Debate: what is a sport?

16 Jul

A recent post on Fanhouse regarding the old “what is a sport?” debate sparked the motivation to finally put my argument into words. Many other writers have made their case for what is and what isn’t a sport, but for my money, MJD’s analysis always struck me as the best case. It was objective and clearly dissected; it remains my favorite thing the prolific and now big-time writer has written.

We all have our own definition, and have probably argued about it ad nauseam with our friends. In a way, it’s a harmless mirror to the abortion debate: people have bickered for hours on end, and yet no one ever really wavers from their opinion. Knowing that, and realizing I’m likely adding little to the debate, below is my viewpoint.

A quick stipulation: try not to take offense if I chose to not include a certain “sport” you love. People not considering your favorite activity a sport isn’t a slight, and doesn’t make your preferred game any less important, respected or difficult to master. Settle down, please. Golfers, I’m looking not-so-subtly in your direction.

Criterion #1: the activity has to involve at least two of the following factors: speed, strength, agility & hand-eye coordination. This is an obvious one; tough to call something a sport if it doesn’t involve being active or what we define as athletic. And if features just one of the components, it shouldn’t count.

[Denied: Golf, NASCAR, Weightlifting, Curling, Archery, Table Tennis, Bocce Ball, Darts, all lawn games, dozens more.]

Criterion #2: the activity in question has to involve defense. This is a key component that MJD chose not to consider. Defense is half the art of sport, and also nods to the strategy and mental game. No defense, and it’s just a competition, a game, an activity, what have you. Not a sport.

[Denied: Track & Field, Running, Cheerleading, Figure skating, Gymnastics, actually most all Olympic categories, all “action sports.”]

So, the official definition of sport: “an active competition that requires a defensive effort as well as elements of speed, strength, agility and hand-eye coordination.” By taking this definition to a more specific, even geekier level, I’ll use a ten-point ranking system for each aforementioned factor (in the order listed above) to rank what should be considered sports.

Another stipulation: I compiled the rankings by considering the typical positional player in the sport. Any specialty positions would count as exceptions. In other words, the “hey, why the 6 in strength for baseball? Pitchers don’t need to be strong” or something similar using hockey/goalie/speed wasn’t considered during this ranking. Those positions are the exceptions, not the rules.

Football [10, 10, 10, 9] = 39

Basketball [9, 7, 10, 9] = 35

Hockey [8, 7, 7, 8] = 30

Soccer [8, 3, 10, 8] = 29

Baseball [7, 6, 6, 10] = 29

Tennis [6, 4, 10, 8] = 28

Boxing [1, 10, 6, 6] = 23

Rugby [6, 7, 5, 5] = 23

Lacrosse [6, 7, 5, 5] = 23

Badminton [5, 1, 8, 7] = 21

Racquetball [3, 1, 7, 7] = 18

Wrestling [1, 10, 5, 1] = 17

Volleyball [1, 4, 3, 5] = 13

This is in no way ordered to reflect my favorite sports (most of you know I’m baseball-obsessed), but rather an objective viewpoint as to what can most be considered a sport. Did I miss anything? Disagree with my criteria? Feel free to light up the comments.


10 Responses to “Debate: what is a sport?”

  1. Cool Rut July 17, 2008 at 6:33 am #

    You have never been objective and you never will be, you are an absolute loon.

  2. RandBall's Stu July 17, 2008 at 7:02 am #

    No love for competitive eating?

  3. The Murph July 17, 2008 at 7:22 am #

    Is anyone else scoring mix martial arts as a 54?

    Also, did I just hear Norm’s head explode?

  4. norm July 17, 2008 at 8:11 am #

    Overall I agree with criterion #1. I think criterion #2 is important in “team sport,” but shouldn’t dictate the definition of a sport.

    I mainly disagree with the values in the ranking system, and the fact that you say position arguments are the exception not the rule. Defensive players in football (half of the players on the field) and offensive linemen (5 more players) require very little hand-eye coordination. That’s 73% of the players on normal offense/defense plays. This should matter. Also, even though I don’t like soccer, along with basketball, it should be on the top of the list. Several sports require strength, including soccer, but large muscle mass would hurt the speed/endurance factor. I am also blown away that you didn’t give soccer a 10 for speed?

  5. stinger July 17, 2008 at 9:46 am #

    You know what they say, “The best Defense is a good…triple sow cow.”

  6. Wolves Season Ticket Holders' roughkat July 17, 2008 at 9:55 am #

    Saying any racket sport has defense seems kind of weak. I can only assume that the 2nd number is the defense total which are low for those sports.

    I would argue that there is a tremendous amount of defensive strategy involved in the sport of Battleship.

    /pumps fist!!

  7. cooler rut July 17, 2008 at 9:57 pm #

    table tennis not a sport under your definition? your crazy. It definitely has hand eye coordination, and it definitely has agility, ill even argue that you have to have speed/quickness to play. I cant play a game of ping pong with out having to shower afterwards from sweating so bad, great workout. From being an avid table tenniser myself, i have to disagree with you on it not being a sport. Thats all.

  8. Cool Rut July 18, 2008 at 6:30 am #

    Just a few thoughts:
    Does a person have to play defense? I could put you on the same golf course but change the set-up slightly and vastly improve the defense.
    What about the term Athlete? Can we call Tiger Woods an athlete even though we have no idea if he is any good at sports? Maybe we need a new term, say activityist or competitor?

  9. B. July 18, 2008 at 7:52 am #

    A few thoughts:

    Football: You might be able to argue that the linemen don’t need a ton of hand-eye coordination (though I’d argue they do), but every player who touches the ball, along with every defensemen who might have a shot at an interception, tip, what have you, needs it.

    Soccer: I’m no expert, but from what I’ve seen, speed is not the most important factor. It’s very helpful, of course, but more important is coordination, agility, positioning and most of all knowledge of the game. I don’t think Ronaldhino or Thierry Henry are great because of their speed. Just my opinion.

    Table tennis: It definitely involves hand-eye coordination, but that is it. Would you ever refer to an amazing ping-pong player as an “athlete”? I would not. The game requires about ten feet total of movement, and while sweating does happen, so too does it in beer pong. Table tennis is just a rec sport, to me.


  1. WoB 2008 review - World of B - December 30, 2008

    […] 16: After procrastinating for what felt like years, I finally wrote my “What is a sport?” theory, to a sadly tepid […]

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