Thursday, December 4, 2008

Top Ten “Sports” That Are NOT Really Sports

I was just on; and, it irked me to see what all they consider to be “sports” these days. (I know, I know, it is the Entertainment and Sports Network—but all the same.) Maybe a top-ten list is not academic enough for the Sports Academic; but, it is a chance for me to rant and provide a definition of what constitutes real “sport” by identifying what is not. These kinds of things are provocative by nature, so feel free to argue with me…

10. World Series of Poker (How can playing cards really be classified as a sport? And, with this, I include Mah Jong, Scrabble, Risk, Bridge, Backgammon, Chess—and any other game in which your grandmother can own you.)

9. NASCAR (Sure, there is a fair amount of stamina required to stay in a car for 500 miles; but, there is something morbid about waiting for someone to crash for there to be some action.)

8. Gaming (Don’t even tell me having nimble thumbs in the Xbox 360 Madden 2009 is anything like really strapping it on.)

7. Equestrian (Now, I am from Kentucky—so, I admit to having an abnormal love for horses. I’ve been to The Derby and I enjoy horse racing. And, it takes a large degree of athleticism to stay on and prompt jumps. Still, it is the beast doing all the work. If my dog will do a flip for a Milkbone, does that make me eligible for a gold medal?)

6. Fishing (Sorry, anglers, even as someone who reeled in a 125# striped marlin last year, I can’t say that sitting around waiting for a bite is a sport—unless maybe you hike to get there or row instead of using a trolling motor.)

5. Pool and Billiards (Parlor games are hobbies—not sports. To this, let me add darts. As a rule of thumb: if you play better drunk, it’s probably not a sport.)

4. Hunting (Want to make it a sport? Arm the deer!)

3. Tractor pulls and “Muddin’” (Having said this, I probably can’t go back to the South for the holidays—then again, I was already skating on thin ice for supporting Obama. As a consolation, Rodeo is a sport.)

2. Fantasy Sports and Rotisserie Leagues (Okay, this is just a shameless excuse for me to mention that my Fantasy Football team is the #1 seed in the playoffs! Still—not a sport and ESPN should not dedicate 10 minutes of a 40 minute program to it.)

1. Bowling (Seriously, do you ever see these guys? Professional “athletes”??? When not at a NASCAR race, Walmart or Chuck-o-Rama, they’re “getting their exercise” rolling a ball down a lane a maximum of 20 times a game.)

Alright, maybe I am being dogmatic here; but, a “Sport” really should involve athletic skill or prowess on the part of a human being, be at least minimally aerobic, promote fitness and be somewhat competitive in nature.

Did I leave anything out? Want to debate me on your favorite sport? I’m all ears.


SM Sprenger said...

What about curling? Fat guys with brooms waiting around for an oversized puck to creep forward? Looks like an excuse to stand around and drink beer to me. By the way, Yahoo reported a hunter who was recently gored by a buck that charged after being shot.

Corry Cropper said...

OK, I'm going to tick off a lot of people, but... gymnastics and figure skating. I do not doubt participants are very athletic, but anything with style points irks me for some reason. I know in figure skating they've changed the scoring system, but when costumes and music selection figure in the judges rating, I recoil.

I would group gymnastics and figure skating with performance art, like dancing or juggling. It's impressive. It can be beautiful (though I'd prefer watching dancing or tennis). But I don't think of it as a sport.

Corry Cropper said...

And Scott just offended all of Canada.

marc said...

Golf. It's like bowling with no pins and little cars to ride around in. And instead of beer, there's cabernet.
There. That's sure to offend privileged people everywhere.

Dana said...

I've clearly watched too much NASCAR to even feel it necessary to defend it as a sport....

And perhaps my affiliation with Lowe's, the primary sponsor of the 3-time current reigning champion of the Sprint Cup, Jimmie Johnson, also is a bit of bias, but here's my defense of NASCAR as a sport, by looking at roles various parts of the TEAM play- this is truly a team sport- assuming you think of it as a sport, of course.

