Open Mic: What's in a Sport?

Joe GSenior Writer IJuly 2, 2008

This week's Open Mic topic is an exciting one, as this is an argument my roommates and I have been having for weeks.

The dictionary definition of  the word "sport" makes use of the word "athletic," which is important to remember. It also mentions "skill," "physical prowess," and "competition." So we've got a good start on nailing down what a sport is, right?

Unfortunately, there's some serious gray area here. Lots of so-called "sports" don't exhibit all of the aforementioned characteristics. Let's take a look at how the argument started.

My roommate Nick wanted to watch the US Open, and I said no, because the Tigers were playing. I then made the mistake of upsetting him by saying, "Come on, golf isn't even a sport. It's a game of skill, at best." A shouting match followed.

When I think of sports, the first thing that pops into my head is the athletes that play them.

Look at golf. Phil Mickelson and his subcutaneous fat are successful. John Daly has made millions of dollars. Rocco Mediate, a guy whose back is in worse shape than my 50-year-old father's is, was tied for the 72-hole lead at the Open.

Put these guys on a soccer field or a basketball court, and they'd be sucking wind in minutes.

On the other hand, golf has Tiger Woods, who is definitely athletic. And I will say that the game requires an incredible amount of skill, something a lot of people don't have the patience to develop. But I'm still not convinced that it's a sport.

Another roommate chimed in: "It's on ESPN all the time—it's a sport."

Oh yeah? So are spelling bees and hot dog eating contests.  I'm pretty sure they used to televise the occasional Magic: The Gathering tournament. Try defending any one of those as a sport, and I'm having our electricity shut off, I said.

A third roommate added this little gem: "Well, golf has a ball and towels. It's a sport." But boxing doesn't use a ball, well, unless you're Andrew Golota.

That effectively ended the argument about golf, because it was such a ridiculous statement. So we moved onto auto racing.

Here's my take on auto racing. The only kind I can watch is Formula One. Road courses are infinitely more exciting to me than ovals. I understand that plenty of people find oval track racing very exciting—it's just not for me.

But I definitely would not call even Formula One drivers "athletes." I just think we don't see a lot of fat race car drivers because it's too hard to squeeze into the cars, even if you're a beanstalk.

I know that driving a car at those speeds amidst traffic requires a great amount of skill and "physical prowess." I just don't see how a great deal of athleticism is required. And maybe somebody will tell me otherwise. I'm definitely open to changing my mind.

It's impossible to classify these borderline "sports" one way or another. I don't think there's any debate that football, basketball, or hockey are sports. But golf?

Golf is a leisure activity often played by retirees and dominated by an athlete in his prime (Tiger Woods). Racing requires some of the quickest reflexes on the planet, but a guy like me can hop into an AMC Gremlin, complete with a 401 V8, and hit 150+ MPH.

I've said a lot without even getting into other borderline activities. Competitive eating? Ice dancing? Diving? Curling? The list goes on, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.