Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sport or Skill? Cheerleading is a Sport!

Not really, but it's a snazzy title. In the tradition of rehashing the same ideas over and over again we bring you the first and quite possibly last edition of Sport or Skill? A U.S. District Court will soon decide this issue concerning cheerleading thanks to Title IX, volleyball, Quinnipiac University, and…well go read about it HERE if you want.

Once upon a time when I was a bartender in Norfolk, Virginia, a guy on the correct side of the bar and I started a conversation which continues to this day. To wit: What makes something a Sport? While football is obviously considered a Sport, activities such as golf, tennis, even baseball (John Kruk and David Wells are often mentioned) hang around the fringes of the clique. So, without further ado, we give you some guidelines on how to determine if what you are doing is a Sport, or merely juggling.

NOTE: These are not mutually exclusive. That is, a Sport/Skill not qualifying in one category does not mean automatic disqualification. For those of you more interested in resolving this argument with an SAT-like approach go HERE. Have fun.

1. Number of Participants. If the activity requires more than one person per “team,” than you are most likely participating in a Sport. In order to succeed, all the members of one team must work together to achieve a common goal while simultaneously attempting to prevent the other team from achieving this goal.

Baseball and cricket are quirky exceptions to this since both teams can’t score at any given moment – one can’t score while playing defense. This rule prohibits activities such as golf, tennis, bowling, darts, etc. from being considered Sports. Water polo on the other hand - Sport.

There are many activities with teams, like cheerleading for example. Or synchronized swimming. What separates those activities is the fact that the team ‘performs’ absent direct competition. If pairs figure skating involved negotiating another pair of skaters trying to check them into boards while performing triple axels well that might be a Sport. The other factor here is…

2. Scoring. This is vital. If your activity keeps score according to how often one team (or, in this case, an individual) achieves some certain goal, then your activity might be a Sport. In contrast, if success in your activity is determined by some arbitrary scoring system, like judges, not a Sport.

Time also falls into this category - one cannot merely be competing against the clock. According to this rule, gymnastics is not a Sport nor competitive diving or the 100 yard dash. Bowling, on the other hand, is a Sport along these lines.

But there are timed Sports. Consider soccer, basketball, football, or hockey. The crucial difference between these Sports and say, downhill skiing, is time really has nothing to do with determining a winner. If in the allotted time of a basketball game no one has scored a basket, they keep on playing. In contrast, a skier could crawl down the mountain to the finish line and whoever did it the fastest would be, voila, the winner.

This rule alone allows a whole host of board and card games into the realm of Sport. So we keep going…

3. Extraneous Objects Involved. If your activity involves the use of a ball or some ball-like object, it is most likely a Sport. This is a tricky one however. Pool (billiards), obviously involving the use of balls, ain’t a Sport.

The key here is one ball or many balls. If there is more than one ball on the “playing surface” of your activity “in play” at any given time, you are probably not engaged in a Sporting event (although dodge-ball…) Also at play here is the concept of everyone participating using the same ball, as happens in the case of baseball, football, soccer, and hockey.

In golf, bowling, lawn darts, croquet, etc., each competitor has their own “ball,” which may or may not make it a Sport, I haven’t decided. Actually in croquet and bocce, the competitors have their own balls but use them against each other on the field of play. Hmm…

Not acceptable uses of balls: rhythmic gymnastics and juggling. In these activities the ball is merely a decoration, and could feasibly be substituted with any random object - chainsaws for example.

4. Live Animals. If your activity involves the participation, willing or not, of some beast not a human being then it is not a Sport. Hunting, fishing, horse racing, calf roping...not Sports. Cock fighting is a Sport for the cock, not you.

Notice I said live animals. Bukashi involves a headless goat or calf which is played with like any random object. Thus, Bukashi is a Sport and I get to post the picture again which is probably why I started this whole thing. “Wait a minute,” you say. “Those chaps are riding horses in Bukashi.” True, as they are in polo as well. So, uh…maybe…I have no idea.

5. More Extraneous Objects. If you are in a car, truck, train, plane, or boat you are not participating in a Sport. Bicycle is close…but no. For the most part, all activities involving propulsion outside your own two feet involve time or are judged. If in the biathlon they shot at each other rather than little round targets, might be a Sport.

6. In its own special category is boxing, which I consider a Sport and qualifies for being one by satisfying absolutely none of the above requirements. Boxing is basically the root of every skill or sport without all of the extraneous wrappings – “I’m gonna kick your ass at…well, I’m just gonna kick your ass.”

The problem with boxing (or MMA) is the lame scoring system, which can be considered arbitrary at best (Rule 2). Go ahead and keep the timed rounds, fire the judges, and you’ll have the purest Sport there is.

If you can’t tell I sort of ran out of steam on this, and since no one is likely to have read this far I’ll leave it at that. You could throw in physical exertion, athleticism, blah blah blah, but I think they matter less than the above. That’s it.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. UPDATE: The request has come in to name the "most physically demanding sport." I would have said boxing, but don't listen to me. Go here:

    We're on top of it all!