March 20, 2013 by bradcharlesbeals
A hotdog eating contest.
That shouldn’t have surprised me when I recall that I’ve recently watched a spelling bee, snowmobile and airplane races (separate, not racing each other, as cool as that would be), poker, billiards, skeet shooting, and fishing all on the same network.
Now, I’ll grant this–the E in ESPN does stand for entertainment, and those things are no doubt entertaining to some segment of the viewing public. I love airplane races and did get sucked into a riveting half hour of spelling where I at least once shouted at the TV, “Get the language of origin!” So I’m not suggesting such things aren’t entertaining or competitive. They can be. I just can’t help but wonder if there shouldn’t be clearer lines drawn, lines that would separate things like rugby from kids spelling words-you’ve-never-heard-before or football from men playing card games. ESPN is the sports network, right? There should be clearer lines around this stuff, right?
I think, yes. So I’m going to help ESPN by proposing some new lines, a change in the definition of the word sport. This should help their programming decisions immensely.
Here it is…
Sport: n. an activity in which two or more participants engage in all of the following: 1) they compete with each other directly; i.e. both competitors are present simultaneously in the area of play; 2) it’s athletic: a majority of the body’s muscles must be skillfully utilized; 3) there is a ball (or some other object: e.g. puck, shuttlecock) that acts as the central point of contest; and 4) there is a clear method of scoring that does not require a third-party judge (referees and umpires notwithstanding).
That’s it. Four simple criteria that anyone can apply to any competitive situation for a quick assessment as to its sportness. No more guessing, doubting, guffawing. It’s black and white.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t athletes in other activities. This isn’t about that, it’s about semantics. I’m just not going to refer to those activities any longer as sports, and it’s my hope that the world will join me. Boxing, biking, skiing, all forms of racing–these are not sports. Are there athletes competing in them? You bet. They’re just not athletes competing in sports; they’re competing in…well, boxing, biking, skiing, and racing. Competitive activities, but not sports.
It’s a realigning of categories, that’s all.
So the biggies are still in: football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, tennis, cricket–yes, cricket–rugby (trying to think internationally). These all meet the criteria. They’re all sports. Admittedly, the new definition does allow for some questionable entries–ping pong, for example. At the gut level, ping pong (or anything else you can do in your basement) just doesn’t seem like a sport.
But wait! We don’t need the gut any longer. The objective criteria will tell us. Two competitors directly and athletically involved in a clearly score-able contest using a ball? Yep, ping pong’s a sport. How about skateboarding–is that a sport? Let’s see, two or more participants in the same space? Nope. Is it athletic? Yes. A ball? No. Is it self-score-able or do you need a Judge? Judge, so no again. That’s one out of four, folks. Skateboarding’s not even close to being a sport. Not anymore. We all knew that intuitively, but now we can say it to the punks in front of 7-11 with some confidence.
So congratulations to ping pong and dodgeball. Apologies to my many golfing friends (you lost sports status on point #1). But guys, you knew all along didn’t you? Deep down, I mean, you knew that anything you could do while drinking that much beer could not possibly be a sport.
ESPN, I look forward to seeing what you do with this. You’re Welcome.