March Madness 2023 has come to an end, and let me speak for everyone when I say that this year was full of crazy upsets from day one. Purdue, Houston, Alabama and others were all projected to go far this year. To our surprise, none of them came out on top. In addition to all the upsets, there is a topic I believe is an ongoing issue in all sports, not just basketball — weight expectations.
One player I became aware of was Jimmy Bell, in regards to weight loss in this year’s March Madness Tournament. Bell is a basketball player for West Virginia University. After one of their games, he opened up to reporters about his weight journey, related to his coach’s expectations.
Bell expressed that he lost 75 lbs. in a very short period of time. He said that his basketball game is better, he can move around more, and he feels like a different player. Coaches oftentimes have a lot of say in what their players can eat when they should exercise, and unfortunately, how much they should weigh in the game.
In my opinion, avoiding the stress of losing weight should be more of a priority than the stress of possibly losing a game. Mental health and physical well-being should be a coach’s top priorities with the players on their team. I am not saying Bell was physically or mentally harmed, but, based on how fast he lost weight, I believe that his health was not put first. In order to tell players what is expected of them, Bell’s coach has the ability to bypass the opinions of the team’s dietitians and nutritionists.
Weight loss — fast weight loss especially — is something I don’t overlook. As I am writing this article, I am finding sources that, in their titles, include “inspiring” and “transformation“, in regards to Bell’s weight loss. These articles don’t mention the risks of his weight loss or the stress he may have been under — all to please his coaches. I think the current performance expectations are causing Bell to receive praise for his current abilities and weight loss. However, these expectations of performance, especially in a nationwide tournament, can cause health priorities to be overlooked.
I think that encouraging players to open up about weight expectations would be important to end the stigma. Consider avoiding articles of encouragement and praise in response to rapid weight loss. Basketball games, or any nationally-viewed sport, are solely for entertainment. However, in my opinion, when something detrimental happens to a player’s health, the entertainment is no longer worth the risk. We saw this in 2023 when Damar Hamlin nearly died on the football field. I think sports are a great way for communities to come together in celebration, but we still need to keep in mind that these professionals are real people with real health concerns.