Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The "Sport v. Game" Debate

Long a favorite, and ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer. What makes one activity a "sport" and another activity a "game?" How about "competition?"

One criteria I have heard for this argument is this--there must be a significant risk of injury to constitute "sport." By the way, this wasn't a scientific discussion--let's just say it involved chilly beverages.

Going off of that, auto racing is a sport, along with lumberjack games (have you seen a big-league splinter?), and figure skating.

Now, let me break those 3 items down:

1-Auto Racing. I know it may sound sacrilegious in these parts, but auto racing, to me, is competition, not sport. GASP!!! Auto racing is a true test of man and machine. The drivers ARE athletes, don't get me wrong. The pit crew members are athletes (just watch them bust off a stop in under 14 seconds to see why). There is truly significant risk of injury. The drivers athleticism comes from their incredible endurance, reflexes and mental focus. I still go competition, though, due to the driver being able to sit for the whole race.

Why are the drivers athletes? Here's why. It was explained to me years ago by Todd Bodine, when I was hosting my radio show in Raleigh on 850 the Buzz. Bodine was an in-studio guest (promoting one of his sponsors), and I basically asked him point blank, what makes you guys athletes? His reply: "Get in your car, cut the power steering, turn the air conditioner to high heat, roll up the windows, strap yourself into your seat allowing you little wiggle room, and drive as fast as you can in rush hour traffic tightly packed with 42 other cars, all doing to the same location."

Drivers are athletes.

2-Lumberjack competitions. Do I need to explain this? Those are made for tv events (who rolls logs anymore?), which ESPN used to fill time before they won contracts to broadcast baseball, football, hoops, etc. Lumberjacking is an occupation, not a sport.

3-Figure skating. Competition, not sport. Here's why: any competition whose results are based solely on the opinions of judges can not be viewed as sport. Boxing is exempt from this rule, as a boxer can be knocked out, taking the judges out of the equation. Figure skating relies solely on judges, who, if they happen to blink, can miss a crucial element, and incorrectly score a competitor.

Now, others that qualify is competition or games include: bowling, golf, darts, etc.

Bowlers are highly skilled at what they do--still, your ability to drink frosty beverages while playing limits the athlete argument.

Golfers are highly skilled, and I have long maintained the golf swing is perhaps the single most difficult athletic movement to perfect. Still, for 99 percent of the golfing world, golf is competition, and not sport. The 1% left out of that number calls the PGA Tour home. Those guys are good.

Darts. Competition. See the beer rule. Great skill and hand-eye coordination. Not sport.

Athletes above reproach-basketball players, football players, soccer, hockey, baseball, cyclists, track and field athletes and jockeys.

Jockeys? Yep. Jockeys barely outweigh the best international figure skaters, yet they have the strength to guide an animal running at top speed, and the courage to try and get that animal to run towards a victory.

What are some games or sports that you feel deserve the recognition, or deserve to be knocked into the games/competition column?

Knock out a comment, and let us know.

Remember, there are no wrong answers!

Mike Solarte


Wes Wilson said...

I think hockey is a competition and not a sport. Like bowling and darts, if you are a professional athlete and the only people who watch you play are your friends and family, it's a competition and not a sport. Side not, most events on VS are thus competitions and not sports.

KA said...

If you're counting jockeys, you have to count NASCAR drivers. I mean, all a jockey is doing is "driving" a horse right?

Mike Solarte said...

Please remember, I counted drivers as athletes.

Hockey is a competition? Don't blame Commissioner Bettman's poor TV deal on knocking hockey off its rightful spot on the Sports Mantle.

Keep the comments coming!

James said...

Sorry, a few disagreements.

I am probably biased, but I don't see NASCAR drivers or Jockeys as "athletes", and their sports are definitely competitions as you suggest in both cases. Are they certainly skilled? Yes. Just because not a lot of people can do it as well as they do doesn't mean it is sport. I am a very skilled programmer that can do things that only maybe 1 in a 100 or 1000 programmers can do that doesn't make what I do a sport.

Golf is definitely a sport and they are athletes. To mention that most of us that play it are not athletes is like contending that baseball is not a sport because I play softball on Sunday with some friends or flag football on Thanksgiving day with my family.

Nicholas said...

If figure skating is not a sport because it depends on the scores of a judging panel, then other "competitions" include gymnastics, diving, snowboarding, skateboarding, trampoline, freestyle skiing aerials, and ski jumping. All of these, including figure skating, all have a significant risk of injury. In fact, if figure skating is not a sport based on sheer physical ability, then most things aren't. The amount of combined stamina, balance, flexibility, strength, and precision is insane.

Jimm said...

Sports vs. games

Here is my breakdown on what makes a sport and the contrary.

Sport: Any activity in which human mechanics is the primary tool used for the competition. There may be other tools used, but use of this tool should not allow one participant any mechanical advantage over another. Sport should be about the human machine not the equipment in any capacity.

