05/24/05 — OPINION: Defining 'sports'

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OPINION: Defining 'sports'

By Neil Fuller
Published in Sports on May 24, 2005 2:12 PM

Watching Afleet Alex run the Preakness was something like watching Dante Bichette run the bases a few years back, although it turned out to be the most athletic thing that happened all weekend.

But is horse racing a sport?

The event was reported in the sports section of this newspaper, and television certainly presented it that way. But then we don't have a livestock section, and TV is the reason for raising the issue in the first place.

If you have too much time and a remote control on your hands, you can watch human beings not only drive cars, but shop for them, lead cheers, play cards, ride stallions, catch fish, snuff out dumb animals and shout at one another on networks that purport to be "all sports."

Suddenly all of the things that used to be called "life" have been redefined as sport.

For example, ESPN2 features in its Sunday lineup shows called "Gun Dog" and "Spanish Fly," not to mention the New York Auto Show. Chess and ballroom dancing fail to make the lineup, but then this isn't an Olympic year.

Television's bottomless stomach for programming has changed the public perception of what's included under the definition of competitive sport, and if the tent gets much bigger it will cover Connecticut.

Could we have some order here, please?

Thoroughbred racing, of course, predates network television, but it still invites scrutiny because the competitors are animals. Jockeys are clearly athletes as Jeremy Rose proved at the Preakness by displaying incredible strength, dexterity, balance and naked fear while saving his own life aboard Afleet Alex, but he wasn't the one who went off at 5-2.

For an activity to qualify as a competitive sport, the featured characters should all be from the same phylum, although Rose's performance might make you want to cut horse racing some slack.

Hunting and fishing, on the other hand, are clearly recreation, not sport. There's nothing competitive about them.

Both sides have to have a chance to win for it to be competition, and until muskies and white tail are adequately armed, the best they can do is survive. If these contests were determined by skill and athleticism, you'd take the fish and give them points every time, now wouldn't you?

That brings us to televised poker, which is the greatest outrage of all.

No reasonable connotation of athletics can be expanded widely enough to include sedentary people staring stony-eyed into space while they're in the process of taking their neighbors' money.

At the very least, athletes should be required to stand up once in a while, which also disqualifies chess players and sports writers/debaters -- and brings into question auto racers.

The last is tricky territory.

The physical conditioning, stamina, eye-hand coordination, reflexes, strength and ability to make quick decisions of professional race-car drivers would shame a pro golfer.

But hey, it's all about the cars.

Jeff Gordon in the wrong equipment is Albert Pujols standing at the plate with a lob wedge.

To qualify as a sport, an activity normally has to feature human frailty over science. Not that auto racing lacks for the former. Imagine the postrace fracas if that had been A.J. Foyt cut off at the top of the stretch.

But Rose didn't even raise his voice. Not only that, but Afleet Alex has never asked to renegotiate his contract.

Not everything is sports. Some things are better.

(News-Argus Sports Editor Neil Fuller can be reached at nfuller@newsargus.com.)