With the success of the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds this year, we at Pittsburgh Sporting News had one question; what actually makes a sport?
Two of our reporters are making their case as to why ultimate Frisbee, NASCAR and more are and are not sports.
Which side are you on?
In the midst of a seemingly fan-dominated sports culture, the sport itself becomes obfuscated.
We enter into arguments with undertones of the questions “Is that really a sport?” and “What makes a sport, a sport?” So why do we question the validity of a sport?
By definition, a sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment,” according to the New Oxford American Dictionary. Hotly debated sports include NASCAR, ultimate Frisbee and even E-sports, or Electronic-sports, which aim to create a competitive environment for video-gamers through strategy and camaraderie.
The latter, which was made more visible by a 2012 TEDx Talk by Timothy Young (https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=67&v=FPoxgvaKrTs&ab_channel=TEDxTalks), further blurs the line between what is deemed a sport and what is considered an activity or hobby. While an organization such as National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) may quickly be defended as an activity involving immense skill, the opposition may question the level of physical exertion stock car racing requires.
To best determine an activity from a sport, the definition must be strictly adhered to and facts must be gathered.
According to New York University’s student newspaper, the Washington Square News, NASCAR drivers lose an average of five to 10 pounds per race.
“It takes years of training to be able to get a race car traveling at 175 m.p.h. both within an inch of a wall and within an inch of the car in front of it, but the “physical prowess” criterion is also fulfilled by the driver and the crew team,” the publication reported.
The 2012 article (http://www.nyunews.com/2012/09/28/nascar/) described the technicalities of the six crew members who complete a mechanic’s job in 12 seconds, as opposed to the average time of one hour.
The American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL), founded in 2012 with an original eight teams, has now expanded to 26 teams across four divisions. The local Pittsburgh Thunderbirds compete in the Midwest division, aiming to score in an end zone on a field that is 53 1/3 yards wide and 120 yards long, according to AUDL regulations. For those that question the sport’s validity, look no further.
The New York Times published an opinion piece (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/opinion/sunday/ultimate-sport.html?_r=0) in 2013 about the history and stereotypes surrounding ultimate disc. The author, an ultimate player for 25 years, describes his experience.
“It’s like playing football if you played all the positions — quarterback, receiver and defensive back, and played them continually, without breaks. (We’ll rest when we’re dead.)”
Describing ultimate disc as having the fluidity of basketball and hockey, with ever changing offense and defense, he continued.
“You feel a play developing, see a momentary advantage. Your teammate sees you open and throws not to where you are, but to where you will be, but only if you sprint.”
Given the definition of a sport, one will be hard-pressed to find any naysayers as to the validity of both NASCAR and ultimate disc. Though perhaps untraditional in the sense of the jock, these sports, yes—are truly sports.
First, let me say, this is not an argument… it’s not even a debate. The war of words between the two sides of this frequent discussion is, to be frank, pointless and completely moot. How one defines what is “sport” rather than just a game or an activity or some other kind of competition is hardly important in the grand scheme of things.
We’re going to do so anyways.
Rachel presents outstanding information in finding her conclusion that NASCAR and ultimate disc (or Frisbee, as many know it) are, indeed, sports. For me, there is no argument that stock car drivers and other forms of auto racing involve great skill, concentration, control and endurance. The weight loss and dehydration during a four-to-six-hour, 500-mile race with no interstate rest stops for bathroom breaks and a quick meal at Waffle House make for an impressive feat each and every time those drivers take the wheel from the green to the checkered flag. But, does that really mean what they just accomplished was a sport? I vote no.
Ultimate disc is a ton of fun. I played it in college at the intramural level, continuing my career as a gym class hero from my high school days. While it does involve skills similar what make a successful soccer or football player, among other mainstream athletics, I would hardly call it a sport. Despite the growth in numbers of the American Ultimate Disc League, ultimate disc will never have a true following from fans, television audiences or sponsors. It reminds me of the kind of backyard game that is fun to play with neighbors, at a family reunion or on college campuses. So are horseshoes and cornhole, neither of which are sports in any way, shape or form. They, like beer pong, are games you can play with a drink in your hand. They are not sports.
Sport is an industry that takes in billions of dollars. Our calendars revolve around so much of what the major professional sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL) are doing each season. There are very few, if any, days each year when none of those leagues are in action. Add in the various soccer leagues and tournaments, collegiate athletics (NCAA), PGA golf, the Kentucky Derby, the Olympics, high-profile fights (boxing, UFC), auto racing (NASCAR, Indy series, etc.) and sport dominates the daily landscape in the United States and around the world.
Notice I did include NASCAR in that grouping. There is no doubt that organization banks millions on its nearly year-round schedule, dozens of major corporate sponsors and 100,000 fans showing up to nearly every track on every weekend. It is a major success, albeit perhaps not quite as much as it used to be. For me, though, all of that is merely just a spectacle. It’s the massive, powerful engines inside those hunks of ad-covered metal doing the real work and until the drivers and their pit crew start pushing the cars around those mile-long ovals, you can’t convince me otherwise. I can lose a few pounds sitting in a sauna for six hours and no one will call it a sport.
Cynical? Yes, I definitely am on this particular topic. But there are simply major differences between the actual athleticism being displayed in, say, the NFL vs. NASCAR. As for other “games,” like ultimate disc, it comes down to the marketability for me. No one is arguing the athleticism required to play or the physical nature of the game, but sport is more than just running and competing. There is an entertainment aspect that must also be considered. For NASCAR, the athleticism criterion is not met and for ultimate disc, the entertainment and spectator aspect is not met. There are plenty of other similar arguments that can be had for other things – cheerleading, hunting/fishing, even bowling – but we can save that for another day.
Just know that, despite all of our opinions and strong feelings on this subject, it doesn’t really matter. Everyone has their hobbies and talents and, regardless of label, every game and sport and activity is someone’s escape from reality. We play to compete and to have fun… to truly debate any of this is what I would constitute as work.