Examples of sports in which the human machine is the primary tool are running, gymnastics, swimming, jumping, boxing and weight-lifting. Originally, these events were conducted without clothing making the human machine the only tool in use. These sports all require excellent in the human machine to achieve victory. There are always comments on boxing being “judged”. Let’s remember that originally, boxing matches went on until someone was knocked out or ultimately resigned. There was not a condition for a tie or decision and fights could go as long as 50 rounds in the hot summer sun.

Sports that use secondary and non-influential tools would be things such as discus, weight-lifting and archery. This holds the assumption that one tool is exactly the same as the other. If the tool provides the participant any mechanical advantage over the other competitors, this is no longer sport in principal. For events such as javelin or weight-lifting where a tool is used, if all the participants use the same tool time after time, this generates no advantage to the others and is considered to be a null point. If the device in use causes mechanical advantage, I term this as a game. Examples of games are baseball, football, bowling, NASCAR and hockey.

I have read other articles claiming that NASCAR is a sport. It is not and cannot be. Each car is different by design and this greatly changes how one driver can be influenced over others. Claims of heat, stress etc. are used to leverage sympathy for how difficult the event is. Difficulty does not make racing a sport. The ability to race cars, at its base, comes from a better vehicle. How about drag racing? Is the driver or the car the faster of the participants? Drag racing is a game.

I am typing right now which is a practiced ability / skill. I have to control my fingers and use them to produce a predicted result time and time again. Hopefully, I am doing this without producing too many spelling errors. If I type faster than you, is typing a sport? Is it a sport if I make less spelling mistakes?

Back to NASCAR. I can drive my car and race Dale Earnhardt Jr. I have no chance to win as his car is obviously better equipped than mine. His machine is tailored to this specific use which gives him advantage over the other competitors. IROC (International Race of Champions) brings up additional points to debate. By my definition, IROC may be considered to be sport as all the cars are supposed to be exactly equal. The principal to remember is that the human machine is supposed to be the primary tool used to determine the victor not the equipment. In NASCA, each vendor or manufacturer has different wind dynamics for drag and down-force, engine characteristics and many other physical properties that bias one vehicle over others. If we race on foot, we are now totally equal and I have as good of a chance as my training will allow. I can control my weight and physical training to become better. The act of spending money for technology should not be a factor allowing me to win.

NASCAR, like other games, makes use of teamwork. Team events are almost always games as they typically have multiple tools outside of the primary human machine which bias performance and do not require the effort of every team member equally for success. Victory comes from strategy in these cases not the human machine. For example:

Baseball – all players use different bats, gloves and baseballs are humidity saturated to not allow the ball maximum flight. If I play center field and the ball never comes to me, I had no impact on the outcome. If I sit on the bench and my teammate hits a homerun, my team won but I had nothing to do with the outcome.

Football – If I am the kicker and we never attempt a field goal and we do not punt, I have no impact yet I am on the team. These choices are based on strategy and impact the outcome of the game. Strategy will also dictate that I am not a good football kicker and therefore making plays that require me to kick will increase the opponent’s chances of victory.

Track events – Track events, such as a relay race, require each teammate’s total combined effort to achieve victory. Track is a true sport.

Chess – strictly a strategy game. There is no physical skill required to win. Other examples of strategy based games are Battleship, checkers and poker.

Golf – I use a $600 Ping driver and you use $50 Meijer brand. Who will drive farther typically and more accurately? This is clearly a case where equipment is biasing the player over others.

I bowl regularly (4-5 times weekly). If I were to compare myself to the all time greats, it is insulting to those true greats that I can generate so much hook and power with my ball. In their day, this was not possible due to limitations in technology. In short, I have an unfair advantage over them. I play a game not a sport. Why now are there so many people that have achieved a perfect score of 300 as compared to 30 years ago? The lanes are better, the balls have more physics and chemistry in their design and the pins have been designed to allow me to score better. If I had a time machine and went back 30 years to compete, I would surely beat many of those experts. If I were a runner and went back in time 60 years, with all the training in the world, I would still have no chance to beat Jesse Owens in a 100 meter run. If all bowlers used polyester bowling balls with symmetrical cores of identical weight, identically prepared lanes and pins placed identically, we could then call bowling a sport. Due to the variations in this game, we cannot call bowling a sport.

Ice Skating / Dancing is not a sport or even a game. It is simply judged art. Do we all agree that the Mr. Potato head looking Picasso looks good? The entire activity of skating is based on subjective opinion. How can anyone judge that one person is better at something than another person? For this to happen, the judge has bias as to what they want to see. It is not possible for everyone to share the same opinion of this so skating is not a sport. If you do not agree, watch the Olympics. We all know that someone will loose because of a bad score from a controversial judgment call. If Skating is a sport, so is painting walls in your home. Do we all agree that mauve in the living room was a good choice or should it have been lavender?