When Is a Sport Really a Sport?

Posted: May 10, 2011 in Baseball, Boxing, Fandom, Football, Hockey, Karate, Kick-Boxing, MMA
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Egg-Race

During my law school days, my sister, Rita, came out to visit me in Chicago. We were in a bar on Rush St. in Chicago and ran into this guy from Scotland. The conversation somehow turned to golf. He was an avid golfer, and I was just starting to play. The only reason I played was because I thought I needed to learn in order to fit in with the legal crowd. I explained in a jovial manner that it was torture for me, but any case it wasn’t a real sport. He responded, “It’s a pastime.”

So what makes a sport a sport?

Sport
[spawrt, spohrt]
–noun
an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.

Wrong! It always involves a competitive nature. And what the hell is bowling doing on that list?

The debate rages on. From my modified (and more meaningful) definition of sport, there are two requirements: true athleticism (i.e., blood, sweat, and tears) and competitiveness. Running kick off returns in football is true athleticism, but power walking is not. Where do you draw the line? I apply two tests to determine whether the requirements are met.

Test #1: The Big Mac Test

A special thanks to my cousin, Tom M., for devising this test.

Imagine the following scenario: Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals gets a breakaway. He screams down the ice, juking two different defensemen along the way. He twists and turns and scores a goal over the top left shoulder of the goalie. The crowd goes nuts. Alex skates over to the bench and eats a Big Mac to celebrate. He then goes right back onto the ice. Immediately after the face off, he gets the same opportunity. He screams down the ice, juking two different defensemen along the way, and scores in the same exact manner. He’s physically drained.

So, what happens next?

He pukes. That’s right; he vomits all over the ice. Why? Because hockey is a sport. You can’t play sports and eats Big Macs at the same time without making a huge mess. There are certainly individual efforts that don’t require a strong stomach. A football placekicker, for example, can kick a field goal and then not do another thing for an hour (assuming a different person performs kickoffs). He won’t puke. Even if you think that means he isn’t an athlete (you’d be wrong because you’re not factoring in the training required to be a placekicker), it doesn’t matter; football remains a sport. The mixture of Big Macs and football will necessarily result in a huge bio-hazard.

This test eliminates auto racing, bowling, and golf right off the bat. Those three activities are further away from hockey athletically than they are from Monopoly. Even rolling dice requires some level of athleticism, but trust me: fat people with no endurance are just as good at that, if not better, than athletes. Not sports, people!

Test #2: Judgment Calls

A special thanks to my law school classmate, Paul H., for exposing me to this test.

In this test, a sport which relies on a judge’s subjective scorecard to win isn’t really a sport. Why? Because it’s bullshit. Really. Why does it matter what a panel of judges think? Subjectivity doesn’t work here. How many movies have you seen where you disagreed with every single reviewer. For me, that’s just about every single one. I don’t see why my opinion is any more or less important than theirs. The same applies to sports. It’s nothing special if Fred Snerd, official figure skating judge, liked your routine, and that invalidates the competitive nature of the activity (regardless of the fact that the skaters should keep their distance from Big Macs).

This test eliminates figure skating. Unfortunately, it also eliminates combat sports. That’s a problem.

I suggest instead that the proper way to phrase this test is that if the activity relies solely on subjective judges’ scores, then it isn’t a sport. After all, scoring exists in boxing, kickboxing, mixed martial arts, etc. only because it’s impractical not to have them. Sometimes it takes 150 rounds (7-1/2 hours) for a fight to be finished, and that’s both dangerous and boring. Spectator sports require a faster resolution, and scoring is an unfortunate necessity.

I will also add that it grinds my gears whenever a fighter clearly panders to the judges. As far as I’m concerned, almost every fight not involving a finish should be deemed a draw, but then there’s that whole “impractical” thing.

Why So Sensitive?

This isn’t really meant to be that condescending. Doing all sorts of triple axles, driving the Indy 500 without crashing, and balancing a pencil on your nose are all amazing feats . . . but they aren’t real sports. They’re simply athletic activities, or possibly just pastimes (e.g., celebrity poker). I have no intention of watching, much less paying to watch, people balancing pencils on their noses. If I want to watch people drive in circles, I’ll park a lawn chair on the shoulder of the beltway.

Conclusion

The bottom line, then, is that an athletic activity is a sport if:

    1. Big Mac consumption during the activity creates health hazards; and
    2. Winning doesn’t necessarily rely on subjective judges’ scores.

Failure to meet both of these requirements prevents the activity from appearing as a category for my posts. There is some level of subjectivity to applying these tests (making applying these tests not a sport). Is baseball a sport? I say yes (barely). Reasonable minds can disagree.

If you have any other ideas for how these tests need to be tweaked, I’m all ears.

Ross-Perot

Follow me on Twitter @MMADork
Follow Alex Ovechkin on Twitter @ovi8
Follow the Washington Capitals on Twitter @washcaps

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Comments
  1. kesseljunkie says:

    Just for the record, I’ve rolled out the “Big Mac Test” in numerous arguments as well. I’ll have to supplement with the others.

  2. […] Your concern of the glorification of violence suggests you’re not much of a sports fan, which is fascinating in light of your position with the Washington Post. What’s more violent than a strong hit against a defenseless receiver in a football game, a hard check in hockey, or a fatal car accident? The fact that some of these (not all, as you state) are “accidents” doesn’t change the fact that their heightened frequency makes them more dangerous. It also doesn’t change the fact that those sometimes-fatal events are what the fans are waiting to see. That, by definition, is the glorification of violence, and if it doesn’t invalidate football, hockey, or auto-racing as sports, it doesn’t invalidate MMA as a sport either. (Auto racing isn’t a sport for a different set of reasons.) […]

  3. […] in Fandom at 12:00 pm by MMADork As a follow up to my previous post, When is a Sport Really a Sport, I offer you evidence that bowling is not. Bowling already fails the “Big Mac Test” and […]

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