Open Mic: What's a Sport? Bullfighting, Mountain Climbing, or Auto Racing?

L.J. BurgessSenior Writer IJuly 1, 2008

The title comes from a variation of a quote attributed to Barnaby Conrad, the author of The Death Of Manolete, magazine writer, all-around bon vivant, and owner of El Matador nightclub in San Francisco.

Conrad was a contemporary of Ernest Hemingway's, and a prolific scribe of that era. He was considered a man's man in his circle, and a comparison to Hemingway and confusion as to the origin of the quote were both apt for the times.

The quote itself exists in many forms, but a simple translation would be:

"Only bullfighting, mountain climbing and auto racing are sports, the rest are merely games".

In Conrad's time, those three sports would have been considered life-and-death struggles compared to the "games" extant at the moment. Although there are still occasional deaths involved in each sport, advancement in equipment, technique, innovation, and training have lessened the lethal aspects of each. (Although fans of mediáticos in glimmering silk vs. pissed off, wounded bovines might be appalled at that suggestion.)

Merriam-Webster defines the word "sport" as a fifteenth-century noun: "1a: a source of diversion 1b: sexual play (nice!) 1c (1): physical activity engaged in for pleasure (see "1b") 1c (2): a particular physical activity (as an athletic game) so engaged in."

So, sport the noun is a still a wide-open field of interpretation, and is completely subjective in definition, depending on the fan's perspective.

Therefore, if one follows the Hot-Dog Eating circuit and enjoys the, 1a: diversion of it, Merriam-Webster would support said fan's claim of Hot-Dog Eating as a sport. Similarly, the World Series of Poker would be validated as a sport for its fans as well.

But we know better, don't we?

It's all about 1a, once you drag yourself past 1b and actually participate in 1c (1), when the words "physical activity" prominently come into play.

After years and years of miserably pursuing 1c (1) while participating in 1c (2), we become a fan of 1c (2) played by professionals, buy a big-screen HDTV, and realize that we have wasted our lives and should have been making a play for more 1b all along.

So again, sport should be loosely defined as "physical activity" during a contest of skill, resulting in a winner of a competition, whether you're watching or playing.

There we go again with the "physical activity", so it must be true. Now we can weed out the poker players, hot dog eaters, and maybe racecar drivers and their ilk...I suppose. Get the f*#k back! Now you guys!

But, as always, I digress.

The email that I received from Bleacher Report specifically asked for my subjective opinion on what I think defines the word sport.

To define sport, we have to separate it from "games" and "competitions", as we know them in our era.

I believe that "sport" and "sports" involve physical activity, mano-a-mano or teams of manos-a-manos, in confrontation and competition, using physical strength, mental dexterity, agility, and preparation, with the goal of winning a contest, prize, or tangible reward.

It must be a discipline that can, or could, be contested in a loincloth with the bare minimum of equipment at hand. It must be caveman simple (sorry Geico guys), not intellectually simple, but simple in its economy of rules.

It must be something that a child can grasp and play well at their age level, with improvement and skill growing with age. It also must be appealing and available to all age groups at their level of ability and maturity.

And, there must be blood. Blood should be spilled at some point in a participant's career. Broken bones would suffice, turf burns are acceptable, cuts, scrapes, gouges, black eyes, and pulled muscles are encouraged. Crying, screaming, whimpering, and limping are verboten.

We didn't roll over the Rhineland leaving a trail of tissues, now did we?

So, in my mind, we can go back in time, back to the origins of the Conrad quote and the allusions in Hemingway's prose as to what constitutes manliness. Death, destruction, and blood.

That's what separates sports from games...an ambulance ride.

Now get off your couch and go outside and get some air...and take a ball with you.


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