1. For the driver, not just endurance, but skill, endurance and risk tolerance play into their ability to maneuver through a field of other drivers/cars.

2. The crew chief- part coach, part technician, manages the relationship with the driver, the car shop, and the pit crew. For example, Chad Knaus, JJ's crew chief, made some great tactical calls during races this year- when to take 2 tires instead of 4 in the pits, when to take 4 instead of 2, and the many various adjustments to engines and handling of the vehicle during a race.

3. The pit crew- strength, speed, teamwork- 4 tires, chassis adjustment, clean the windshield and air intake, fuel, in about 14 seconds. Many races are won or lost in the pits. Out here in Mooresville, corporations send executives down to watch how pit crews do their thing as an object lesson in teamwork.

Another analytical approach- rather than look at the team's players of driver, crew chief and pit crew, look at the "contest".

Sprint Cup is a series of races with the overall winner being one who was in the top 12 in points up to the last 10 races, then outperforming the top 12 over the last 10 races in a quasi-playoff scramble. No other racing sport was on the list of "non-sports"- other automotive, horses, dogs, turtles, etc. While there are various rules that raise eyebrows (such as with Tony Stewart's recent win), for the most part, these competitions are "whoever finishes first, wins" types of events- so they are events where speed matters- you've got to be faster than your competition. The ruling body stipulates common car requirements for all teams, leaving some wiggle room for teams to try to gain a competitive edge, but those are changes that all are free to make. In effect all teams have equal opportunity on the mechanical side, increasing the influence of the human element in the performance during the race.

Lastly, the criterion applied within the original posting: "a “Sport” really should involve athletic skill or prowess on the part of a human being, be at least minimally aerobic, promote fitness and be somewhat competitive in nature."

Given my statements above, I'd suggest that NASCAR does involve athletic skill or prowess on the part of the driver and the pit crew. "On the part of a human being"...while the car plays a big role in the sport, it also involves what the person is doing with and to the car, if you will it is a piece of equipment, and as such, this discussion is technically not substantially different than arguments such as advancements in technology for tennis raquets or for golf clubs. As for the aerobics, probably not a lot- endurance for the driver, pit crews is more about strength and speed in such short bursts as to obviate the need for substantial aerobic fitness. There are many sports which emphasize strength (most obvious being weightlifting) or skill (golf for example) over aerobics, though, so I question this particular criterion. As far as promoting fitness, most of the drivers have clearly gotten on board with fitness much as Tiger Woods has transformed attitudes towards fitness in golf- perhaps Tony Stewart is NASCAR's Jon Daly, and he is teased and mocked for his lack of fitness. Baseball has always had its "softball league" bodies- Jon Kruk is famously quoted as responding once, "hey, lady, I'm not an athlete, I'm a baseball player." Lastly, competitive in nature... How hard is it to win? 2 three-peats in 53 years. Compare that to other sports, and you'll find very few in which it is so hard to get on top and stay on top.

My neck is redder for having written this post, and I fear that if anyone close to me reads this I will suffer much ridicule.

Go Jimmie! Go 48! Go Lowe's car!

Maria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maria said...

You're still driving around in a circle. It's like driving really fast while lost (i.e. driving with Bob in L.A.).

Corry Cropper said...

OK, Dana, I'm almost convinced. It's certainly better than gymnastics. Do you prefer NASCAR to Formula 1? I don't watch much of either, I confess, but F1 has always appealed to me more. Maybe because I'm not from North Carolina?

SM Sprenger said...

The strength, aerobic stamina, flexibility, technical skill, incredible balance and years of training required to be a good gymnast rivals any sport you might wish to name. The beef seems to be with the scoring: it requires judgement, which requires knowledge. For the moment there's no way around that fact--it doesn't make it any less of a sport. As much as I love cycling, for example, it's pretty unidimensional and mostly determined by baseline physiology.

Robert J. Hudson said...

