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The Children of Professional Athletes Threw Down This Weekend

Christian McCaffrey, Cooper Kupp, and Sloane Stephens messed around and had a day. How much do they owe to genetics?

It’s back-to-school season, which means a new slate of soccer practices and games beneath Friday night lights for legions of young athletes with big league dreams (and the parents who support them). And if the weekend in sports proved anything, it’s that your kid has a great shot at growing up to become a professional athlete — as long as you were one, too.

At least three children of former professional athletes crushed it in their respective debuts over the weekend. Christian McCaffrey, son of former all-pro wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, impressed in his first NFL game with the Carolina Panthers, helping the team to a resounding 23-3 win to start the year. McCaffrey’s fellow NFL rookie, Cooper Kupp, whose dad and grandfather both played in the NFL, also made an immediate impact by catching his first career touchdown pass in a 46-9 pasting of the Indianapolis Colts. Although he did make the rookie mistake of tossing the ball to the ref instead of keeping it for his trophy case. Finally, Sloane Stephens, daughter of former All-American swimmer, Sybil Smith and former NFL running back John Stevens, went ahead and won the U.S. Open in her first final.

Christian McCaffrey

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This sort of thing is more common than you might expect (or less if you believe like I do that, one day soon, every pro athlete will have had a parent in the league). There are no less than 50 current and former football players whose fathers played in the NFL; five of those dads had at least two sons make it. And, by the way, we’re still a month and change away from tipping off a new season in the NBA, where second-generation all-stars are everywhere (the Warriors alone have two).

Researchers have tried to figure out if there’s any credence to my hypothesis, and, indeed, studies have shown that there are some 200 genes associated with athletic performance. Cardiovascular endurance and muscular phenotypes have proven inheritable. As one 2013 study reads, “Current evidence suggests that a favorable genetic profile, when combined with the appropriate training, is advantageous, if not critical for the achievement of elite athletic status. However, though a few genes have now been repeatedly associated with elite athletic performance, these associations are not strong enough to be predictive and the use of genetic testing of these variants in talent selection is premature.” So there is some link between genetics and athletic performance, even if it’s a weak one. If anything, that should please “Practice Makes Perfect” parents and “All-Pro Dads” alike.

Or, your kid can always forge a different, family-tied path to a historic professional debut: endure years of relentless beatdowns at the hands of your photogenic, philanthropic, all-pro sibling. We see you, T.J. Watt!