Settling the Debates: Is It a Sport or Not a Sport?

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 14, 2011

Settling the Debates: Is It a Sport or Not a Sport?

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    We've all been in the discussion. The question about certain things come up and the debate becomes, "Is that a sport or not?"

    Well, it's time to settle these debates once and for all. There are three criteria to be considered a sport. Here is the dictionary definition of sport:

    An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment

    From this, we derive three things. First, it has to have a modicum of "physical exertion," and by that, I infer actual athletic exertion. Literally  speaking, the typing I am doing right now requires physical exertion. In terms of sport though, that physical exertion should be more than minimal. 

    After giving it some thought, I think you could frame it this way. If you can improve your performance by improving your conditioning, it's a sport. Sure some people might be able to do it even though they are out of shape, but they would be better if they were in shape. In other words, if you can physically train for it, it meets this aspect of the definition. It's not just the actual exertion, it's the ability that is being exerted. 

    Second, there needs to be an actual physical "skill" involved. By that, I mean that there are individual elements that can be developed to hone a greater ability. For instance, in football, catching the ball is a skill. Hitting a baseball is a skill.

    Some may be wondering what the difference is between exertion and skill. Hitting a baseball is a good example of both. Working on your swing will help you hit the ball better. Working on your strength will help you to hit the ball harder. Ergo, hitting a baseball requires both ability and skill. 

    While sports frequently require a mental aspect, virtually everything does. Having a physical skill doesn't make something a sport. 

    Third, there has to be a competition to see who is a winner. If there is no competition it is not a sport.

    So based on this, we'll examine 10 "sports" to see if they or are not really sports.  


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    ESPN might put poker on, but that doesn't make it a sport. It's not even close. 

    Does it take physical exertion or ability? No . 

    Does it take physical skill? No. 

    Is there a competition? Yes. At least that part is there. 

    Other than that, really, there's not much else to say. Have you ever seen someone do "facial workouts" to keep their poker face in shape? Have you ever seen anyone practicing moving their poker chips? Even if they did, it wouldn't make them a better player. 

    Verdict: Poker is not a sport. 


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    Does bowling take physical exerion or ability? Yes, but minimally.

    Does bowling require a physical skill? Yes, and more than some might think. 

    Does bowling have an element of competition? Absolutely. 

    Bowling is a sport, but it's on the lower skill of "sport." It all depends on how you define the "physical ability" part of things. While there is an element of physical exertion involved, it's not great. 

    However, getting stronger can make you better because it can make the difference in what weight ball you are able to throw. Certainly, the skill part is there. There's a lot of hours of practice between a 150 bowler and a 250 bowler. 

    Verdict: Bowling is a sport.


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    Does it require physical exertion? Yes

    Does it require physical skill? Yes

    Is there a competition? Yes

    NASCAR is most definitely a sport. The physical skill set required to be successful might not be the same as say, an NBA player, but there is real physical exertion involved. NASCAR drivers can lose between five and 10 pounds in a race. That's physical exertion.

    The eye-to-hand coordination is amazing that is needed to race—and on a level not possessed by the average Joe on the street. Yes, you might be able to drive your car, but that doesn't mean you can compete on a level like that.  Driving requires practice which makes it a skill necessary to compete.

    Verdict: NASCAR is a sport. 


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    Does it require physical exertion or ability? Yes

    Does it require physical skill? Yes

    Is it a competition? Yes

    When Phil Mickelson got in better shape his game got better. There are a number of ways that physical attributes take a role. Getting stronger can help your drive. Being in good shape can mean better endurance, and when you're on the 18th hole, a little better endurance can be helpful.

    That it takes skill is without question. Hitting a a ball into a hole 500 yards away using a crooked stick takes practice!

    Is it a competition? Hopefully!

    Verdict: Golf is a sport.


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    Does it require physical exertion or ability? Sometimes

    Does it require physical skill? Sometimes

    Is it a competition? Sometimes

    Fishing is all about the context in terms of whether it's a sport or not.  When I lived in Minnesota in the middle of winter, people would drive out their trucks onto the ice, pull out their tent and prop it up.

    Next, they drill a hole in the ice and drop a line. Then they rev up the generator, plug in the TV and drink beer and ice fish. That is not a sport. 

    Grabbing a cooler, throwing it on your row boat and paddling out to the middle of the lake where you get drunk with a line in the water is not a sport. 

    Neither of those things require any skill or exertion and have no competition, ergo they are not sports.

    Hauling in a 50-pound tuna in a fishing tournament is another matter. Fishing is only a sport when it's a sport. Otherwise, it's just an outdoor hobby. 

    Verdict: Fishing is a sport sometimes.


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    Does it require physical exertion or ability? Yes

    Does it require physical skill? Yes

    Is it a competition? Sometimes

    With cheerleading, it's all about the context. When there is a cheerleading competition, it's a sport. There's no question that all that jumping around and flipping and what not requires both physical abilities and skills that are honed over time. 

    When they are in a cheerleading competition, it's a sport. When they are actually cheering for a sport, it's not a sport. This raises another question.

    Who cheers for the cheerleaders at the cheerleader competitions? The backup cheerleaders?

    Verdict: Cheerleading is a sport only when it's a competition. 

Competitive Eating

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    Does it require physical exertion or ability? Yes

    Does it require physical skill? Yes

    Is it a competition? Yes

    The fact is that competitive eating actually does meet the qualifications to be a sport. These guys actually try and work out and spend time in the gym to do things to improve their ability to eat copious and obscene amounts of food. They have training cycles and everything to get their stomach just right for a competition.

    Now granted, it's not what we normally think of as conditioning, but it is a kind of conditioning.

    It does require skill. Takeru Kobayashi changed the whole nature of it by introducing technique to it. 

    There are reasons we have trouble with accepting it as a sport. First, you generally think of sports and assume that more calories will be lost than gained while you're "playing." 

    The other thing is watching most sports is an aesthetic experience, not an ascetic one.  

    Verdict: Competitive eating is a sport (albeit a gross one). 

Competitive Gaming

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    Does it require physical exertion or ability? No

    Does it require physical skill? Yes

    Is it a competition? Yes

    Say what you want about competitive gaming, but no, it's not a sport. I don't care how many hours of play station you've logged or how good you've gotten, it does not make you an athlete. 

    What exercises can you do to improve your gaming performance? Yeah, that sums it up.

    Verdict: Competitive gaming is not a sport.

Competitive Dancing

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    Does it require physical exertion or ability? Yes

    Does it require physical skill? Yes

    Is it a competition? Yes

    If you've never watched shows like You Think You Can Dance and seen what dancers at the highest level can do, you might not appreciate the incredible athleticism that being a dancer requires. The amount of strength, stamina, conditioning and skill involved is on par with professional athletes. 

    When you add in the element of competition, it becomes a real sport. 

    Verdict: Competitive dancing is a sport. 

Professional Wrestling

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    Does it require physical exertion or ability? Yes

    Does it require physical skill? Yes

    Is it a competition? No

    Sorry, just because there's belts an matches and "winners" and "losers" there is no competition in professional wrestling. If it's scripted, it's not a competition.

    While there's a segment of the population that likes to try and convince themselves it is not fake, most of us know it is. Those of us that choose not to delude ourselves by believing that you can "cheer" for or against a predetermined outcome know what it is, an exhibition. 

    Certainly the physical ability, agility and athleticism are all very real, but if it's not actually a competition, it's not a sport. 

    Verdict: Professional wrestling is not a sport. 


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