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What makes a sport, well, a sport?
Is it competition? Athletics?
A combination of both?
I caught myself asking this when I was browsing through sports news a few weeks ago. I asked the question because ESPN’s website had a section for billiards.
Billiards? I thought. Billiards isn’t a sport!
The word billiards conjured many things in my mind, but one thing it did not conjure, was the word sport.
We as people call many activities sports. Some of them, with questionability.
We call vehicle racing like NASCAR a sport. We call hunting and fishing sports. We call roller derby a sport. Some even call poker a sport.
Since we are the subject of what we do call sports, let’s consider the fact that there are even hybrid sports. Sports that combine two different games or activities all together.
In my last column about the Winter Olympics, I mentioned the biathlon, which is a combination of cross country skiing and rifle shooting. Well, besides the biathlon, there are also some other pretty wild hybrid sports. Take chess boxing for example, or footvolley (these are real)!
Are these different activities considered sports?
All of these questionable activities led me to look up the definition of the word sport.
Dictionary.com defines sports as “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.”
The Oxford Dictionary’s website, oxforddictionaries.com, defines the word sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”
I’d say those are pretty clear definitions, right?
I mean, when I think of sports, I think of exercise and competition. People generally watch them for entertainment; otherwise it wouldn’t be a billion dollar industry.
I think it would be safe to say that under those definitions, even the hybrid sports would be considered sports.
They are competitive and take some sort of skill or require mental or physical prowess.
But what about something a little more tame – more common?
Say, for example, cheerleading.
Now there’s a sport that you cannot call a sport, or at least one U.S. District Court says you can’t.
This may be old news, but in 2010, U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill said cheerleading did not qualify as a sport for Title IX purposes.
The ruling caused a bit of a stir and the actual case involved went to the federal appeals court. They too, ruled cheerleading does not meet the qualifications as a sport for Title IX.
Many people probably agree with the court’s decision that despite the athletic prowess necessary to perform a cheer routine, cheerleading is not, in fact, a sport.
I can’t, however. Not under fairly clear definitions of the word.
Using a dictionary to define law is considered dangerous because no two dictionaries will give the exact same clear cut definition. But I am not defining law. I am simply stating that through free and available means, I was able to define the word sport into definitions that I think are pretty clear.
Cheerleading looks like a sport if you put the activity into context. It requires agility and strength to perform tumbling acrobatics, right? They must use their brains to come up with new cheers. They even compete!
Currently, KHSAA labels cheerleading as a sport related activity, but they have competitions.
Now, I am not the athletic type. If you asked me to play a full game of soccer or football, I couldn’t. I’m not in good enough shape. But I am willing to bet even the finest athletes could not (at least not without a lot of practice) perform the routines the girls and boys do in cheerleading.
In fact, I’d bet the judges who said cheerleading is not a sport could not live up to the routine either.
Because of this, I would say that cheerleading fills the requirement of the definition. That’s because you have to be in good shape and have the necessary practice in order to be skilled enough to accomplish the routine.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe activities like cheerleading or billiards or chess boxing cannot be called sports because the definition itself is wrong.
Maybe the definitions of sports should be changed to activities requiring serious aerobic exertion that many enjoy watching or guys pummeling each other for a ball.