Shorts: Retarding the advancement of the human race?

By Robert W. Bishop

Sports Editor, The Milwaukee Post-Herald
Reprinted by permission

Recently, a reporter and I were in the local bagel joint musing to one another over a glass of skim milk, and we were discussing many curious anomalies which have bothered us over the years. One of the questions which came to his mind is, "Why haven't human beings been able to run a kilometer and a half in under three minutes?"

"Good question," I answered. "We've made so much progress in so many areas over the years. We've eradicated smallpox, visited the moon, built long bridges and tunnels, brought television to nearly every home, and so much more."

"Well, any ideas?" he said to me.

"How about we do an investigative series on this? It sounds interesting. I'll put you on it starting today."

"Oh, no, you don't," he quickly retorted. My vacation starts today. Get someone else."

Since it was August, and the sports bureau was empty, with everyone else seeming to have the same excuse, I was forced to tackle the story myself. I started by taking a trip to visit the great racehorse Secretariat where he stands at stud.

The watchman led me to a stall under a giant oak tree and left me with the champion. I had always been anxious to meet him someday, and my blood raced with delight as my dream came true. I gave him a pat on the back and started chatting with him for a while, mostly about small matters. Finally, I put the question to him.

"Secretariat," I began, "You thoroughbred racehorses can go a kilometer and a half in well under three minutes with no trouble. Even a mere standardbred can do it just as easily. Why not a human being?"

The majestic animal furrowed his brow and took a long pause for dramatic effect, scraping his hoof along the ground as if to ponder the question. Then he looked up and gazed intently at me for several moments. Finally, he looked me straight in the eye and said, "Bob, I've often asked myself the same question, and I keep getting the same answer. Nobody will want to hear it, though."

"I do," I quickly replied. "That's why I'm here."

"Are you sure? The answer lies in your sloppy, laid-back, let-it-all-hang-out culture, you know."

"Let me hear it anyway. Sports writers get paid to be the heralds of bad news."

Now, removing his eyeglasses, he looked at me even more seriously. "Bob, it's the shorts. Almost all runners wear them. When I see them on TV, trying to make a serious run with silly clothing, I feel like crying. I would be thrilled to see a human being break one of my records someday, but as long as they're wearing shorts, it will never come to pass."

"Shorts? What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that if you human beings would stop wearing shorts to run, you might have a ghost of a chance of a kilometer and a half in one minute. Look at all you have going for you-- your brains, your ability to train yourselves and stick to a workout program, to control your diet, and so much more. All we horses have going for us is that we have sense enough not to wear shorts. Lucien [Laurin, his trainer] even tried to get me to wear shorts the day of the Belmont in 1973, but I gave him the longest 'neigh' he'd ever heard and kicked over my water bucket onto his feet. He never questioned me after that, though."

"You're kidding."

"No, Bob, I'm dead serious. In fact, sometimes, I even wonder how many other human activities have been compromised by the prevalence of shorts."

At that, I heard a stirring from the adjacent stall. Secretariat's younger brother, General Assembly, not quite as great a horse as his elder brother but still a top racehorse, had been listening intently. "Bob, Secretariat's hedging a bit there-- it's his right as an elder statesman-- but I'm not afraid to be a bit bolder than that."

"Really, how so?"

"I'm absolutely convinced that almost every area of human endeavor-- things far more important than how fast someone can run-- has been tainted by shorts. Apollo 16, for example, could easily have made it to Mars if the children waving it off hadn't been wearing shorts, and Apollo 18, had it not been cancelled, would have discovered many interesting things about Jupiter, but some of the people who wrote Congress opposing the curtailment of the space program were wearing shorts when they wrote their letters, and their letters failed to convince anyone."

"Is that all?"

"Think about it. Look at the great people in history. Do you know of even one photograph of Mozart wearing shorts? What about Shakespeare, or Michelangelo? I've looked; they just don't exist. I have to conclude that they just never did it. They were so much the better for it. Look at the pyramids in Egypt. They weren't built by people wearing shorts, that's for sure. Not one pair of shorts has been found in any tomb in Egypt."

The arguments and evidence presented by Secretariat and General Assembly are truly remarkable, but as a good reporter, I had to dig deeper. I visited Arthur Q. Bryan Research Hospital in Fargo, South Dakota and interviewed a leading specialist in the human body, Dr. Mary Livingstone.

"Dr. Livingstone," I said after a brief introduction, "I have it on good authority that shorts are keeping human beings from reaching their full potential. Is this true?"

Like Secretariat, she gazed deeply into my eyes. Finally, she spoke. "In a word, Bob, yes," she said.

With such conclusive evidence, then, I now must wonder-- who are the madmen who have forced shorts on society? What, indeed, can be their secret agenda? How have they been so successful? Can they be stopped?