Marc raises a good point that might poke holes in my theory. Golf and Polo are definitely defined as sports but they fall short of the criteria I established in my definition. In the former, there is little aerobic benefit (i.e. Craig Stadler, John Daly). The latter, while athletic, also lacks the aerobic element as a horse does all the dirty work.

Interestingly enough, both "sports" found their origins in the English aristocracy. They are products of the privileged class and reflect the dandy's aversion to sweating.

Maybe my qualifications are too rigidly defined. Still, curling, gymnastics and figure skating do fit within the parameters of my categories. Dana, I appreciate your passion for NASCAR and loyalty to Lowes, but I have to keep stock car racing, Formula 1, Motocross and motor-boating in a separate category of "motor sports."

Corry Cropper said...

What about darts, billiards, log cutting, spelling bee, etc. ESPN covers these...

Dana said...


Not all the races are on ovals- there are a few road courses now. But yes, mostly "turn left" is the direction- the challenge is doing it at 200mph with 35 other cars running around- so keeping control of the car as it bounces off of other cars, walls, etc.

No real opinion about Formula 1- I only got to know and care about NASCAR because of Lowe's corporate affiliation and a desire to be able to relate w/a large contingent of the old boy network within Lowe's. Didn't want to completely screw up the watercooler talk with a Bryan Regan-esque "Go my favorite sports team, go!" kind of response when talking NASCAR.

So the argument about NASCAR about a sport isn't reflecting any real passion for it, just having some fun with it all, a "sports academic exercise" if you will- to me NASCAR is much more entertainment than anything else- you'll see the craziest things, i.e. people shaving their favorite racer's number in their back hair and going shirt off in the stands- extremely large women using their cleavage to hold their beer cups, etc.

I had a local friend, trying to help me understand the local cultures, refer to NASCAR as "rednecks with money"- he's pretty redneck, too, so it was ok that he use the label.

Part of what keeps me at a bit of a distance from NASCAR is that it is an event that I'll only ever be a spectator in- I'll never be able to go outside and play it, or go to the gym and play it, etc. My favorite sports are ones that I could at one time or will in the future actually compete in myself, not just be a spectator.


As for another "not a sport"? type event, I listened with wonder a couple of years back to an NPR report of the craze of cup-stacking that was sweeping through many schools- competitors in this event have a bunch of cups- kind of like your typical beer cup at a football game- and they are all put together in one stack (fitting neatly one inside the other). I'm not sure if they race side by side or if it is a timed event, but competitors take the cups out and stack them some way (maybe in a pyramid?), and then they unstack them and put them all together again in the original starting stack. I probably got that wrong to some degree- I was more intent on driving safely and can't always drive and listen carefully to the radio. I wonder if the folks who thought of this were trying to come up with a sport that a non-jock could play- and if so, if a football player for some reason got interested in it, would be allowed to compete or would be disqualified.

Corry Cropper said...

The kids who cup stack are actually amazing.... I feel a new post coming on...

total123 said...

Your writers are enormously tremendous.


Anonymous said...

To Corry, gymnastics is more of a sport than baseball, basketball, football, and baseball combined

Unknown said...

I pondered the same Q for a while. Is Bowling a game or sport? Then one day after watching the real technique on TV and live, I gave it a swing. My swing and timing didn't come together at first, but soon I was bowling w/o crossing the foul line.
Now I had to add that evasive element called good balance. The image was firmly planted in my mind but doing it was a challenge.
Eventually I got it down and my average went from 97 to 172 in a few weeks. Let's just say around 12 wks.
It takes skill, balance, elegance and more importantly accuracy to achieve results and establish an average. Based on these factors and ensuing soreness etc, I consider it a sport where it becomes very competitive.

Anonymous said...

golf, curling, lawn bowling, no. for those defending nascar... if the driver get out and pushs the car... then yes. Gymnastics and figure skating, yes. They are doing the work and if you have ever tried to lift your own body weight and do that, you will totally get it. Archery, no... unless it's like "The Mongol Games" where it's on horseback and you're attacking opponents, then yes. NOW, i don't want to deny the skill and training required to do these activities, but a sport... no.