Saturday, April 30, 2005

How To Be Sporty

In an earlier post I made fun of baseball because I found it boring and hinted that it wasn’t a real sport. One commentator asked what I consider a sport to be and implied that since I admit I’m not a fan of sports, I’m not in the best position to define one. But it is because I find no sport-like game interesting that I think I am very qualified to define what a sport is—I lack the vested interest to mold the meaning to favor “my” game. Besides, I don’t live in a cave and I’m well aware of what the idea of a sport should be.

And we should really be honest about this definition. Sports get public funding (such as youth sports) and their own special laws (such as monopoly rules regarding baseball). Since only athletes play sports and people hardly care about participates of just any game, properly defining a sport hold real world consequences. (Of course, government shouldn’t coddle it, sport or not, but this is the world we live in.)

A sport is a type of competitive (the object of the game is to win over an active adversary, such as a computer or a person) game (a strategy-based activity). Specifically, it requires that intense physical exertion is an inherent part of the game.

Thus NASCAR is not a sport; sure there’s strategy and it’s competitive, but physical exertion isn’t inherent in the activity.

Golf isn’t a sport, either. An avid golfer friend of mine pointed out that “real” golfers carry their own clubs, thus it’s physically intense. But carrying stuff around isn’t inherent to the activity. You see someone swing a club at a little ball, they are clearly playing golf. If you see someone haul around a bag of iron sticks, they could be doing anything (like working as a caddy). You can’t claim what’s inherent about your game just so you can call yourself an athlete (which is what a lot of golfers call themselves).

Now baseball’s a pseudo sport because about half the time you’re sitting down waiting to bat. This is different from sitting on the bench as second string. No matter how good you are, you will have to sit down, often for (relatively) long periods of time. Waiting is intrinsic to the game and while parts of it are inherently physically exerting, it’s not a true sport (like basketball or football).

Here’s a quick way to tell if something’s a sport: if practicing it is good exercise (as in you get winded), you are at least halfway there.


Anonymous said...

Football players spend half the game on the bench since they only play offense or defense. So in playing football you very well could spend most of the game sitting. Just a thought.

David said...

That is professional football, a particular spin on the game. In casual football (like between friends), people play both. Bench time isn't inherent in the game.

-Ron said...

Perhaps an even better question is whether sports are a good investment of time and capital. Clearly, pro-ball pays for itself, as does big-time collegiate athletics. But at a small school like Bethany, population 900 students, it’s a different story indeed. Specifically, I consider the football program, about which I have a number of gripes. Football costs a lot of money: playing fields, practice fields, training equipment on the field, training equipment off the field, specialized scoreboards, storage facilities for all of the team and player equipment, increased sports rehabilitation expenses (due to higher-impact and increased frequency of injury), higher liability insurance premiums (due to same), and of course, the increased internal competition over facilities and equipment by participants of multiple sports (i.e. restricted supply).

Now in the pros, the business pays for this. But a non-profit collegiate setting is quite different. If you play the NCAA tournament, you can get Nike, Reebok, Speedo, and Pepsi to foot the bill, plus it brings in a huge number of fan and alumni development dollars – so the benefits outweigh the costs. But at Bethany, where only 20 people show up to home games, and where we garner only about a dozen new students each year because of the program (almost all of whom are awarded handsome athletic scholarships, hence negating any marginal benefit on that account), one wonders why the college persists in the maintenance of this cash cow. It’s an answer that I’ve not been able to extract in three years at the college, an institution that persists in the program despite being in grave financial (read: deficit spending) condition. But then, as I’ve found, economics is only as rational as the actors playing on stage.

Anonymous said...

"That is professional football, a particular spin on the game. In casual football (like between friends), people play both. Bench time isn't inherent in the game."

Come on, David. You're desperately trying to defend a part of your definition that just isn't that good. In a pick-up game of baseball between friends (say four on four) you spend significantly less time sitting down. There are versions where the game is one on one, and there is no time spent sitting down. This suggests that bench time is not inherent to the game. That's a problem if you're going to maintain that baseball is not a sport and that football is. However, none of this is important for economics. Cheers to Ron for changing the subject.

David said...

See, now I know you are grasping at straws because I never said baseball wasn't a sport, I said it's a pseudo-sport.

I found the rules for one-on-one baseball ( and let me start by saying that it is so different, it's not really baseball, but new game with an unoriginal name. It's a lot like Horse: just because it uses the same equipment, doesn't mean it's the same game.

