Peter G. Weyand, physiologist and biomechanist, is “one of the world’s foremost experts on human performance…and a source for journalists on the topic of performance limits such as how fast humans can run.” He made news most recently for being selected by maverick NBA Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for a $100,000 study on the biomechanics of crying wolf, or “flopping,” as it’s known in professional sports. Besides being the second ugliest word–after “blogging”– in the category “Newly Popular Activities That Fewer People Should Do,” flopping is a plague of pretending that threatens the integrity of professional sports. Cuban rightly loathes the practice. Good players otherwise engaged in the honest, difficult attempt to win games will suddenly succumb to the temptation to dubiously influence a referee by essentially going all Sarah Bernhardt on the court–flailing, screaming and falling without having been fouled, or even touched. (Some of the masks of intantaneous faux pain would send Meryl Streep back to acting class.) However, slow motion is a great exposer, and Weyand’s team hopes to find patterns in flops that don’t exist in the real thing, so that even in real time a flopper will be as recognizable as a flapper.
Cuban will get his money’s worth out of the SMU-based scientist Weyand. As for Weyand’s expertise in “how fast humans can run,” well, they have track meets for that. But there aren’t too many people who can claim to have been “a lead investigator on the scientific team that performed experimental work to appeal the Olympic/IAAF ban of double amputee, South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius.” That work got Pistorius into the London Olympics, where he raised spirits and questions racing against the un-amputated. Ironically, Weyland had to prove Pistorius wasn’t seeking an advantage with his prosthetics; now he’ll have to prove NBA thespians are seeking an advantage with their dramatics. While he’s at it, the broad-minded Cuban may want to throw another $100K toward the mental aspect of flopping–and try to discover what’s in the minds of these otherwise exceptional competitors when they suddenly transform from superhero to supervictim. As Pistorius’s sad tale illustrates–he stands accused of first-degree murder–the mental part of achievement is just as important as the physical.