When Athletes Gotta Go What happens when heavily-hydrated athletes have to pee? David Fleming of ESPN The Magazine tells NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro that NFL players are especially creative.

When Athletes Gotta Go

When Athletes Gotta Go

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What happens when heavily-hydrated athletes have to pee? David Fleming of ESPN The Magazine tells NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro that NFL players are especially creative.


We admire elite athletes for feats of strength and speed and agility, for the complete devotion it takes to train for top-level competition and perform on a national stage. But in the end, they're human. And part of being human - there's no way to be delicate about this - is peeing. Yes, peeing. This week on Out Of Bounds, where athletes go when they got to go. Joining me now is David Fleming, senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He wrote the piece that caught our eye for the magazine's body issue. Welcome to the program.

DAVID FLEMING: Thank you. My pleasure.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I got to ask, what inspired you to investigate this particular part of athletics?

FLEMING: Well, you know, we've done a bunch of these kinds of stories that run in the body issue. And we've done everything from the importance of the glute to the strange secret ritual of the team shower. And we thought, gosh, we've kind of gone there with every other story. The last thing to explore was pee breaks.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to talk about the Tour de France in particular. These guys are on their bikes for hours and hours and hours. But it's the Tour leader wearing a yellow jersey, I might add, who gets to signal - is this right? - when it's time for the riders to pull over for a bit of relief?

FLEMING: It turns out, yeah. One of the greatest honors, according to the riders, of getting the yellow jersey is that you get to control when everybody else who's racing stops for a little bit of a pee break.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Which is extraordinary.

FLEMING: It is. And there's actually - turns out, there's a lot of responsibility with that because there are spectators everywhere. There are cameras everywhere. There's high winds, of course. They have to watch out for that. And anybody who doesn't stop when the yellow jersey stops, they're - they get in big trouble. And anybody who pees when there is too much wind or when they're in a group stuck somewhere, there are repercussions for people who sort of break these secret pee rules.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What other anecdotes do you have from other sports?

FLEMING: Well, the way I like to put this is there are nearly 3 billion gallons of urine evacuated on earth every day. And my reporting discovered that it seems like most of it ends up on an NFL field somewhere. Really, at any given moment, on an NFL sideline, there are probably a handful of players relieving themselves. They're sort of hiding in plain sight, whether they're going behind a towel or just going into their football pants or going behind an equipment case. You know, there are maybe 10 different techniques that football players relieve themselves during NFL games.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And wait, did you actually say that some of them just pee their pants?

FLEMING: Oh, many of them do. I mean, there's more bedwetting in the NFL than in any kindergarten class you've ever been to. Most of the interior linemen instead of running to the sideline or waiting till halftime, they just relieve themselves in their pants, which is particularly an issue for the teams that have white pants. But those guys don't seem to care too much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to bring this up. As a woman, when you say that the NFL players are peeing indiscriminately, obviously, that is a luxury of men. It sure doesn't seem like a level playing field for women.

FLEMING: No. It absolutely is not. And that was another really interesting part of the story - that this is just one more additional hurdle that female athletes have to overcome. They just - whether it's sociological or - not biological, but, you know, the equipment is different. And so what female athletes told me was, you know, where men can just sort of make their own toilet, the women have to really plan better. They have to wait longer. They have to hold it. And it really can affect performance.

When you understand how closely related proper hydration is to athletic performance, then you understand how important it is and what a significant difference it could be if a female athlete is not drinking as much water because she's worried she doesn't have a place to go to the bathroom. So I don't know. I, for one, would like to see a World Cup where if women need to, they can just go squat over by the bench and relieve themselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) David Fleming of ESPN The Magazine. Thank you so much for taking us down that road.

FLEMING: My pleasure.


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