Defining Sports

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Recently I’ve been asked a certain question, and to be honest, I don’t really have a definitive answer. Being a sports writer, people ask me all the time, “What actually qualifies something as a sport?” This question is tricky because if you ask 100 sports fans what they think a sport is, you’re likely to get 100 different answers.

I suppose one obvious argument for something being a sport is it involves physical activity. Meaning, a sport is an activity in which you exert yourself – baseball, football, basketball, surfing, snowboarding, etc. That’s all fine and dandy, but what about golf? If you think it’s a sport you say that it involves lots of muscle groups and puts a heavy strain on the human body and that being in good physical shape is essential to a good golf game. If you don’t think it’s one, you’ll point to 1990s John Daly and say it has nothing to do with physical health and that if you can drink alcohol and smoke cigars while doing it, it’s not a sport.

How about the argument that as long as it has team or individual competition then it’s a sport? Well, then you’ll have people bringing up “games” and contests like billiards, poker and even spelling bees saying those aren’t real sports, even if they are broadcast on ESPN.

Is it a sport if there isn’t a clear and obvious winner, meaning it’s judged subjectively such as figure skating and gymnastics? It’s obvious who wins a foot race or a weight lifting contest, but if there isn’t a clear-cut winner, is it still a sport?

An online dictionary describes sport as, “An athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature.” So how do you explain curling being in the winter Olympics? Or what about that dance routine stuff in the summer Olympics that uses a stick with a ribbon on the end of it?

I don’t think we’ll ever have an iron clad definition of what a sport is, but I can say that I’m very open-minded about what can be. Competitive Scrabble? Sure!  Chess? Great!  Freestyle walking? Absolutely!  Competitive eating? Of course!

Anything that lets people compete and have a good time is a sport to me. Things that teach self-discipline, teamwork, and dedication are sports. Certain sports can be played for life as well. I still see 60-something-year-olds longboarding in front of Blackie’s. Last year I visited the Newport Harbor Lawn Bowling Club and they were as competitive as ever. Of course they were there to have a good time and relax, but when the games began, everybody wanted to win.

I’m still not able to give you and black and white definition of what a sport truly is, but I do know what sports aren’t: Contract negotiations, “one-and-done’rs” in college basketball, millionaire athletes engaging in lockouts while the rest of the country is living paycheck to paycheck, steroids and performance enhancing drugs, and worst of all, cheating. Those things, to the utmost degree, aren’t sports.


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