Here is a theory. Top athletes are compelling because they embody the comparison-based achievement we Americans revere—fastest, strongest—and because they do so in a totally unambiguous way. Questions of the best plumber or best managerial accountant are impossible even to define, whereas the best relief pitcher, free-throw shooter, or female tennis player is, at any given time, a matter of public statistical record. Top athletes fascinate us by appealing to our twin compulsions with competitive superiority and hard data.

– David Foster Wallace, “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart,” Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (2005)

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