It just ain't so

This story appears in the March 7, 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Face it: both fans and jocks believe all sorts of fictions. Time for our myth-busting team to set the sports world straight.

Myth 1: Sex saps athletic prowess

Muhammad Ali bought into it. So did ancient Mesopotamian fighters who swore by the legend of Gilgamesh -- the King of Uruk who sent a harlot to a rival to sap his strength. For 4,000 years, in fact, coaches have pretty much been giving the same advice to their players: Don't have sex before game time.
What a carnal waste! There's simply no evidence that abstinence stokes competitive fire. In one seminal study, 14 married male ex-athletes were given grip tests the morning after having sex and after a week of abstinence. They were just as strong whether they had had sex or not. If anything, says Kinsey Institute's Jennifer Bass, sex is beneficial to athletes: "It can relax and quiet the mind."

Myth 2: Basketball players don't work as hard as they used to

College coach Dwight Jones thought so -- in 1978. "Today, ballplayers want to be cool. They want to look as if they are playing with no effort. If I'd tried to be cool when I was a player, I would have been the coolest benchwarmer you've ever seen."

Myth 3: Winning NFL teams establish the run

What does it tell you that the NFL teams with the most first-quarter runs in 2010 were the 2-14 Panthers and the 8-8 Jaguars, with 129 carries each? Maybe it tells you that you have to run well early to win. But that doesn't add up either. We evaluated all 32 teams based on whether their 2010 average yards per carry in the first quarter was higher or lower than the NFL average. Then we did the same for yards per pass attempt. Check out the results ...

• Teams that were below average both passing and running won 38 percent of games.
• Teams that were above average running but below average passing won 46 percent of games.
• Teams that were above average passing but below average running won 58 percent of games.
• Teams that were above average both passing and running won 67 percent of games.

Conclusion: It's better to pass well than to run well. But it's best to do both.