This past Tuesday I watched as a world champion was crowned on ESPN. For months ESPN had its hype machine (TV, magazine, and online) in overdrive shoving this event down our collective throats. The message was clear: this is an epic competition filled with drama and excitement. Apparently I was supposed to feel privileged to watch it: I wasn’t. You see, there was only one little nagging problem with this “event.” It wasn’t even a sport!
What am I talking about? The World Series of Poker (WSOP for short) or if you want the technical definition, “The World’s Showcase of Poker playing slobs with gambling/attitude problems.” Most competitors there wore the same “lucky” shirt for a week straight and threw hissy-fits after every hand. When they were not habitually playing with their chips, they were rocking back and forth in their chairs like a 5-year-old playing Super Mario Brothers. The announcers (can you even call them that when they are announcing pre-edited footage? Definitely closer to narrators) can try to show me the strategy involved, but poker has no place on a network that claims to be, “the world wide leader in sports.” I was expressing similar sentiments to my roommate as we watched the show, and this led to our most heated debate since we argued who was the hottest “Jessica” celebrity (It’s Alba ” hands down ” by the way. Don’t get me started on Simpson-)
Point is, he argued poker was a sport because of the skill involved and the high level of competition. I failed to see the difference between poker and Scrabble except for the large sums of money involved that create drama (and that scrabble actually requires more intelligence and strategy). This led to the larger debate of what truly constitutes a sport. When does something stop being a “game” and start being a sport? After agonizing revisions and meticulous attention to detail, I give to you the first entry in the, “Unabridged Applin Dictionary,” sport:
Main Entry: sport
1 a: a competition defined by a strict set of rules declaring a clear winner and loser that requires the human body to perform at its optimum physical and mental capacity directly against another human (usually by the manipulation of an object).
Go back and read that again; I’ll wait. Feel enlightened yet? Granted, it’s somewhat lengthy and wordy, but I consider this definition to be airtight. Let’s put it to the test in a little game I like to call, “Sport or Not?”
Poker: NOT a Sport
My opinion doesn’t need to be justified anymore, but while we are here I’d like to congratulate the 2005 World Series of Poker champion, Joseph Hachem. He now has the adoration and worship of millions of losers with $10,000 and a dream. I do believe all of his ancestors just simultaneously rolled over in their graves.
*But only when the fight ends in a knockout can boxing be considered a true sport. The second the winner is decided by a panel of judges and doesn’t have a, “clear winner and loser,” is the second it stops being a sport. (In the case of boxing I’ll all for fights ending without a knockout, it’s a little thing called mercy, just realize it’s not a sport). That means figure skating, cheerleading, and interpretive dance all don’t make the cut. I’m not saying these things don’t require skill, but in sports the rules have to have a scoring system that isn’t based people who can be corrupted or biased (did someone say Olympics?)
Track and Field: Not a Sport:
Before some member of the Olympic International Committee sets fire to my apartment, let me explain. All of these events like running, weightlifting, pole vaulting, etc. require an athlete to reach a pinnacle in physical fitness. But there is little strategy or mental strength required. You need the complete package of body and mind to be a sport. I’m sure there are subtle nuances that those who race know about, but you’re not calling plays like in other sports or out witting your opponent.
Meets all the requirements set forth in my definition, so why does the Game Show Network have a dodgeball league and ESPN continues to air the National Spelling Bee Finals? The National Spelling Bee Finals provide some of the most riveting moments on television (“Can I have the language or origin? Can you use that in a sentence? Can you repeat the word? -Sport ” S,P,O,R,T, – Sport!” *runs back to chair*) but just because the darker side of us enjoys watching 10-year-olds trying to please their parents by attempting to spell words we never even knew existed, doesn’t qualify it as a sport. Someone get Vince McMahon on the phone; I know the XFL didn’t pan out, but the XDL (Extreme Dodgeball League) has got potential written all over it.
Golf: Not a Sport
This truly pains me to write because I have such a high respect for golfers. Golf is one of the most frustratingly difficult activities I have ever engaged in. But I can’t give it my “seal-of-sport” approval under my definition. The phrase, “directly against another human,” implies the need for an offensive and defensive component in every sport. Because golf fails to provide you with an opportunity to impede the progress of your opponent, (ie. no defense) it comes up just short. If, however, you could hit an opponent’s ball, have control over the wind, move the hole, or at least distract your opponent, it would be a sport. Nothing would give be greater pleasure than to have some giant fan at my disposal as I blew my friends shot clear onto the next hole (“That looks like a Sliiiiiiiice.”) Better redial Mr. McMahan.
Bowling: Not a Sport
Suffers from the same pitfalls as golf in not having a defense, as well as not putting enough emphasis on fatigue. Were you ever physically and mentally drained after a game of bowling? Me neither. Plus, any game where a senior citizen can achieve a perfect score cannot be considered a sport.
Hockey: Not a Sport
In order to be a sport you have to actually have fans- Just kidding; it’s a sport. I love our neighbors to the north and their cute little winter games.
NASCAR: NOT a Sport
Those of you who are avid readers of my column know how I feel about this supposed “sport.” Its goal is to achieve the best performance out of a machine, not the human body, so this case is closed. By the way, all copies of my previous account of the NASCAR race have been deleted and all memories erased “Men in Black” style. Me? Watch NASCAR? Don’t be silly-
Quidditch: Sport-I think-
Who among us can fathom how much physical and mental strength is required to keep a broom floating in the air while searching for a tiny ball flying at supersonic speeds? I admit it: the dude with the lighting bolt on his forehead plays a sport.
Bradford Applin is a sophomore majoring in aerospace engineering. He swears he has never read Harry Potter or seen any of the movies. Really-he swears-Come on! You have too! Really? You haven’t? Well he hasn’t either- He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments on this article or observations on sports in general.