ROMAN: Line blurring between sport and skill

David Roman

A man wipes his nose on his sleeve and hacks a cough like an 85-year-old smoker. His sunglasses, slightly tilted, gleam of two high diamonds, but he hides his elation. As he opens his mouth to check, small orange particles resembling either a Cheez-It or a Cheeto fall from his lips onto his shirt.

He looks to the guy next to him for a second and then asks the waitress for a coke. By the time he finally notices the crumbs on his shirt to wipe them away, Usain Bolt has already run 100 meters. Twice. Yet, if the almost-obese man’s Ace-King holds up, both would be winning athletes, according to ESPN.

If you turn on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU or, as Ben Stiller’s “Dodgeball” made famous, ESPN “The Ocho,” you’ll see many games posing as sports. Billiards, World’s Strongest Man, bowling and poker all get primetime spots, while soccer and lacrosse go unnoticed. When Takeru Kobayashi eats over 50 hot dogs in less than four minutes, he’s considered a champion. When my Uncle Peter eats 20 hotdogs in under 20 minutes, he’s forced to sleep on the couch with what could only be described as massive indigestion. Similarly, 20 to 60-year old men drive cars over 100 miles per hour in a circle for hours. If I did that, I would either be arrested or put in an insane asylum.

All these games have become mainstays in our culture, with NASCAR and Texas Hold’em practically replacing hockey and tennis in popularity. Yet, do we truly consider NASCAR to be a sport? Is Chris Moneymaker really an athlete?

To me, a sport is something that requires a combination of athleticism and skill. For example, in football, you need speed, agility and strength combined with the ability to pass, to find the hole in the defense or offensive line or to kick. Soccer, tennis and basketball require athletes to run up and down either a court or field while using exact precision in either their strokes, passes or shots. Even baseball, while a much slower game, requires a person to be extremely fast or extremely strong with accurate hand-eye coordination.

On the other hand, all the previously mentioned “sports” require either a skill or athleticism, but not both. A poker player may have the distinct ability to know when to fold them or when to hold them, but he or she certainly doesn’t require a strong physique. Similarly, a participant in the World’s Strongest Man certainly requires an incredibly strong body, but picking up a boulder and throwing it certainly isn’t something you could put on your résumé as a special skill.

Some may call NASCAR a sport because it takes a lot of “guts” to get in the car. However, it takes a lot of guts to be a doctor or an astronaut, or even simply to ask a girl on a date, but you don’t see Al Michaels criticizing how Joe dropped the ball by stuttering when asking for a girl’s number.

A tougher call is golf, a sport that Tiger Woods has ruled like Caesar for the past 10 years. While he may be athletic, John Daly proves that golf is a game and not a sport, as he could drink five beers the night before and hit three over par while hung over.

What worries me is how far is this “game seen as sport” thing going to go? Are we going to see competitive Scattergories aired on ABC? Are Ozzy Osbourne and George W. Bush going to have a “most non-words used in a sentence” competition?

The point is that incredibly strong athletes often go unnoticed because people with large stomachs or a strong grasp of statistics steal it away from them. Olympic athletes will walk away with little money and recognition after years of hard work, while Jimmie Johnson will make millions of fans howl by setting his car and possibly himself on fire.

Kids don’t look up to Roger Federer, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, but instead look up to poker player Annie Duke. In a culture where obesity and laziness are becoming major issues, all one has to do is look at our trends in sports to see a major contributing factor.

So, the next time you see Jeff Gordon throwing his helmet at the side door of a competitors car, or a man resembling the Juggernaut from “X-Men” pulling a bus with a rope, turn off the television and grab a basketball. Because if you don’t, we may be seeing poster of Keanu Reeves holding a trophy with the caption, “Most Blank Stares,” by 2010.

———————-David Roman is a junior psychology and sociology major from Windham, N.H. He can be reached at [email protected]