Monday, August 31, 2009

The Bulletproof Definition of "Sport," Vol. II

As Commissioner of Sports, I once drew up a map of my domain called the Bulletproof Definition of "Sport." This definition was challenged thrice this weekend, so it seems time to re-publish the list with some streamlining and a few minor updates.

A competition must satisfy both rules to qualify.

Rule 1: All Sports require athletic competition.
Feats of strength and the mere exertion of physical force are not the same as athleticism. Athleticism is a combination of physical skills (strength, finesse, quickness, speed, stamina, agility) as well as mental (strategy, guile, knowledge). If there is no athletic-aspect, it cannot be a Sport. Weightlifting takes great strength but is not a Sport, just as lifting a heavy bag of groceries is not.

Rule 2: The result of a Sport is determined objectively, not by judges.
Downhill skiing is a sport because it satisfies both rules 1 and 2, but a moguls competition is not because while it is nearly the same, the winner is determined by a combination of finishing time and style points determined by judges.

While not officially rules, there are several other clarifications and guidelines that are in the running to become formal Rules but all the kinks have not yet been hammered out of them.

Clarification of Rules 1 and 2: Sports require athleticism; athleticism doesn't require Sport-hood.
An important distinction is that just because a competition requires athleticism doesn't mean it is a sport (like figure skating, diving, gymnastics, and skateboarding).

Clarification of Rule 2: Officials may enforce rules, not determine scoring.
The key here is objectivity. A common argument against Rule 2 is that officials make rulings in nearly every type of competition, even those commonly accepted as Sports (like baseball, football, and basketball). However, to be a sport the winner must not be chosen by officials, rather they must only ensure that the rules are followed. While a foul called in the last .2 may lead to game-winning free throws being made or missed, the athletes still either make or miss the free throws. And while officials may determine whether a ball goes over a fence, through the uprights, or across a goal line, those determinations are more or less objective (admittedly with the potential for human error). Deciding which athlete performed most excellently is completely subjective. The clock or scoreboard is still objective.

Guideline A: A Sport cannot be played while sitting.
This provides further support for Rule 1, and clearly eliminates such obvious events as poker, car racing, and video games. There are several problems with this guideline however. Wheelchair sports clearly are Sports, but this guideline would seem to preclude them. Cycling, bobsledding (and other such sports) would also seem to be ruled out undeservedly given that the athletes provide the brunt of the momentum to their vehicles, rather than a motor.  Horse racing a tricky call because the rider is just a passenger to some extent.

Guideline B: A Sport cannot be competed with a motor.
This also precludes car racing and many type of boat racing as well, but not sailboat racing such as the America's Cup, which clearly follows both Rules.

Guideline C: A Sport must include a human competitor.
Dog racing, animal fights, and other competitions contested without humans do not qualify, no matter how athletic the competitors may be, nor how objective the results are.

Guideline D: All competitors must know they are competing.
Bull riding, calf roping, and hunting are not sports because the animals in question are not aware they are competing. The instinct for self-preservation is not the same as competing. Horse racing does appear to qualify because in this case, the animals often do seem to be aware that they is competing and trying to win.

(Guideline E: Age matters.)
It has been suggested that if it can be played as well by an athlete of 45 as an athlete of 25, it is not a sport.  There are cases where this seems viable, but it is simply too subjective. What ages should be used as the measuring stick? There are too many cases of athletes being at the tops of their sports well into their 40's, especially golf.  And does a singular extraordinary performance by a person of age disqualify an entire sport? If not, how many extraordinary performances are too many? There is some value in a rule such as this, and it could help clarify Rule 1, which already infers that youth is of value in a Sport.  But since it is too hard to pin down specific ages, it is currently an unofficial guideline.

Check back this week for The Sports List and the Not-A-Sport List.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Crime & Punishment In The Pros

The off-season can be a perilous time for a professional athlete. With all that money and all that free time, how is a young man or woman supposed to know which decisions are wise and which aren't?

We hear stories all the time about how these poor, supremely gifted celebrities fall into financial or legal trouble because they were just never taught what kind of repercussions there are for their actions. But is it really fair to expect more from this poorly educated segment of the population?

The most recent study I could find showed that 46% of NFL players in 2004 had graduated from college. 39.1% of NBA players last year went to college for four years (but did not necessarily graduate). And around .03% of major league baseball players and managers in 2009 graduated from college (yes, .03%. 26 of the approximately 780 players and managers). So on the whole, only 33.5% of professional athletes in the major American sports have college degrees. Many do not have high school degrees and many did not even live with their parents until they were 18 because they were at special "schools" for gifted athletes.

So with this underprivileged class in mind, as well as some recent news regarding the jail sentences and subsequent league suspensions handed out to three NFL players this off-season, I thought I'd do my part to pass along some information that will show these youngsters what's in store if they run afoul of the law (or more importantly as it were, of the Commissioner).

Is there any rhyme or reason to these punishments? Don't break the law in New York, I suppose. Other than that, just remember that if you're gonna break the law, the more serious the better, and then just make sure you have a lot of cash saved up. Because worse crimes seem to get shorter jail sentences, but longer unpaid-suspensions.