Tiger Woods is Not an Athlete...and Other Fairy Tales

Jeremy ScottAnalyst IMarch 18, 2008

One of the most insipid and stupid debates I keep hearing is over Tiger Woods' status as an athlete. Just yesterday I heard the issue discussed on the ESPN national morning show (I think it was Colin Cowherd), and it got me a bit fired up. You see this topic everywhere you look.

The argument goes like this:

Guy A: Tiger Woods is the greatest athlete of our generation.

Guy B: Well, he's good and all, but he's not an athlete.

Guy A: Why not? He plays a sport, doesn't he?

Guy B: No. No he doesn't. He plays golf. He walks around a golf course all day hitting a little white ball. Offensive lineman in the NFL, by comparison, are true athletes. The NBA is filled with athletes. Athletes jump and run and have to perform all sorts of physical feats, whereas golfers just walk and swing. Tiger Woods is a great competitor, he's highly skilled...but he's not an athlete.

Guy A: You're a jerk!

See, to me, this debate is the poster-child for hair-splitting. It's a slippery slope kind of thing. I mean, where do you draw the line? Is a NASCAR driver an athlete? How about a cyclist? Are only basketball, baseball, and football players athletes?

Sports talk show hosts love these discussions because there aren't any hard conclusions. It's just a matter of opinion. And a stupid waste of time.

For instance, if we can all agree that NFL players are athletes, then what do we do with the kicker? I mean, he exerts far less physical effort in his athletic duties than a golfer does. All the kicker has to do is stand around all game and every so often kick something. If an NFL kicker is an athlete—and I think that he is (check out the roster of all-time scoring leaders)—then nearly everyone who has ever kicked anything is one as well.

In soccer, the goalie does occasionally need to jump to make a save, but mostly he just stands around for 90 minutes getting a sun tan.

Right fielders the world over are known for largely standing around and doing nothing all game. That's why they always put the weakest kids on the Little League team in right field, myself included.

I also remember lots of talk in sports journalism a few years back—when the steroids/Barry Bonds thing was just becoming a huge story—about how steroids don't help you as a baseball player. They make you stronger and baseball players don't use strength to hit home runs; they use hand-eye coordination. Anyone else remember that talk?

All the analysts who said that must think that either baseball players aren't athletes, or that golfers—who require truly great hand-eye coordination to compete—must be athletes after all.

Let's call on the geniuses over at Merriam-Webster's dictionary to help us put this silly debate to rest, shall we? According to them, an athlete is:

A person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina

Notice the use of the word "skilled." Notice also that people who exercise, as well as anyone using agility or stamina, counts as an athlete. So, using these parameters, we can say with certainty that golfers—along with NASCAR drivers and a host of others—are definitely athletes. Race car drivers use stamina. Gymnasts use agility.

Now, would someone please call the honchos over at ESPN and tell them that, so that I won't have to listen to this ridiculous argument ever again.

What they're trying to do is appeal to your argumentative nature by suggesting a topic they know the audience is split on. (They use the same tactic for those tired "Greatest Quarterback" debates.) Then they instantly get flooded with phone calls from people defending their world view.

Golfers call in and say that golf is a sport. Walking a course and making the perfect golf swing isn't as easy as it looks. And the jocks who played defensive tackle on their 3A high school football team call in and say that golfers are sissies—real athletes need pads and helmets and must be strong. (Never mind the fact that Tiger is, by all appearances, stronger than most of us. That dude is ripped.)

In my opinion, those who insist that Tiger isn't an athlete fall into one of two categories:

A. People who played a so-called "tough guy" sport, such as football, and don't want to see their superiority challenged. Or...

B. People who generally don't like to see others succeed and prefer to tear down anyone who dares to excel.

A better debate to have (while still being a goofy waste of time,) is: what counts as a sport and what doesn't? Is chess a sport? How about cornhole? Table tennis? Disc golf? Then, after we have this sport-definition issue settled, maybe we can all just agree that if something counts as a sport, its participants must be athletes.

Don't fall for it, people. It's a mindless way to fill some radio time. It's also a way to avoid having to decide if Tiger is the best athlete ever, using misdirection to distract us into a semantic debate. "He can't be the best athlete ever if we can't all successfully agree to classify him as an athlete!"

Of course Tiger Woods is an athlete—one of the best to ever live. He plays a sport. He exerts energy and relies on agility, strength, body control, and hand-eye coordination...and he does all that better than maybe anyone ever has.

Not that it matters to him. He's off buying mansions for $65 Million and cruising in his 155-foot yacht. I'm sure he'd be fine with the sports community labeling him a "little weenie girl," as long as he keeps Golf-Eldrick_Tiger_Woods_is_Merely_Toying_With_Us_All-160308" target="_blank">winning every tournament he plays in and raking in tens of millions of dollars in endorsement deals.

The only people wrapped up in this debate over his "athlete" status are desperate radio hosts, bored newspaper columnists, and mindless sheep like you and me who get suckered into it every time—just as I did here today.