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Line between game and sport unclear, definition necessary to end debate

By Nick Esposito
On December 1, 2010

There are games, and there are sports. Depending on whom you may ask, the criteria for the two categories vary.

We all have a sport that we hold near and dear to our heart and have craftily developed arguments for why it is the best one. But is it possible that some of us are more right than others? Could it be possible that your sport isn't a sport at all and is merely a game?

I am sure that the debate of what counts as a sport has existed for thousands of years.

There is no doubt that wherever there have been men and women playing sports (Egyptians, Mayans, Native Americans, Cleveland), there have been others standing on the sidelines cheering for them. I wonder if these ancient cheering squads ever considered themselves athletes.

Now it may be true that they were not doing flips, constructing human pyramids (they were constructing real ones) or wielding pom-poms like samurai swords, so their argument to gain sport status may not have been as strong. Needless to say, I suspect that the debate existed then too.

Obviously, the debate of what counts as a sport revolves around cheerleading. The argument does not end there, however. Is miniature golf a sport? Is Ultimate Frisbee? Is track and field? What about football?

The easiest way to separate what is and what isn't a sport is to sit down and develop a simple set of criteria — a definition if you will. For some, the definition changes and depending on this, certain games may be left out. The following definitions of "sport" are the opinions of people who have chosen to remain anonymous for fear of public backlash.

Definition One — A sport requires a goal, a team and a ball.

Ah! Very interesting, this means that most team activities such as football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer and other similar sports apply. Even Ultimate Frisbee is borderline; it involves teams, an endzone and a Frisbee. It's not a ball, but at least it's an object. But this definition would cut out activities like cross country, mahjong and swimming. You're telling me that Michael Phelps is less of an athlete than the pleasantly plump Prince Fielder? This might not be as easy as I expected — at least we have a start.

Definition Two — Sport is an activity that requires athletic exertion.

Paint-ball players, cheerleaders, ballroom dancers and people trying to catch a flight rejoice, you are sportsmen and sportswomen! I have seen more spin moves, hurdles and quick side steps in a "Home Alone" type scene at the airport than I ever would on a golf course, yet John Daly is considered more of an athlete than a guy named Steve on his way to Denver. This definition controversially includes cheerleaders— it is true that athletic exertion is involved and they are all in great shape, but the goal is to cheer on other sports as they compete, not to win or score points, and competitions do not count. It just doesn't add up to me.

Definition Three — A sport is something that requires training and a goal or purpose.

Cheerleaders, you're back in the game! So are you chess players, curling prodigies and X-Box phenoms. Anyone can train for some and be successful. I trained myself how to tie my shoes, and it took me longer than I'd prefer but I eventually got there.

Definition Four — A sport cannot be an activity that is determined by a score via judges.

Whoops, sorry gymnastics, this means you. Despite your superior physical prowess and your intense training, you do not count as a sport. Judges are different than umpires and referees. Referees and umps, while still human, only try and keep the game at an even playing field, and their opinion doesn't affect whether or not Albert Pujols hit another one over the wall.

Other definitions include an activity that you have to compete against an adversary. This does include hunting (poor deer), but it also includes poker and bowling. And I refuse to accept any game during which you can smoke a cigar a sport.

Another idea was that in order to be a sport, the athlete needs to be a person. Secretariat rolls over in his grave at the thought. This eliminates any kind of horse or car racing.

My personal definition is that a sport cannot be anything that is considered X-Treme. Sure, snowboarding, skateboarding, trick bikes and halfpipers are all really cool, but come on, really?

When it is all said and done, we know that everyone will have their own opinion. But according to the pulse of society, some people may be more right than others. You may be strong, you may be athletic, you may even be a competitor, but that does not mean that you play a sport — and that's okay.


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