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Hold Your Horses
Jeff MacGregor
February 21, 2000
By applying a rigorous set of standards it's possible to separate sport from shinola
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February 21, 2000

Hold Your Horses

By applying a rigorous set of standards it's possible to separate sport from shinola

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Now that 60 Minutes has finally discovered that ballroom dancing is in line to be an Olympic sport, we expect dispatches from other, more distant outposts telling us that belly dancing may likewise become a medal event at some point in our near, and no doubt dance-tastic, future.

Times change, certainly, even if Morley Safer's taste for gingham dress shirts doesn't, and dance redefined as sport is only one of the goofy ideas we'll be asked to choke down in an ever more illuminated and inclusive New Age of Athletics. Dance is exhilarating, of course, and requires stamina and training whether performed as ballet or tap or tango. Ceremonial or celebratory, dance is many things. Sport is not one of them.

Television, always lurking when society decides to lower the bar onto its own head, further blurs the definition of sport in one portentous, slow-motion commercial that asks, in essence, "Are you an athlete if you sit around watching portentous, slow-motion TV commercials?" Its implied answer is a heartfelt yes, thereby making us feel pretty darn good about our fat, lazy, unathletic selves.

But if everything is a sport, then nothing is a sport; if everyone is an athlete, no one is an athlete. How then do we separate sport from shinola—to say nothing of recreation, entertainment, divertissement, pastime, game or vernal frolic? Ask yourself these simple questions:

Is it run by Mr. Vince McMahon? Then it's not a sport.

Is it only good when set to music (or is music required during the performance)? If so, not a sport. Sadly, though it eliminates such things as halfpipe snowboarding, extreme Rollerblading and those ersatz "fitness" championships, this also spells the end of figure skating and rhythmic gymnastics. My apologies to Dick Button, but you folks would have been bounced for the sequined outfits anyhow.

As a corollary to the above, is the enterprise in question comprehensible only in slow motion and when edited to the guitar break from Purple Hazel Then it's not a sport, it's freestyle wakeboarding.

Is there a vehicle involved? Do participants ride in, on or behind something? Say goodbye to hill climbs, tractor pulls, NASCAR, the Iditarod, chuck-wagon stampedes and the Senior PGA. We'll lose the Tour de France but also the John Tesh elevator symphony that accompanies the coverage. Call it a wash.

Does gravity do all the work? Bobsled, luge, etc.—out.

Does the horse do all the work? Rodeo, dressage and horse racing—nay.

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