Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sports vs. Athletics: A DP-Inspired Exploration

This morning on the Dan Patrick Show, DP and the Danettes rekindled a debate that has raged far and wide throughout the world of physical exertion and organized competition. It started with the announcement that Jimmie Johnson was being named AP's male Athlete of the Year, and the question was basically: what is a sport and what isn't?

The debate kicked into high gear when Paulie took exception to McLovin's assertion that NASCAR was definitely NOT a sport, or more specifically, that NASCAR drivers (and runners) aren't athletes.

I am somewhere between Paulie and George Carlin ("If there ain't a ball, it ain't a sport") on this. I've had this debate about any number of "sports" with any number of people, so without further ado, let's go one-by-one here:

For me, you have to distinguish between "sport" and "athletic activity," and for some reason, people who are relegated to the "athletic activity" seem to take it as a personal affront, even though some of the most physically-demanding activities (weight-lifting, running) belong in that category for me.

These are all sports, mainly because they have a ball. You can throw hockey in here, too, because it's got a ball-substitute in the puck. Also, you have two teams competing against one another, with one team having the direct potential to affect the other team's chances of winning, which is also very important to me in qualifying something as a sport.

Yes, it has a ball. But if a 50-year-old can beat a 20-year-old at it, it's not a sport. Sorry, it's just not. Additionally, golf is primarily a competition against yourself. You can play golf by yourself. Can't do that with basketball, football, baseball, or hockey.

Again, Paulie seems to have taken this part really personally; I agree that it takes tremendous physical stamina and baseball-caliber coordination to be a race-car driver, and they are indeed athletic. But you could say the same of a fighter pilot. I wouldn't call them an athlete. Another important consideration for NASCAR is that there is a machine involved. The human, unlike cycling, is not providing the sole source of power. And on that note...

Great athletes? Yes, no doubt. Are they sports? No, they are not. Someone whose name escapes me once said, "Running is what you do to train for a sport," and I tend to agree with that. Doesn't mean that the world's fastest runner isn't a great athlete. Another of my important considerations for a sport is direct competition, along with having a chance to directly affect the opponent(s)' chance to win. Even in NASCAR, you can swap paint and cut off your opponents; can't do that in track and field.

• Volleyball
• Lacrosse
• Rugby
• Ultimate frisbee (that's right, I said frisbee is a sport and NASCAR isn't)

• Cheerleading
• Bobsledding
• Skiing
• Snowboarding (most winter sports, let's say, in the interest of saving time)

I welcome any and all debate.


  1. ultimate frisbee is like golf...a 50 yr could beat a 20 yr old

  2. Depends... the way we played in college, whoever has the frisbee is stationary and everyone else is in constant motion. Over the course of a game, that favors the 20-year-old.

    What I should have written is that "if a SEVENTY-YEAR-OLD can beat a 20-year-old at it," since what I meant was that a sport should emphasize direct athletic competition.


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