Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sporting chance

I've long valued this medium as a channel for discussing important topics and exchanging ideas on the policies that will shape our society for years to come.

So I wanted to take this opportunity to share my view on an issue about which both J.D. and Lodo have recently opined.

I know it's something that we are all very concerned about, especially in these trying times that we are going through. And with baseball in full swing and football kicking off just around the corner, it's important to talk about... sports.

Lodo made a pretty good point the other day:
Truth be told, the only sports I find even remotely as exciting as sex or live music are basketball and boxing. Especially boxing.
But my response today is prompted more by J.D.'s rather rigid definition.
There is only one absolute rule of sport identification, and it is this: If among an event’s essential ingredients are animals, betting, or pavement, then the event in question is not a sport. All others are negotiable, and the physical conditions of the participants is irrelevant.
While elegant at first glance, these criteria are problematic. For example, professional cycling takes place on pavement. Therefore, according to JD's model, it is not a sport. At the same time, professional mountain biking is a sport because it involves neither betting, animals nor pavement.

Hard court tennis is also played on pavement. Does that make the U.S. Open not a sport while Wimbledon and the Australian Open are? Of course not.

Another example: People bet on college football all the time, but pretty much anyone you ask -- even those who hate college football -- would categorize it as a sport.

In fact, you probably don't have to look too hard to find a bookie to take your action on pretty much any athletic endeavor you can think of. I would say that criteria should be eliminated solely on the basis of being over broad.

As you can see, this is a topic to which I've devoted considerable thought (at least 10 minutes worth if brain power).

Here's the model I've come up with, and it's a good reflection of my worldview in general.

I don't think you can divide athletic endeavor into "sport" and "not sport." It's not an either/or, it's not digital, it's more analog.

There's a continuum, a scale that indicates the degree to which a certain activity is sportish or non-sportish. There are certain criteria that can move the activity to the right (sportish) or left (non-sportish), and JD's rules fit nicely into this model (except for the betting one).

So to find an activity's position on the continuum, considers such factors as the filed of play (including whether it's on pavement), equipment (are animals included), the presence or lack of balls, the physical effort exerted by the participants, etc.

But one factor, perhaps the primary factor, is scoring.

In my view if judges or a panel of judges are the most significant factor in deciding the winner of any contest -- well, that's a major negative mark in the degree of sportishness.

It's such a big factor that I would say sports like gymnastics, dancing and figure skating have a lower degree of sportishness than, say golf or even auto racing.

And, when an activity scores high in all criteria, it's way to the right on the sportishness scale.
  • Football: High degree of physical exertion by participants, played on grass (or reasonable facsimile thereof), uses a ball, objective scoring based on achievement of predefined goals, protective equipment only.

  • Baseball: Played on field, low-tech equipment only, high-degree or physical coordination required, objective scoring system, uses a ball.

So you see, pretty much any activity can be graded according to this method. And it still supports my assertion that figure skating, though very athletic, is still quite lame.

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  1. Those things far to the left (gymnastics, figure skating, horseback riding) should perhaps be termed "competitions" rather than sports. They involve competing participants, but are not sports.

  2. I agree with your conclusion.

    I would say that if the competition does not involve direct competition with another person then "it ain't no sport".

    If there are points involved then the outcome cannot be disputed. But if the points are "awarded" as in ice skating then its not a true sport.

  3. Oh I almost forgot to place my comment on this, which is: Usain Bolt, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao. Kings of sport!!!

  4. I don't know why this topic is continually discussed among men, and I certainly don't understand why men have such vitriole about the definition of a word. Sport is just a word, like love or truck nuts. You say that sports that depend on a judge's opinion are very low on the sportishness scale. I guess baseball is low then since every single play, start to finish, is up to some judge's opinion. How many games of basketball, baseball, and football have been won and lost by a bad call? Objecttivity gets thrown out the door for a mere judge's opinion.

    As far as your gymnastics reference, the compulsary portion of Olympic gymnastics is based on a predetermined point/difficulty system that is not up to judge's opinion. Basically each flip and twirl has a different point value and the number of flips and twirls they successfully land in a minute is the gymnast's score (1 flip = 1 point; 10 flips = 10 points). Of course this is different from freestyle which is entirely up to the judge's opinion, but this means gymnastics has a high sportishness factor. I think that given the high sportishness factor, many men will still try to discount compulsary gymnastics and figure skating as not sports.

    I disagree with your friend about the pavement sports. In my opinion these are the truest forms of sport. Seeing which man is the fastest at a given distance is the purest form of competition imaginable. Tour de France doping aside.

    No, in my opinion a sport is any competition or game that takes itself seriously enough to have a governing body and a national championship. Otherwise it's a local custom or a game. No national championship, no sport.

    Full disclosure: I am a man.

  5. Red,

    Don't even get me started on truck nuts.


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