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A Walk Down the Path of How I Came to Define What Sports Really Are

A few weeks ago, I told you how I gave up on Pro Sports altogether. Today, I'm going to let you wander along with my mind and it's decades old search, and still ongoing, of defining what sports are.

I have no idea what picture to use, so here is Cotton, almost exactly 7 years ago this week.
I have no idea what picture to use, so here is Cotton, almost exactly 7 years ago this week.



1. an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing,baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.

2. a particular form of this, especially in the out of doors.

3. diversion; recreation; pleasant pastime.

A long, long time ago, in a world far, far away from today's Kansas snow, likely around the 1992 Olympics, I began to question what the definition of sport is. It stemmed from watching ice skating. I realized that ice skating was something "judged". I began to think on how something being "judged" makes it subjective, not objective, and maybe that is not sports. It began as a lose internal thought process. Along those lines I continued to expand that definition to include diving, gymnastics and other judged Olympic sports. Then my look expanded and any sports that have a subjective measurement versus an objective measurement got an eyeball. I even started questioning if car racing and golf qualified as sport - sitting in a car is sports, really? The dictionary didn't seem to embrace my deeper thoughts. It's really all a big generalization, and subject to well, a lot of opinion or common use of the word.

This led to a discussion with my college roommate at UGA. It became a thinking exercise and discussion. How would I determine what sport is? I decided it had to have a few things for sure. The first is it must be objective. No judges. It has to be measured in some manner by objective means. If it is how it "looks" to me, that's art. Art is beautiful, and in the case of ballet, gymnastics, figure skating, on and on, it is very beautiful art, and very hard to perform. Make no mistake, these types of athletic endeavors are not easy to do and I wasn't out to belittle or begrudge them. I was just seeking for better understanding of what sport really was; what it really means. I watched the US Open figure skating meets recently and a guy picked up his partner over his head, spun her around his neck, down his body and out onto one skate in a spin. That was hella hard to do. They are tremendously hard athletic exercises to perform. So, I am not saying these folks aren't athletes. I am saying I am not sure these events qualify as sport. So, I landed on objective. Measurable. That's the first part of my search to define sport.

The next thing I came up with is it must be competitive. No matter how fast someone runs or jumps or whatever, if it is not in the world of competition, it's not sports, it's a workout. You must be placing your feats head to head against someone else's. Interesting, this would qualify some of those "arts" in this category. So, I quickly ended up where I started, oh, you irony. Some of this stemmed from me expanding the idea of what sport is into hunting and fishing. Some people consider it "outdoor sports." Well, if I go catch a fish, take a picture and put it back in the water, I wasn't competing, so it wasn't sports. But wait, what about fishing tournaments, where the fish are measured and you compete against a field of other people? Well, that raised a difficult question. Objective and competitive was just not enough of a definition.

Now we get into leisure sports, activities such as golf, bowling, perhaps some outdoor sports and activities. Bowling is measurable and competitive. Does that make it sport? My gut kept saying "no". I wasn't going to let bowling be a sport! Something in me said you need to be an athlete, at least of some small level, for something to be sport. Do we really think bowling is a sport? And that leads to questions about other Olympic competitions, like curling. Is curling really a sport? At some part of this journey of defining sport and debating this topic with many people, it was pointed out to me, and I quote, "Well, they do call them the Olympic Games." Well played sir! They do call them games. So, my journey of saying the some of the Olympic events weren't real sports was answered before I ever began. But I still thought something subjective wasn't sport, and I still don't think bowling is sport. That is not, I repeat, not, to say some of these things don't require tremendous, world competitive, athletic ability, or perhaps amazing hand-eye coordination. A sub definition of sport developed in my quest - sport must involve some sort of physical activity. It must involve body coordination, call it physical body manipulation and adjustment. This may let race car driving slip in. My definition went from trying to prove ice skating wasn't sport to inadvertently allowing bowling back into the definition. Surely when we talk sports, we are talking about manipulating the body, using hand eye coordination, a physical exertion. Well, at least I got chess out as a sport. But my definition still had missing piece. This gets us to the next point of my journey, where I thought I had the last clue in the definition of sport. I got objective, I got competitive, and I got body manipulation or some better term similar. But I wasn't done yet, because that definition eliminated figure skating and gymnastics, who are great athletes, but allowed people who play games in as sport! That wouldn't do. So, I began to further refine and think.

I had to find the piece that kept the definitions that I believed to be true, but wouldn't include "games" or leisure activities. I realized "sport" must involve some sort of higher caloric burn than say resting or only short movement. Sitting in a chair and throwing a dart or rolling a ball, or shooting billiards is objective, measurable, involves body coordination, meeting all of my definitions so far, but those things surely aren't "sports"! And I realized it is because they require very little expenditure of energy. So, a higher level of caloric burn is required. As a starting point, I would say something as much as walking or higher. But I don't really know. I don't have a hard definition. Higher caloric burn has to be in the equation, but how much higher is now.......subjective! I was back where I started! So, I stick with something at or higher than walking for now. This got harder than I realized.

I stick by my opinion that the subjective athletic events are art, not sport. Beautiful, amazing, incredible, awe inspiring, jaw dropping art. Yet still art. Perhaps it could be argued with supreme computer analysis we could have parameters built that measure body movement, height, speed, and everything possible to give actual measurements and comparisons, taking the subjective human eye out of the picture (and the biases that go along with that, which is part of this as well, I grew up with the Russian judge), and giving objective data. That may be possible someday. And I stick by my opinion that recreation games aren't sports, they are just games. The caloric burn is too low. Golf actually sits the fence on this. I would say in golf if they forced faster play and more brisk walks, we are getting more into a sport. But a 5 hour round riding in a cart smoking and drinking, come on! As for types of racing that involve operation of a machine, I have no idea how it fits, my solution to racing was - "well, racing is racing." I kind of let myself out on that one. So, I may have some short falls in my ideas, I still struggle to refine and define. However, as I continue to look to refine and define what sport is, it led me to really evaluate something further, the heart and soul of the game, which is a big part of what led to me dropping pro sports altogether. Sport involves yet something else, it involves passion, heart, soul, energy, courage. OH NO! I just landed even further back on subjective and now I am looking at the measure of the heart, but surely that is the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, which is a huge part of sport, right? We admire the courage, and the dedication, and the passion, and the work. If we didn't have any emotion involved in it, then it wouldn't be sport at all, it would just be folks doing an activity, no different than mowing the grass. Sport has to involve passion and the heart, and my entire thought train choo-choo'd it's way right back to the station it started in, as those "arts" are all about passion, energy,and heart. Wow.

So stay tuned, and I will tell you soon why college softball is the greatest game of all team sport. In the meantime, tell me your ideas. What are your thoughts on what sport is? How did you get there? Have you had similar mental exercises? Do you think I am crazy? Tell me your thoughts and ideas below, I would really like to refine my own definition, and maybe I can help yours. Or screw up mine further. Until then...

Go Dawgs!