a 4.25-second 40-yard dash, is the fastest man most people have ever seen.
But most people aren’t die-hard track and field fans, a group of people who saw Hill’s results float across social media timelines and, justifiably, looked sideways at his level of competition.
“[Three] middle school boys ran fastest at #NBNationals this morning.” Jasmine Todd tweeteda sprinter and podcaster whose personal best of 7.15 seconds makes her the fastest of all the men Hill beat on Saturday.
Some track experts also sniffed at Hill’s 6.70 clock.
“It puts him outside the top 200 [world]”, he added Travis Miller of NBC Sports.
If you want me to point it out, I will:
This is the shadow.
The tweet looks like a prospect, but actually hides a great performance. Hill’s best moment in Oklahoma State was 6.64 secondsso he’s only half a step behind his college self, even though he’s several pounds heavier these days, with nine more years on the calendar and seven NFL seasons on his odometer.
Track vs. Football Debate
The reactions to the game also highlight another one of Hill’s gifts — the ability to drive people on both sides of the field versus talking football out of their minds.
NFL fans seem to think Hill is the fastest man on the planet, capable of running straight from the gridiron to the Olympic podium. Our friends in the football media didn’t help when they imposed his personal best in the 200m (20.14sec) at the Rio 2016 final, concluding he would have won bronze, then make a video to “prove” it.
(For the record, head-to-head Hill isn’t faster than Andre De Grasse or Adam Gemily.)
And many track and field fans seem to see Hill as a cocky NFLer who, in reality, is only fast in football. In their world, Hill’s 6.70 was an ugly victory and a humbling lesson in the gap between athletic speed and world-class wheels. And it is a fact that Trayvon Bromell the Christian Coleman he would dust Hill like Hill did those weekend warriors last Saturday.
The whole push-pull is a product of the data-rich, environment-poor environment we all inhabit, and a world of sports and social media that puts talk above talk. So we frame Hill and his accomplishments as points in an argument we’re trying to win, rather than just letting numbers and accolades help us appreciate a once-in-a-generation athlete.
Perhaps living in the age of early specialization in sports numbs us to the possibility of high-level multi-sport athletes. Deion Sanders retired from baseball in 2001, so his memories of his last at-bat are older than most of the players currently coaching at the University of Colorado. Most people under 30 haven’t watched a favorite athlete choose or balance two sports in the pros. So if they’re world class in one, we think they’re intrusive in the second.
Otherwise, why would people categorize an athlete with the verifiable, easy-to-Google stats of Hill’s piece as strictly a football guy when he peaked for the first time in nine years? Why should the track experts treat him like an unwelcome guest instead of a prodigal son?
Again, this is one Olympic gold medalist in the 4X100 relay from the 2012 World Junior Championships. He also won bronze in the 200, and finished fourth in the open 100just 01 seconds from the bronze medal.
Tyreek Hill in 2012 was running HS track…
He clocked 20.94 seconds in the 200m and looked like he wasn’t even trying 💨@cheetah (via @NFHSNetwork) pic.twitter.com/HjezNOQoc3
You can retire for good with credentials like these, or you can continue to train to achieve the next, next, Next speed level. But you should have lifelong immunity from people who question your athletics bona fides or your intentions to enter a 60-meter course. And you don’t have to convince yourself – like many of us – that you’re either a track and field guy or a football guy. Win a world junior title and a Super Bowl, and you’re both.
It’s easy for football fans to forget, but it’s worth remembering that Hill, whose personal best in the 100 meters is 10.19 seconds, isn’t the fastest player in NFL history. That honor might go to Bob Hayes, who held the world record for 100 meters before joining the Dallas Cowboys in 1965, or Trindon Holliday. former Broncos kick returnerand two-time NCAA sprint champion who ran 10.00 at LSU.
Hill might not even be the fastest player in the NFL right now. Judging by his 100-meter times, it’s Cleveland Browns wide receiver Anthony Schwartz, which once ran 10.09.
A rare combination
But Hill possesses the best combination of agility, positional awareness, ball skills and line speed than Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green. national collegiate 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 last weekend, Hill is well aware of how he compares to a world medalist. He knew a 6.70 second 60 would look more impressive in a win over the weekend warriors than a loss to a pro running 6.45.
He also knows that running 6.70 in the 60 is like running 10.20 over 100 meters.
Fast enough to land you in an NCAA conference final and threaten the top 200 worldwide, which is actually quite an accomplishment. The 200th best basketball player in the world is still in the NBA.
It’s the kind of result you only get with full-time training, but it’s a one-way ticket to what my good friend Melanie Scherenzel-Cherry, former college star and current USC public relations instructor, calls “The Wasteland.” Unbelievably fast by any objective measure, but not fast enough to make a comfortable living.
You can still monetize that speedif you wear a superhero outfit and Atlanta Braves game fans. Or you can pack it in with some other skills to terrorize defenders in rugby sevens or the NFL. These sports can bring you more fame than track and field ever could and make people forget you ever ran.
But if you decide one off-season to test your top speed at a track meet, you’re not a football fan in the business of cheap publicity.
You’re just a dual-sport athlete going back to your roots.