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Tuesday, 03 May 2022


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eSports. Yikes.

What's a sport? Football (American) is a sport. Last Friday's episode of Jeopardy (a game) was preempted by the NFL draft which was by some sports loving TV executives that thought that we Jeopardy watching dweebs are less important than watching 18 year olds being told they now are being the honor of being susceptible to CTE.

Hi Mike,

After the first paragraph, I had a feeling this was going to end up about pool. :) I feel like this is a little bit like the question of "what defines Art?"

For its first century +/- there was much debate about if photography is Art. These days that's mostly settled since most big Art museums also have a photography department. But I'm really not certain photography has changed that much since it officially became Art. Sometimes I just scratch my head about photography I see in an Art museum. I'm happy to practice a craft and let the Art school graduates make Art.

As a kid I remember a Saturday afternoon TV show called "The American Sportsman". They killed stuff all the time on that show! So I'm not sure I care much more about the Sport vs. skill of any particular activity. When I go running -- running is widely accepted as a sport -- there's not much skill involved. I'm 63 and slow. So am I participating in a Sport or an activity? I don't particularly care.

I've enjoyed the occasional pool videos you've linked in this blog. The skill is obvious and they're cool to watch. I may think of it as mostly a contest of skill, but you can call it sport. I'm fine with that.

To make definitions more complicated, if I may add, pool is in the DMZ of sport, game and pastime.

True story. I came to alpine skiing late in life. I was fond of lessons, and found a "hack" for them: as an intermediate skier, I could sign up for a group lesson (much cheaper) and often wind up being only one of several in the class. So it was almost like a personal lesson. One time at Stratton I did this, and I was the only one in the class.

My instructor was a somewhat crusty old character at the end of middle age. He was originally Hungarian, and came here with his parents right after 1956 (Google that). Good instructor, and since I was at the beginning of middle age, I really appreciated him. While going up the lift with him, he turned to me and asked, "Mind if I smoke?". Loved it: alpine skiing is maybe the only challenging "athletic" sport after motor sports where smokers can excel.

I think "be in no way harmful to any living creature" must surely mean "intentionally harmful" regarding your comments about boxing - and to a far greater extent equestrian sports, especially racing, which causes 700-800 horse deaths per year in America (per PETA) with only limited public pushback. And no mention of uncountable injuries in all sports, from simple sprains up to long term effects of CTE etc.

I've never actually driven in a Formula 1 race :-), but I hear it's physically quite difficult. You probably do get out of breath.

Pretty sure swimming is also a "natural" sport even by that strict definition. Shot-put might even be; we've been seeing who could throw that rock furthest for some time!

Given the importance of sinking a ball on the break in so many pool games, I think that may fail the "designed-in element of luck" rule. Maybe pool isn't a sport!

Where do you stand on the 'sport' of ferret-legging? According to Wikipedia: In the sport of ferret-legging, competitors tie their trousers at the ankles before placing two ferrets inside and securely fastening their belts to prevent the ferrets from escaping. Each competitor then stands in front of the judges for as long as he can. Competitors cannot be drunk or drugged, nor can the ferrets be sedated. In addition, competitors are not allowed to wear underwear beneath their trousers, which must allow the ferrets free access from one leg to the other, and the ferrets must have a full set of teeth that must not have been filed or otherwise blunted. The winner is the person who lasts the longest.

The sport is said to involve very little "native skill", simply an ability to "have your tool bitten and not care". The former world champion, Reg Mellor, is credited with instituting the practice of wearing white trousers in ferret-legging matches, to better display the blood from the wounds caused by the animals. Competitors can attempt, from outside their trousers, to dislodge the ferrets, but as the animals can maintain a strong hold for long periods, their removal can be difficult.

"Sport" is a word whose meaning has widened over time, as it is now often used to describe any competitive activity. But when I was in elementary/primary school (depending on the country),I was taught that an activity was not a "sport" unless it involved both competition and physical exertion. Competitive activities without physical exertion were "games"; e.g. rugby and basketball were sports, whereas billiards/snooker/pool/etc and bridge/poker/etc were games. (Non-competitive physical activities (e.g. jogging) were "exercise".) The words "sports" and "games" therefore described mutually exclusive activities. Thus, as the use of the use of a computer is not an activity involving relevant physical exertion, the term "computer sports" being used identify competitive gaming on computers is strictly an oxymoron in the use of the word "sport" in the description of "gaming" itself. I had always thought that that use was deliberate as a marketing ploy but perhaps it merely reflects the shifting linguistic usage of the word "sport" to encompass "games".

From what you wrote concerning exertion and Formula 1 it would seem that you believe that a driver merely sits in the car. No so. Between braking, accelerating and cornering a Formula 1 car can pull 5 Gs! Sitting in the car you are surrounded by heat. The track is often 40 degrees C, the engine is hot and the fuel is as well (just not as hot as the engine) Brake discs hit about 1100 degrees and tires 100. Acceleration slams you back in your seat and braking has the opposite effect. Cornering slams you side to side. Rumbling over the curbs bounces you around. All this at up to 360 km/hr. Drivers are in top shape and their workouts are intense. Hope you find this helpful.

Formula 1 is definitely a 'sport' which involves exertion. During a race a driver typically loses 5 to 10lbs, a lot of that being sweat. Having to do many precise and often strenuous movements for 1-1/2 to 2hrs. while enduring up to 6g of forces which may or may not align with those movements is definitely exertion. The head-and-neck restraint system (HANS) which is now required helps a bit, but having your head whipped back and forth at 5g+ many times per minute is hard to counter even if you have some help.

A driver returning to formula 1 this year after being out of it for a year was in a fair bit of pain after the first couple of races and said that his problem was that he had foregone the regular physical training during the last year and was not yet in good enough shape. He is about 24 or 25 yrs. old.

