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Do looks matter in football? Study says they help Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes win

Reed Hoffmann
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the sidelines during the NFL divisional round football game against the Cleveland Browns last season. Chiefs fans see the determined face of their quarterback while Dr. Jennifer VanGilder observes a countenance that ranks high in face symmetry.

Patrick Mahomes has been on the cover of GQ magazine and Sports Illustrated. The 26-year-old is also a Super Bowl MVP with a library full of impressive football stats, but a new research project indicates that Mahomes' looks are a factor in those accomplishments.

As the son of a former major league baseball pitcher, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes learned at an early age how to play baseball and football. But along with his cannon-type arm, photographic recall and quick footwork, Mahomes apparently has something else in his favor — his looks. At least in the analysis of Ursinus College (Pennsylvania) business and economics professor Jennifer VanGilder.

From reviewing the facial symmetry of this year’s frontline NFL quarterbacks and measurements through the help of a website (prettyscale.com), VanGilder lists Mahomes as tied for second with Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield on the list of the NFL’s best looking quarterbacks.

Both are at 86% perfection according to a scale called the Golden Ratio, which assesses face symmetry and is traced back to ancient Greeks and Romans.

“Interestingly, they (Mahomes and Mayfield) are both very widely cast on advertising campaigns,” said VanGilder.

Only Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings ranks ahead of them with an 87% perfection rate.

VanGilder Headshot (002).JPG
VanGilder, Jennifer
Jennifer VanGilder has studied the facial symmetry of the NFL's quarterbacks and says there is a correlation between the players "looks" and their success.

Ten years ago, VanGilder conducted a study among all NFL players, coaches and owners with the Chiefs as a team ranked the least attractive. In case it slipped your mind, the Chiefs head coach 10 years ago was Todd Haley and the starting quarterback was Matt Cassel.

Long before the infusion of talent in recent years, like the addition of quarterback Josh Allen who’s currently at 66% and a notch below Tom Brady, the Buffalo Bills was regarded as the NFL’s most attractive team a decade ago. The Bills’ starting quarterback at the time was Ryan Fitzpatrick, now the Washington football team’s quarterback who is currently sidelined by a hip injury. At 62% perfection, Fitzpatrick ranks 33rd in this year’s analysis.

All of which constitutes the question: “What is beautiful?” It’s the reason VanGilder, who has published papers on skin tone discrimination, conducted the study.

“In the past, when beauty research was done, it was done by looking at pictures and getting people’s opinions on what 'beautiful' is,” said VanGilder. “We know that different cultures have different beauty measurements.”

Photo Illustration-Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
The list ranking the "attractiveness" of the NFL's quarterbacks was complied by Jennifer VanGilder and based on the measurements found on prettyscale.com

VanGilder, however, has relied more on an objective approach that she believes a plastic surgeon would typically take. “In order to be beautiful, most people tend to look at symmetry of objects as a beautification process,” she said.

Dr. Regina Nouhan, a Kansas City podcast host of “Plastic Surgery Decoded,” agrees that plastic surgeons examine facial symmetry, but it’s not the final means for judging attractiveness.

“Symmetry is typically something that is strived for in terms of surgical results,” said Nouhan. “But it is not the only marker of beauty. Sometimes, even if you don’t have perfect symmetry, which no one really does, there’s something that can be charming and attractive about that as well.”

VanGilder’s research shows economic disparities in the workplace based on appearances. In the case of quarterbacks, it starts very early. Even before high school, VanGilder suggests, it’s no coincidence that quarterbacks are developed for more than simply their abilities.

“There’s a lot of research that suggests that cute little kids in elementary school are the ones that get more attention,” said VanGilder. “Those cute little kids are also the ones that get more attention, possibly from coaches. Are we choosing from a very young age a certain type of person that will then be sort of groomed to be the quarterbacks?”

Mahomes was groomed well. And even if his helmet hides his on-field appearance, what he does on the field has left scores of NFL opponents in an ugly position.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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