Defining what is a sport has become a free-for-all

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a trend: People seem to be getting more confused about what is and what is not a sport. Lately the general inclination has been to classify anything that takes some skill and some daring as a sport. It’s a dim-witted development in the sports world, and one I intend to fight against (or at least rail against in print.)

Somewhere along the line, we got “doing something difficult” and “sport” confused. No, I can’t drive as fast as Michael Schumacher without crashing. I also can’t graph a cubic polynomial in my head like a great mathematician or pick stocks like Warren Buffet. And yet nobody wears their Berkshire Hathaway jersey to work on casual Friday, earning a reprimand from their boss who believes businessmen should wear suits at all times, even in the shower.

There’s a whole category of activities that focus on skills but get thrown into the “sports” category because people like to watch them. At the head of the line here is golf, which is essentially nothing more than a specialized skill. But it’s fun to watch (Well, the Masters, the U.S. Open Cup and the Ryder Cup are fun each year to watch. – the other 49 1/2 weeks year, it’s mostly just a great way to put yourself to sleep.)

Directly behind golf is auto racing and any other sport that involves racing some kind of vessel, whether it’s a car, a sailboat or a horse. (Horse racing and auto racing are essentially the same thing, except a car is less likely to poop on your foot.) Auto racing takes a lot of skill, and it’s kind of fun to hear the Kentucky Derby announcer scream “And down the stretch they come!” as if the world depended on it, but it doesn’t make either activity a sport. I don’t care how difficult it is to successfully pilot a car around a turn at 200 miles per hour. I don’t care how dangerous it is either. You know what else is both dangerous and difficult? Urinating into a 50 mph wind.

There’s a host of other things shown on ESPN2 in the middle of the day that aren’t sports either. Trick-shot pool contests aren’t a sport, though they’re enjoyable to watch. Again, the whole activity is just a specialized bar-trick skill. The same goes for regular billiards and pool, which aren’t nearly as much fun to watch.

About the only other thing more boring than a billiards match is bowling, the horse tranquilizer of daytime sports television. I don’t know why the U.S. government hasn’t been torturing the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainees with taped bowling matches. After about two hours, I’d be willing to renounce my citizenship in exchange for a remote control or maybe a bullet in the head. Just the boredom doesn’t take it off the “sport” list, though: Bowling, too, is a glorified skill, not a sport.

Anybody who says poker is a sport is an idiot, and no, I can’t figure out why it’s on ESPN five times each day. I suppose it’s interesting to watch and cheap for the network to produce, but if that’s the only barrier to making the air, why doesn’t ESPN show syndicated reruns of “Dennis the Menace” in the morning?

Put it this way: If poker is a sport, then playing slots is a sport. If auto racing is a sport, then driving to Madison on Interstate 94 is a sport (and, judging by the peculiarities of the typical Wisconsin driver during my one trip there, both are done at approximately the same speed). I could think up similar comparisons all day, but let’s not beat a dead horse here (beating a dead horse being only one step removed from horse racing).

If what those people are doing at the slots (and on the freeway, or at the track) is a “sport,” then I don’t want to be a “sports” fan any more.

Jon Marthaler is a columnist. He welcomes comments at [email protected]