Almost as good at rationalizing a game into a sport as I am rationalizing the need for a different camera...

'primarily mind (such as chess or Go)'

Go? No matter how hard I google I have no idea what 'go' is?

[ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_(game) --Mike]

A Formula one driver loses between 5 and ten pounds in a race, Most of it is sweat. What is the rest?
Ian Hunter

Is very important that prescriptive linguistics is both junk science and often used as a way by people in positions of power to drive their opinions onto other people in positions of less power.

This article is just avoiding prescriptive linguistics. Just.

Words in natural language do not mean what you say they mean, what I say they mean, what a dictionary says they mean or what they once meant in some old language which may have the same name as the language you speak. They mean what the users of the language collectively decide they mean. Good dictionaries (the OED is one dictionary which tries to be good) attempt merely to describe what the current usage of words is.

So example: that 'sport' comes from 'disport' in some ancient version of English is interesting but means absolutely nothing about what 'sport' means in modern English.

Same is case for grammar: once in some language spoken by some people a long time ago infinitives did not have particles (we think: may have had in fact in spoken language but the rich people who write things down did not use them). So a bunch of really unpleasant and stupid men (yes, I can say this, not being man) invented (yes) based on this old not-English language some silly rules for English, a language where infinitives do have particles, which could then be used to distinguish people who had gone to the right schools from people who had not. And big resonant phrase used in famous space TV series is thus disallowed by those men and their adherents, who are even more stupid than they were.

Also if you think driving race car does not involve physical exertion can only assume you have never driven a car hard, because it requires a lot of physical strength and stamina. A lot.

(I am not a linguist by the way still linguist of English: my English is not even very good as is third language. But I do know linguists rather well.)

A sport is something where the only criteria for winning is the individuals skill, endurance & strenght. Everything else is a game. There is no team behind which an individual can hide on a bad day in sports. There is no technology influencing the result. There is no luck. There is no judge's decision on "style" or whatever that determines the winner.

Also, just correcting the misconception that F1 (or any other race driving) does not involve exertion. An average person likely wouldn't last more than a few laps of any race. The exertion is very real, but it does not critically influence the result, therefore driving is not a sport.

It might be a old legend, but wasn’t it Ernest Hemingway who once said: "There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games."

My admittedly narrow definition of “sport” is a human-powered, physical, competitive activity in which a “winner” can be objectively determined. I think the revised scoring systems in gymnastics and figure skating are helping to make them more objectively transparent. Mostly long gone are the “political” scores—a string of sixes with a three from the East German judge. Horse racing and auto racing don’t pass the human-powered test. I am not suggesting that jockeys and drivers are not athletes, just that those competitions rely primarily on non-human propulsion. Snowboard races qualify; freestyle snowboard does not. Ski jumping counts—there is a “style” component, but distance is the major factor. Swimming races qualify; diving does not (too “big” a splash).

“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” - Ernest Hemingway

Humpty Dumpty tells Alice "words mean exactly what I want them to mean neither more or less" therefore we can equat Mike with H.D. ;-)

Clearly photography qualifies under many of these criteria, particularly if you're hiking for landscapes and entering the results in competitions! Requires some level of physical fitness, technical skill, many suppliers make the equipment... I suppose if you don't enter competitions it's "just" a pastime, but every sport I can think of can be done non-competitively if desired. We're all photograthletes! ;)

“What are we here for but to make sport for our neighbours and laugh at them in our turn”. Jane Austen, P&P

I have been saying for years that basketball should be the best of nine 5 minute periods as all the excitement is crammed into those last minutes of the game and the other minutes are just going up and down with very tall people dunking the ball, rinse and repeat.

There's a good piece on the sport/game distinction by philosopher David Papineau here


[That's a nice essay. Thanks. --Mike]

Actually, the biggest sport now is League of Legends. Bigger than NBA. Yeah, it's weird.

I agree with Zyni Möe, what I mean by “sport” may not be what you mean by it — in fact I’m fairly sure it isn’t.

I’m probably in the minority of your readers who used to actually play snooker occasionally though not seriously and watched “Pot Black” on a monochrome TV when we used to be told “the red is behind the yellow, for those watching in black and white”. The games were longer then and, at least according to Alex “Hurricane” Higgins, the pockets narrower ;-)

Given SportAccord's definition of sport, it's ironic how many of our sports derive from war and combat (and in some cases literally are combat). Or maybe it's not ironic but laudable progress--the equivalent of beating swords into ploughshares (whatever that is). On the other hand, even animals engage in the playful practice and perfection of lethal skills, so maybe it's not so benign after all.

(The idea of "play" (per the definition of "disport") has gotten little attention in this conversation, though perhaps it's because we're taking it for granted, but it's of course central to what sport is and means to us, for several different meanings of the word, at least in the ideal.)

There is the lore that sports originated as a way to settle differences without violence, or at least without mass violence. I'm not sure there's a way to tell how well that has worked or not, or even backfired, but clearly sports can have political significance.

As for the silly semantic debates, I propose that we disqualify as "real" sports any activity included in the Olympic Games or that is routinely described as a game ("the beautiful game", "game of inches", etc.). I'm sure the internet construct sometimes labeled "Ernest Hemingway" would agree.

I don't know if F1 is a "sport", any more than is flying a fighter jet - but for sure the drivers and pilots are athletes - huge amounts of physical training are required just to have the neck and body strength not to black out from the g-forces in driving / flying the dang things. F1 drivers need similar aerobic fitness to any other endurance athlete to get through a race too - the average driver loses 2-3 kg per race (I assume through sweat). Don't know about fighter pilots; I expect similar.

Then there's ballet*. Like a sport. Only harder.

(*-which I trained in..for 10 years.)

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