I'm not sure how I feel about 1-on-1 baseball as a sport, but I can't help but notice that the pitcher just stands there throwing balls. He doesn't even have to worry about catching them (there's no defense). Even a quarterback gets tackled.

Now you could say that throwing a ball over and over again is physically exerting, just swinging a bat. Perhaps. The jury's still out on this one. But it looks awfully shaddy.

And yeah, this has little to do with economics, but I still find it interesting.

Anonymous said...

First, throwing a ball is extremely physically exhausting. Arms weren't meant to fling nine ounce spheres faster than most people drive on the interstate. This is why pitchers typically do not throw more than 100 pitches in a game, why curveballs are damaging to the developing body, and why throwing hard is not merely a matter of arm strength--for pitchers, the legs are very important. Having suffered a shoulder injury in high school I know how difficult it can be to pitch even once a week.

Second, I'm arguing that baseball is a full-on sport, and while I will grant that you say baseball is a pseudo-sport (I object to the term "pseudo-sport" as well since it is not properly defined. Is professional football a pseudosport?) and that I was sloppy in suggesting that you say it is not a sport, I still think there is a tension in suggesting pick-up football is fully a sport while pick-up baseball isn't. As to the "official" rules for one on one baseball, I think the problem with introducing casual sports into the picture is the variance in rules. Imagine two-on-two baseball where the game looks very much like baseball and has very little down time. My point is that you can imagine a scenario where the game is very close to professional baseball and yet there is not much down time, which would suggest that sitting down is not inherent to the game. If bench time isn't inherent in the game, then that part of your definition of baseball has problems if you want to maintain that this makes baseball a pseudo-sport. I really think that for ease we should just concentrate on the professional variant of the game. I think that these are paradigms of the games. Also, I think you're willing to admit that pro football is a sport and that pro baseball does not fully qualify. What, then, are the differences between the two?

Lastly--in response to something you said before--baseball practice is very physically exhausting. 162 games is a lot of games. Arms get sore. Hamstrings get torn. If baseball were so easy on the body, I don't think there would be so many injuries. Maybe to the casual observer it seems like it's all beer and skittles, but for the players it's very strenuous. In high school (this is high school, mind you) we would run sprints, distance, and so all sorts of other physical activity during practice. Practicing for baseball is interesting because it requires general fitness of body. Also, swinging a bat a hundred times does take some stamina. I don't know if you've tried it but I bet you'll be sweating if you do it seriously.

I guess I really want to know what makes a pseudo-sport? Is it just the mean level of activity? If so, where do you draw the line and why? Is it because baseball is slower paced that it's a pseudo-sport? If so, why should the pace of the game matter for its sporthood? Lastly, what use is it calling baseball a pseudo-sport? As I think is clear from this discussion, there are many ambiguities that result from introducing this term. I don't think the term is useful, and I do think that the utility of the term should be a factor in determining whether it is significant.

Also, I polled thirty people the other night. 30 out of 30 called baseball a sport. This doesn't make my argument but I think that it shows to a degree the counterintuitiveness of your position. However, counterintuitiveness is not a measure of the strenght of an argument (arguably).

David said...

Unless your poll was scientific, it's irrelevant. I could poll thirty people and get 30 out of 30 saying golf is a sport (esp if I did it at a pro shop).

My definition of a pseudosport is a game that is almost a sport and has a lot of sport-qualities, but there's something missing, something you can't quite define, something tacit.

This posting was an inadequate attempt to define that quality. Your points are well received but if we were to say, focus on pro-sports, we'd spend too much time talking about the particular rules of the game and not the feel of the game. The same goes with changing the game that's clearly an exception (like two on two baseball). The feel of it is really what makes a sport a sport.

There's something about baseball that makes me say, "not quite there." Maybe it's the start/spot progress of it: the pauses between action as the pitcher waits to throw the ball, or as the outfields wait for a fly ball to come to the earth.

Maybe it IS the slower pace, as you suggested. I always thought of "sports" as down and dirty and prone to periods of (at least precieved) chaos, a sort of modern savagery that carries with it the heat of a battle.

There's nothing wrong with baseball; I'm not a fan of it but lots of people do and that's fine. But pointing to rule varients isn't going to convience me that the overall game--what it captures, what it is--is sport, but it does demonstrate that the defintion is far from complete.