If you were to do some research on the etymology of the word “sport”, you would find that the word has its root in the idea of pleasurable, enjoyable activities, games, or flirtations that amuse and temporarily divert one’s attention1. I am arguing, however, that this definition has changed with the advent of professional sports. With the rise of professional baseball and football in the first third of the 20th century, people began to view sports as an important part of culture. The explosion of technologies like radios and televisions continued the shift by transforming sports into a ubiquitous, multi-billion dollar industries. Sports are much more serious in our culture today than they were in the 19th and 18th centuries when a ‘sport’ was simply an enjoyable pastime. Those playing a sport are not considered flirtatious men passing the time, but are elevated icons of society (for better or worse). Therefore, I believe it is high time we redefine the word ‘sport’ and think about using some new words to describe the activities normally classified as ‘sports’. After all, the word ‘sport’ is currently used to describe everything ranging from golf to rugby, tennis to skateboarding, and cheerleading2 to ice-hockey. My attempt in this blog post is to provide new definitions we can use to differentiate different types of activities.
I propose that the activities we normally call ‘sports’ should be split up into five categories: sports, athletics, performances, skills, and motorsports.
Sports: The new definition of a sport should stipulate that a sport must have multiple teams (usually two) competing at the same time. A sport must involve, at the very least, some sort of object other than the players (usually a ball of some kind) that is used to objectively3 score. In addition to this, a sport is an activity in which the teams are playing offense and defense directly against their opponent(s). A sport must also require a decent4 amount of physical activity. Thus, the definition of a sport includes most of the common, professional ‘sports’ like: baseball, basketball, football, soccer, hockey, rugby, cricket, tennis, volleyball, lacrosse, table tennis.
Athletics: To fit this category, an activity must be objectively scored and must rely on the human body alone as the primary means to victory. This class of activities includes basically any common race where the human body is the engine. Running races, swimming, biking, skiing, and BMX races (where the race is objectively timed) would fall into this category. Biking, skiing, and BMX are included in this list because, while other objects are involved (namely a bike or the skis), the primary means of locomotion comes from the human athlete. Activities like NASCAR and Dirtbiking do not fit into this category since a machine, and not the human body, is the primary means of locomotion. It is unclear to me whether or not wrestling, martial arts, and boxing fit into this category or not. They qualify in that the human body is the primary means to victory, but the scoring seems to me to be only pseudo-objective because the scoring is done in real time by judges. Certainly, there are objective rules but it is up to humans to make judgements about scoring and it could be difficult to program a machine to make these judgements. Given this is the case, I classify wrestling, boxing, and martial arts in the next category, but this may only be because of my ignorance of how scoring works in these activities.
Performances: Any activity that involves competition, yet is subjectively scored is a performance. These activities tend to emphasize more intangible qualities and actions like grace, poise, strength, and/or artfulness. Activities like gymnastics, figure skating, cheerleading, and marching band fall into this category. As a subset of this category are martial arts which would include wrestling, boxing, and martial arts.
Skills: A skill is an activity which usually does not require a lot of exertion but does require a good deal of skill, coordination, and/or muscle memory. In general, skills involve something other than just the human body as a means to victory (thus excluding them from being athletics) yet they also do not allow for offense or defense (thus excluding them from being a sport). Like a sport, however, most skills are objectively scored. Skills include activities like golf, bowling, shuffle board, and curling. To clarify, shuffle board and curling are not considered sports because there is no offense or defense directly against your opponents. Offense or defense can only be targeted at opponent’s game pieces.
Motorsports: As the name implies, this class of activity is one in which a machine (usually one with a motor) is the primary means of locomotion. Examples include NASCAR and dirtbiking.