Zion Williamson and the impact of body shaming on athletes

Zion Williamson is one of the brightest rising stars in the NBA. But his latest comments reveal the impact body shaming has on athletes and what it means for the rest of us.

To be an athlete, you must mold your body into a state where it can perform at peak performance. But peak performance comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes and often isn’t what you expect. With expectations of what we should seem more unachievable than ever, professional athletes are feeling the pressure. NBA star Zion Williamson declined to answer a reporter’s question for fear of being ridiculed online by social media trolls attacking and shaming his looks.

The prevalence of body shaming online is higher than ever. Constantly examining the bodies of professional athletes is a worrying trend. Body image issues are increasingly on the radar due to outspoken athletes, who face invisible mental health issues as they attempt to shape their bodies to unattainable levels of fitness.

Zion Williamson is on his way to becoming one of the best players in the NBA. After a dominating performance against the San Antonio Spurs the night before Thanksgiving where he recorded 32 points and 11 rebounds, Zion took to the court for a postgame interview. But when the questions turned to her favorite Thanksgiving dish, Zion refused to provide an answer.

Williamson took the question jokingly and laughed it off. “You are trying to trap me.” said Zion. “No matter what answer I give, social media is going to clown me around. So no comment. While the reporter’s intentions were clearly not to incite body shaming, Zion’s response shows an awkward side sport that we don’t often hear about.

If you asked most people what their favorite holiday dish is, they wouldn’t hesitate to answer. But a 22-year-old athlete has been so ridiculed online that he’s afraid to share a seemingly innocuous detail about himself. That’s what body shaming can do.

Zion has a physique like no other basketball player. At 6ft 6in tall, he is actually undersized for his position. Although he more than makes up for it with his muscles, strength and tenacity. At 284 pounds, Zion is listed as the third heaviest player in the NBA. Zion has a frame closer to an NFL linebacker than an NBA forward. And with that frame, comes explosive athleticism.

Zion is used to being bigger than his opponents and has used his strength to his advantage ever since he went viral for his high school star plays. Once he hit the NBA, many wondered if his heavy frame would translate to the pro level. With Zion’s longevity and risk of injury examined.

Williamson was selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He tore his meniscus before his first official game and missed most of his rookie season. Although he only played 24 games, he was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. In his sophomore season, he proved his size could translate to the NBA with a dominant year, earning his first All Star game selection.

Zion was ready to take over the NBA. But before his third season could start, he suffered a serious foot injury which required surgery. During his rehabilitation period, Zion reportedly started gaining weight rapidly, despite his already heavy physique. Zion’s weight gain was accompanied by severe online trolling and negative media attention that impacted his mental health. “Every time they talked about me it was about weight,” he told Fox Sports. “I don’t even think they realized what kind of impact it can have on you.”

Zion has looked noticeably thinner this year and his trainer says he’s lost over 35 pounds since his injury. Zion’s New Orleans Pelicans currently sit in third place in the Western Conference and the star’s dominating play is a big reason for that. He’s averaging a career-high 23.1 points per game and the Pelicans look like strong contenders.

Let’s be honest, Zion is screwed. He is more athletic than 99.9% of people on the planet and has a brilliant career ahead of him. If a professional athlete at the top of his game is harassed for his physique, where does that leave us? Unrealistic body standards have permeated social media and affected everyone. With the impact of body shaming on mental health, perhaps it’s time to ditch the trolling and accept that fitness comes in many different forms.

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