Imagining how some of the world’s greatest Olympic sprinters would fare in the NFL has long been an interesting hypothetical.
If the phrase “speed kills” really rings true in the NFL, no one should be more lethal than Usain Bolt, right?
Well, no. The idea that Olympic sprinters with no prior football experience would stand a chance in the NFL is a little ridiculous. They’re supremely talented at running very fast in one direction. But though that’s certainly a part of football, so much more goes into it—especially at the NFL level.
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Bolt has yet to give football a legitimate shot, but a different decorated Olympic sprinter has. Justin Gatlin, who narrowly finished second to Bolt in the 100-Meter Dash earlier this week, is one of the fastest men on Earth. In addition to having five Olympic medals to his name, Gatlin has previously been crowned as a World Champion in both the 100-Meter Dash and the 200-Meter Dash.
In 2006, Gatlin was hit with a four-year ban from track & field after testing positive for a banned substance. During his suspension, he tried his hand at professional football, trying out for the Houston Texans, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats. As expected, his speed was jaw-dropping. Check out this tweet from current Cleveland Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins:
Hawkins elaborated on the tweet at a recent media availability, saying, “I didn’t know who [Gatlin] was at first. But then he ran his 40, and it was like he shot out of a rocket. It was the craziest thing I’d ever seen.” However, the rest of Gatlin’s game wasn’t nearly as impressive. He hadn’t played football since 10th grade, and he struggled with practically everything besides straight-line speed.
“If I was a GM, I probably wouldn’t have given him a contract. But he was extremely fast,” Hawkins said.
In a June interview with the Associated Press, Gatlin reflected on his failed pro football career. He said, “[Pro football] is so tough. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, that’s how it is to get into football . . . they’re judged not only by their athleticism.”
Perhaps it’s best to appreciate Olympic sprinters and NFL players as two separate groups of amazing athletes who compete in two very different sports.
“You can’t compare [NFL players] to [Olympic sprinters]. First off, you’re looking at Usain Bolt, who’s the fastest human being ever to walk the face of the earth. You can’t compare yourself to that. Gatlin’s another one,” Hawkins said. “It’s two different things. That’s no dig to [NFL players], who are also incredibly freak athletes in their own right. I think you just appreciate it, and we all do. [The Olympic races] are all we’ve been talking about all day.”
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