Monday, January 22, 2018
News Roundup

DNA test kits for sports? Just let life unfold

I almost got sucked into writing about airlines and their new ridiculous charges (carry-on baggage, seat selection), but the truth is that the mention of airlines is the part in any comedian's routine where the audience groans.

Let's just face it. They don't want my business and I, retired and able to drive most places, don't want to give it to them unless absolutely necessary, so we're even.

Besides, I got distracted along the way. Columnists are that way. We are off to the races with half-formed opinions and observations swirling around in our minds when something shiny — a news item, a statement at a cocktail party, an interesting quote, a life situation — catches our eye and the direction changes.

This time, for me, it was a series of news items about DNA test kits being offered to parents who want to know what sports their kids will be good at.

Sounds like seriously junky science to me, something with an efficacy level somewhere between mood rings and daisy-petal plucking.

Okay. I may be embittered by the fact that such a test, had it been available back in the dark ages, might have informed my parents that the sports I was most suited for were Parcheesi and croquet.

I tried hard, but was a mediocre football player (lineman, anyway, and they never get girls) and, as far as I know, the only miler in Miami high school track history to ever get lapped. (That is not an exaggeration. The guy's name was Payne and, as he sailed by, he said, "Hey, buddy, off the track. We're running the mile here.")

Apparently, the test developers claim they can detect a genetic predisposition to such qualities as speed, power, endurance and the ability to generate sudden bursts of energy. So I guess if your kid doesn't show any of these qualities, you just buy him a stack of video games and hope he gets math.

And it dawns on me that sudden bursts of energy might make you more likely to be a sprinter, but might be just as likely to make you an ax murderer.

The tests don't allow for things like the value, sometimes, of nurture over nature or the human spirit that lets double amputees run marathons and blind people climb mountains and, most important, the fact that we are talking about games here.

Ridiculously high multimillion-dollar salaries and high-end scholarships (which, remember, are also sometimes actually awarded for scholarship) aside, sports are games. They are to provide exercise and fun and you don't need a genetic blueprint for those things.

They are also character-building and learning experiences, whether you are good at them or not … in fact, sometimes especially so.

I learned lessons on the football field about mass, velocity and collisions that I later saw represented in formulae that were easier to grasp because I got knocked down a lot.

And maybe while they are testing for those sports qualities, they can find a gene for susceptibility to permanent brain damage from multiple concussions, young rotator cuffs damaged by too much pitching and hearts broken at being only the second-best gymnast in the match.

Lowered or increased expectations, the way I see it, are more likely to do harm than good.

And there's the possibility of similar tests being used for other purposes, like determining future occupations. I have horse training and electrical engineering in my genes, yet my idea of a successful horse ride has the horse, the saddle and me all arriving at the same place at the same time. And I would never sleep in a building for which I had designed the wiring.

My advice: Do it the old-fashioned way. Let your kid play baseball, and if he or she is good at it, buy him or her a glove.

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