X-Cuse Me???

Scott WeldonCorrespondent IAugust 8, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 31:  Andy McDonald competes in the Skateboard Big Air Rail Jam Final during X Games 15 at Staples Center on July 31, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

During the 1960s and 70s, a wide variety of alternative sports sprung up. They were variegated and tended to be non-competitive. Generally speaking they died out. I like to think they were out-competed by other sports. It's the Darwinian in me. I believe it was the baby boomers' first and last attempt to try to shape the sports landscape into something different then what their fathers watched.

The 1990s brought us the X Games. These are theoretically extreme sports that are supposed to dazzle us with their “x-citement” and flawless “x-ecution”. I always thought the X was used as a marketing ploy to bring in the Generation Xers, but I'm told by my demographer that X Games viewers and participants are more likely to be from Generation Y or next, so I'm completely wrong on that one. Fine.

I've seen some things done at these games that have a carnival sideshow appeal. There's an Evel Kneivel, stuntman kind of excitement to what's being done. How, though, is this artistic, sporting equivalent to the ski jumper crashing at the bottom of the jump on ABC's Wide World of Sports, a nationally broadcast, watched and enjoyed (I'm guessing) sporting event?

I can live with the races. A race is a race is a race. Whether you're running barefoot on a cinder track or rolling on a barrel downhill after a wheel of cheese, I can understand that. The fastest guy or girl or monkey on his barrel wins. That's a contested sport with winners and losers.

Unfortunately, the majority of X-sports involve arbitrarily judged events. Yes, figure skating and gymnastics have ruined this for everyone. During the last Summer Olympics I watched a female gymnast execute a low difficulty routine flawlessly. She ended up with a 9.2.

I watched the next woman on the same day with the same judges on the same uneven bars. She was doing a more difficult routine, so it had a greater degree of difficulty. She fell off the bars twice. She got a 9.3. If you fall off the bars isn't that a zero at least for that part of your routine? How did she beat perfect girl? That's it for me and judged events.

The X Games are generally doing the same thing. Distinctions that I can not make are being used to pick winners among a variety of athletes who are indistinguishable to me. There's nothing there for me to watch. If I can't tell who is good and who is bad and why someone won and lost, what is there for me to watch? Until they have guys on skateboards knocking each other off the rail with quarterstaffs, I'm out.

I came across the X Games a few days ago. There were a bundle of aged (30ish) punks riding their skateboards down a ramp at a railing. Generally about half of them tried to ride the rail and half of them jumped the stairs; I didn't see one of them, in my ten minutes of viewing, stick a landing. 

I watched these guys swoop down, jump up, slide, or rotate their way to the bottom and fall, over and over again. All I could think was that most of these guys were too old to be taking these falls. When I'm aged and in a home, my social security will be paying for their hospital bills, too. In another 10 years, all these guys are going to be getting their legs and spines replaced.

Apparently each competitor got 40 attempts. I'd be in traction after No. 3. Forty attempts and they're getting judged in that arbitrary way I love. They're all basically doing the same thing and they're all getting different, meaningless numbers. The guy fell off his skateboard. Give him a zero. He's got another 39 attempts coming. He'll make it up.

This resembled, more then anything else I've ever seen, kids playing the kind of useless made up games me and my friends played when we were teenagers. We played Over the Fence is Out, and Ultimate Hand-ball and FotKerball (which was so much like Australian Rules Football that I wanted to apply for a copyright infringement when I first saw that sport played).

No one put our idiot screwing around on national TV, though. This rail-riding game on TV seems a little like broadcasting kids throwing a ball around in a backyard or infielders warming up with a game of pepper. I can see showing it once out of interest for this different, dangerous activity, but broadcasting it regularly and nationally? I obviously don't get it.

My fear is that this X-stuff is so popular it will eventually replace actual sports. It certainly is another of the myriad of activities that get better ratings on TV in the US then my beloved hockey. Of course so does NASCAR, ping pong, water polo, and women’s golf. I think field hockey might get better ratings in the US than real hockey.

All I know is that if the Summer Olympics come calling, before they put in more of these crazy judged sports, I hope they'll consider that one holdover from those 60s and 70s made up games. At least in Ultimate Frisbee there's a score and I know who won and why.