Friday, June 6, 2008

To Be or Not to Be - an Athlete. . .

What is an athlete. . . ?

A great topic for conversation came up today on The Stock Exchange. (Team 990- MTL). What is an athlete? PJ Stock feels that a race car driver is not an athlete. I tend to agree. It was also mentioned that baseball players might not be athletes. To which I said…WHAT?

I think in order to make any clearer a question to which there probably is NO DISTINCT answer, you need to have a measuring tool. A list of if this, then this, yes then, no then, questions that can help you figure out which side of the line a particular event falls on. Of course in doing so, you are probably going to have to determine or at least think/argue about what a “sport” is.

But first some definitions and clarifications. . .

An athlete, according to me is:
Someone that participates in a sport.
Someone that does something athletic.
Someone that requires being either physically fit or having physical skill (physical skill can be the ability to hit a curveball, the ability to throw a ball, shoot a puck, dunk a basket, etc).

Athletic (from –
1: physically active and strong; good at athletics or sports
2: of, like, or befitting an athlete
3. of or pertaining to athletes; involving the use of physical skills or capabilities, as strength, agility, or stamina.
1. Characterized by or involving physical activity or exertion
2. Physically strong and well-development; muscular

A Sport, according to me is:
One of the big four (hockey, baseball, basketball, football), soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, hurling, Aussie rules, cross country, track and field, wrestling, etc.

Sport (from - an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.

To me, ideally sports should combine physical fitness and physical skill. I think hockey is certainly both. You might not have to be the most physically fit specimen or even the most skilled, but you have to have some combination of both, or else I don’t think you stand up on the ice, let alone play the game.

Hunting. They listed hunting. I don’t see how that is a sport. It takes skill (and a different mind set than I could ever possess) but I’m not sure if it’s physical skill. And it certainly does not take physical fitness. Unless you consider crouching in the bushes for hours pointing a gun physical?

As a side story, I ran into a big problem getting into arguments with people when I was in high school over what was and wasn’t a sport. I did not think cheerleading was a sport and quite honestly, I still don’t. Many disagreed with me because they were like, “you have no idea how hard we work.” But I never said it wasn’t hard. I never said that you didn’t have to be athletic to do it. But according to the state sports guidelines for high school athletics, to be a “sport” you have a certain training season and you cannot train (with your team coach and teammates in organized settings) all year round. Our cheerleaders did that. Therefore, by guidelines, it was not viewed as a sport. Field hockey, for example, was only allowed to train with their coach in season (August-November). If we went to summer camp, the coach could not participate. And if we trained in summer, it was with our captains, and the coach was not allowed. If we had a spring league, it was run separately. (Please see Rick Reilly’s Sports Illustrated article as I agree with almost every point he makes.)

We’re narrowing down our yes and nos/if this and if thens.

It is a sport if:
There is a specific season where it is typically played and the sport is usually clarified by that season. (more for high school and professional than recreational).
There is competition with the end determining either a clear team or individual winner. (a TEAM sport or a RACE).
There are no judges.
The person/team possesses both physical skill and physical fitness.

It is an athletic competition:
If the participants are athletic.
The events are judged. (ice skating/dancing, synchronized swimming, diving, cheerleading)
The person/team possesses physical skill and physical fitness.

It is a sporting event:
If the participants do not have to be athletic.
If there is competition, with a clear winner and loser.
If there is hype, similar to that which would surround a “sport.”

One is an athlete if:
They participate in a sport (as defined above).
They participate in an athletic competition (as defined above).
They do an athletic activity (running, jogging, swimming, basketball, soccer, etc) recreationally.
They possess physical fitness or physical skill.

We’re getting closer (and this is harder than I thought).

The verdicts:
Race car driver – not an athlete. (unless someone can convince me you have to be physically fit and physically skilled rather than just incredibly quick thinking and mentally smart).
Race car driving – a sport? By the fact that I can’t say there is physical skill and physical fitness, I have to rule no. But I think for this type of event we must call it a SPORTING EVENT, and certainly one of the most difficult and dangerous ones that exist. (Ie: I think world series of poker may be considered a sporting event as well, as per the above).

Baseball player – an athlete. Don’t tell me it doesn’t take an extreme amount of skill to hit a ball at that speed or to pitch across a plate at 90+MPH. Are they the most athletic of athletes? No. But athletes nonetheless.
Baseball – a sport? There is competition with both a winner and a loser. It is not judged. It’s participants have skill.

Cheerleading - not a sport.
Cheerleaders - are athletes. (And they are incredibly athletic in what they do).

Ice Skating (think Olympics): not a sport. Because we have to consider that these events are judged. And that does change the view a little. While a competition such as ice skating in the Olympics involves extreme athleticism, it’s really more of an athletic competition, than an actual sport. Ice Skating and ice dancing, although incredibly athletic and done by athletes, are not sports.
Ice Skaters: athletes – yes.

Speed skating - a sport? Yes. Speed skating differs in that it is not judged, it is a race. As is bike racing, track racing – both of which I’d argue are sports.
Speed skaters: athletes? Yes.

Running – a sport? No.
Runners – athletic – Yes!

**Please feel free to challenge me on the above. I know there will be very different opinions and that’s okay. There are some I'm defintiely not sure about. And on another note, I am not going to begin to explain what those Iron Man competitions are doing on ESPN, however. I’m still not sure. ;)

**below is editted in: 7/21/08 - 4:59pm** This is old. Even older than when I found the back issue of Sports Illustrated at the eye doctor’s office in early June. But what can you do. I jotted down some facts on the back of a piece of paper, which I just now found, that support some of my claims above. So here you go:

-The NCAA does not view cheerleading as a sport. It views it as an “activity.” Cheerleaders are not tested for drugs and banned substances. It does not fall under the NCAA testing umbrella. Therefore, I’d say by that definition it’s not a sport. As per the article, many male cheerleaders (hehe, sorry!) admitted to using steroids to bulk up knowing they would not be tested.

-In the last 23 years, 107 female athletes were killed or paralyzed in college or high school athletics. 60 of those were cheerleaders. During the same time frame 25,000 cheerleaders were sent to the ER for injuries sustained while cheering. Take that as you will. Porcupine tossing people, porcupine tossing.

-Credit the above information to Sports Illustrated, March 31st issue, and Kate Torgovnick’s article “Pom-poms and Circumstance.”

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