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

Feb. 21, 2000
Feb. 21, 2000

Table of Contents
Feb. 21, 2000

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

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.

This is an article from the Feb. 21, 2000 issue Original Layout

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 Haze? 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.

Can you do it in street clothes? If you can wear the uniform out
to dinner, forget it. Goodbye bowling, goodbye golf.

Are you constantly being encouraged to smoke and drink while
playing? See previous.

Do you need special high-tech shoes? Sport. Special
patent-leather shoes? Nope.

How bad are the participants' haircuts? Hair bad enough to put
out an opponent's eye means gen-u-ine sport. (If the players wear
protective headgear, try this: How bad are the fans' haircuts?)

Does it require players to utter the word "shuttlecock?" Nah.

Is there a cult to the unnecessarily expensive equipment? Skiing,
fly-fishing and the America's Cup are about catalog shopping, not
sport.

Is there a separate "celebrity tour"? Is Joe Pesci on it? This is
the opposite of sport.

Can you be hurt? Sport. Can you be killed? Sport. Can you be left
feeling better about yourself and the life choices you've made?
Oprah.

Does it involve a Frisbee, a Hacky Sack or a gun? Be serious.

Finally, can you make millions of dollars when you turn pro? If
yes, then it is no longer a sport, it is televised entertainment.

Taken all in all, each question asked and answered leaves us at
last with but one true thing: Nude outdoor foxy boxing. Which is
as it should be.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO