What Is and Is Not a Sport?

Ok, so here’s a topic that has been the subject of conversations and debates at sports bars and water coolers for decades. It’s a departure from my usually more serious blog posts, so take this with a grain of salt. In other words, if you’re a participant in a competitive endeavor that I don’t classify as a sport, please don’t hunt me down and beat me up. I say that in all seriousness because one time I was discussing this with a group of friends at a wings restaurant in Tuscaloosa and the Georgia Bulldog gymnastics team (a.k.a. the Gym Dawgs) overheard the conversation and took issue with my comments. As they left the restaurant, they walked by our table and gave me evil looks. One gymnast confronted me and said, “So, gymnastics isn’t a sport, huh?” I looked at her stout muscular build, and that of her colleagues, and sizing up my companions realized I was dangerously outmatched. I was afraid those angry young women were going to take me out back and throttle me, which they could have done with ease. Which brings me to an important caveat – I’m classifying SPORTS, not athletes! I will concede that there are genuine athletes participating in all kinds of competitive endeavors that I do not classify as a sport. Not all athletes participate in a sport, but to be good at a true sport, you must be an athlete.

Here is my definition of a sport: a skilled athletic competition between human beings in which the outcome is determined by the physical abilities of the participants themselves.

The following activities are sports: baseball, basketball, football, soccer, hockey, softball, volleyball, track and field, speed skating, ultimate Frisbee, cycling, swimming, rowing, tennis, and probably a few others I can’t think of right now.

The following activities are NOT sports: gymnastics (it’s judged), diving (judged), boxing (judged), figure skating (judged), synchronized swimming (judged), most X-games events (judged), horse racing (non-human competitors), NASCAR and drag racing (outcome aided by motors), bowling and competitive eating events (if you can be extremely out of shape and be good at it, it’s not a sport), chess (for the same aforementioned reason), curling (because it’s just too goofy to be a sport), and probably a few others I can’t think of right now.

Let me explain. In judged events, the outcome isn’t determined by the participants themselves; judges basically decide who wins. That’s different from having officials or referees help to enforce the rules. When horses or cars are involved, the outcome is more about the power of the non-human participants. Cycling is different because bicycles are powered by humans not motors. Bowling, eating competitions, and chess are eliminated by the “out of shape” rule: if you can be extremely out of shape and be good at it, it’s not a sport. In other words, if your training diet consists of a tray of Lasagna and a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts, you probably aren’t participating in a sport. And curing … well, the fat slob rule may apply, but I’d like to invoke another rule – the “goofy rule.” This rule is needed to keep things reasonable and to keep any random competitive enterprise from being classified as a sport and thrown into the next olympics.

Admittedly, there are some gray areas, and I’m looking at you golf (remember John Daily?). And what about competitive endeavors in which there’s a pretty good chance you could die (mixed martial arts) or events so extreme that virtually no one can do them (ultra-marathon running). I’ll let you all debate those particular cases. I do recommend doing so in private, however, so that you don’t run the risk of getting your face kicked in by someone who may be more of an athlete than you, but who doesn’t actually compete in a true sport.

Sports