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One of the most entertaining sports columns I’ve read in awhile came from Hampton Stevens, a writer for several publications including The Atlantic, Maxim, Playboy, ESPN the Magazine and many more.

His column was called, “Why cheerleading isn’t a sport, but croquet is.”

He wrote about it simply as a “bargument,” or a debate with no right or wrong answer that must be uncomplicated enough to discuss after three beers.

I, myself, have had many “barguments” over the years with friends about what is, and what isn’t, a sport, and we’ve always somehow come to the same understanding. It is impossible to define what is, and what isn’t, a sport.

But we can try.

For starters, Stevens brought up the famous court case in June 2010, sharing in his column about when Quinnipiac University administrators wanted to save money and attract more students, they decided to replace the volleyball program with a competitive cheer squad.

The volleyball coach at Quinnipiac sued, claiming a Title IX violation, stating that college students have a right to play volleyball. The ruling judge, naturally, decided to rule that according to the NCAA and Title IX definitions, volleyball is more of a sport than cheerleading. Let the vein in the forehead of many cheerleaders reading this start to protrude.

Reading Stevens’ column, of course, only gets my competitive juices flowing to argue, or “bargue,” what is, or isn’t a sport.

The court case in 2010 naturally sparked debate as to what else isn’t considered a sport, or less of a sport, inciting debates over NASCAR, golf, bowling, curling, bull-riding, bass-fishing, ping-pong, poker and many others.

If we use Stevens’ point of view, every single sport on earth shares three fundamental characteristics: people compete at it, computers can’t do it and aesthetics don’t count.

To me, this seems like a broad spectrum.

My old pal Bob Murphy would say, “If you can smoke while doing it, it’s not a sport.”

Does that mean we should throw golf out the door as a sport and consider it just a competition? I think those who play golf regularly would have something to say about that.

My point of view would be slightly different when it comes to defining if it is a sport or isn’t: If it requires a lot of practice, athletic ability, a ball or object of some sort to use while competing, and the general public may not do it well, despite how much they practice, then it shall be labeled a sport.

Let’s get the obvious for-sure sports out of the way, allowing football, volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball, hockey, lacrosse, soccer and tennis to be a sport. There is no debate there.

What about horse racing, or hot dog eating contests, a-la Takeru Kobayashi, the top hot dog eater of them all? Sure, people compete at it and computers can’t do it. As for aesthetics, come on, throwing down 100 hot dogs with water isn’t aesthetically pleasing, but it’s sure not a sport.

Professional hot dog eaters don’t need to be athletes to shove lots of hot dogs down their respective pie-holes. Golf is a sport. Although one may be able to smoke between strokes, it still requires a lot of practice, athletic ability and has a ball.

If you don’t believe me, go grab a buddy’s 7-iron, find the nearest driving range and try to hit a little white ball more than 1 foot.

I may get a lot of crap for this, but I do think NASCAR is a sport.

Although I think it’s completely ill advised to watch a bunch of cars go in a circle for three hours, I’ve always thought the best drivers on the road were athletes. Good anticipation and feel for the road is required. Not everyone has it — it’s why you still see gosh-darn people sitting in a roundabout looking like they are driving through time in “Back to the Future.”

NASCAR drivers have no ball, but do have an object [race car] to get the job done and have to practice plenty going 200-plus mph with 40 other cars only inches away from putting them into the wall.

This brings me to other activities I consider a sport like skateboarding, snowboarding, biking, skiing, boxing, and Frisbee golf. Add swimming and running to the list, too.

I debated about running and swimming actually, if they are a sport, or not a sport, and as my esteemed colleagues pointed out in the office, “try and run five miles without stopping and we’ll see if you think it’s a sport or not.”

In the end, I guess it’s too hard to define if an activity is a sport or not, and there is no blueprint for it. It is true, mostly everything can be done without being athletic, it’s just the matter of if it’s done well or not. I better stop before I get in trouble, but I challenge the readers out there to come up with their own reasoning.

Let the barguments begin.

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  • Jeff

    The best take I've heard on this discussion is that it's not a sport unless defense is played - in other words, unless opponents can do something to alter what each other is trying to do.
    I think most of what we call "sports" can be placed in one of four categories: sports, games, races or competitions. Sports, as I said, include some sort of defense; games don't (such as golf, bowling and darts); races can include humans, horses, bikes, cars, etc.; and competitions are gymnastics, cheerleading, hot dog eating, etc.
    Does that clear it up?

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