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sports vs. games

an interesting debate came up this weekend.

what is a sport? what is a game? what delineates between the two?

i view sports as a subset of games. there are no sports i could think of that are not a game at some level. however, there are plenty of games that are not sports. the person i was debating saw sports and games as totally different creatures, whose differences were defined by skill vs. sweat.

the argument was about baseball - basically, the person i was arguing with put baseball (we are talking pro ball here) on par with darts or chess as a game of skill, rather than a sport. her definition of a sport was caloric burn during the sport's performance and "working up a sweat". personally, i think that for every david wells, there are a half-dozen athletes in top physical condition. it was definitely a weak point to defend though, that wells competes with/against professional athletes. i tried to offset with some Babe Ruth. That was shot down by the fact that bowling is a sport.

at any rate, i disagreed heartily at the delegation of baseball to the title of a game. sure, there are ball-players out there who are not "working" 1/10th as hard as some of the more intense sports during the course of a game. that being said, in order to be on the field and eligible to be in the game, they need to be top-notch athlete, even if only in a specialty.

there was also some excellent discussion of game pace, and strategy vs. tactics in any competitive situation.

to me, what has always defines a sport vs. a game is this: when athletes participate in/execute the game with seasoned coaches, the anticipation of the outcome of the game is heightened for the participants, and, in heightened tenfold for the audience. i could give two shits about watching a bar league softball game. they are a lot of fun to play in, but they are also easy to blow off. not so much for a pro baseball game. same could be said for toss around football, or a pickup game of soccer. while i realize my personal definition has some gray areas, it doesn't seem to have held me back over the years. restricting the delegation of sport/game to sweat/cardio workout- no sweat/cardio workout seems pretty thin.

i'm not here to debate what the original argument was about - i think considering professional baseball anything other than a sport is just silly - by the definitions of the words sport and game alone, you are left with little room to argue.

as with all things though, you are left with plenty of room to interpret - what is your interpretation?


( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 16th, 2007 08:04 pm (UTC)
I hold almost entirely with Carlin on the subject: the only sports are basketball, baseball, and football, and everything else is either a game or an activity. Soccer isn't a sport because you're not allowed to use your hands. Boxing isn't a sport, it's beating the shit out of someone. Gymnastics isn't a sport because Romanians are good at it. Biking isn't a sport just like riding a bus isn't a sport, they're just ways to get somewhere.

In seriousness (well, more seriousness; I think Carlin's diatribe is partly serious in that it points out the fundamentally arbitrary nature of the demarcation between games and sports), I would say that a sport must have an objective measurement of success, and must involve direct competition. I don't feel that figure skating or diving are sport, because the measurement of success isn't what *you* do, it's how a panel of judges subjectively evaluate what you do. And I don't feel that bowling is a sport, because you're not competing directly against your opponent.

And less seriously, but in what I feel is at least an objective difference, a sport must have a ball as the object of focus. Someone trying to score against someone else, using a ball. This would include soccer, but I'm willing to accept that so long as NASCAR's not included.
Apr. 16th, 2007 08:14 pm (UTC)
i totally forgot about that carlin riff
though i did remember the parallels between baseball & football - that was not helpful.

see, i think that whole sport-ball parallel is really dangerous. hockey is definitely a sport. i dig what you are saying in terms of direct competition and judges. that being said, i think a strong case could be made for the roles of umps/refs in relation to judges in most of the sports you would not consider to be sports.

amusingly NASCAR came up. i, like yourself, do not see it as a sport, and i brought up carlins "500 miles in a circle" bit.

this fascinates me, mostly because games and sports are very much a part of our day-to-day lives, yet it seems everyone defines them so differently!
Re: i totally forgot about that carlin riff - phanatic - Apr. 16th, 2007 08:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
how do you account for fouls? - delascabezas - Apr. 16th, 2007 09:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 16th, 2007 08:05 pm (UTC)
there are ball-players out there who are not "working" 1/10th as hard as some of the more intense sports during the course of a game

That's a silly requirement anyway. Some guy on a farm lifting that bale is working his ass off, but it's not a sport.
Apr. 16th, 2007 08:24 pm (UTC)
there was a valid point where it was coming from
defining an athlete as someone who married skill and physical talent, as opposed to just one or the other. the farmer's competition in your example is a competition for survival, as opposed to a game. however, if that same guy were competing in the world's strongest men competition, somehow they become athletes.
Apr. 16th, 2007 08:09 pm (UTC)
damnit, i got beat to the carlin
Apr. 16th, 2007 08:19 pm (UTC)
I think the anticipation aspect is a good qualifier. If it's something people care about watching, and something where the people who participate are truly invested in it, then I think it's easier to make the case for sport rather than game.

Therefore, my bar-league softball team? Game, not sport. The Mets? Sport, not game. The Knicks? Game. Heh.
Apr. 16th, 2007 08:23 pm (UTC)
gotta love them knicks
if only nyc could channel hate into points, the knicks would never lose again. even if some of that channeled hate was hate of the knicks!
Re: gotta love them knicks - grimbil - Apr. 16th, 2007 09:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 16th, 2007 08:35 pm (UTC)
I have had that exchange with many, many people over the course of my lifetime. Interestingly enough, I have yet to have it with an opponent (that is, someone on the baseball is not a sport side) who actually ever really played baseball in their entire lives. Playing the field and running the bases aside, anyone who has ever seriously tried to put a pitched baseball in play with any kind of authority knows that it is an activity that is qualitatively much closer to shooting a basketball or throwing a football than it is to throwing a dart or shooting pool.

I guess if I have to be forced to start drawing lines, one place I'd start is the involvement of one's entire body in the activity (of course this is not the only requirement of a "sport" - it must also encompass the other requirements of a competitive game, so riding your bike to work is not a sport, but competing in the Tour de France is). It seems to make a lot more sense to define sports based on what percentage of your physical capabilities they entail, rather than what percentage of the exertion involved in other sports they entail. If we define sports only in reference to each other, then I suspect that boxing is the only real sport in the world, which would be a shame since it is probably the most backwards and fucked-up sport known to man right now.

I just thought of this so I'll have to develop it a little bit, but I think next time somebody tries to tell me that baseball is a "game" instead of a "sport" because Babe Ruth ate hot dogs and soccer players run around a lot more, my response will be that this discussion is an "argument" and not a "debate" because for a debate you need at least two logical sides.
Apr. 16th, 2007 08:44 pm (UTC)
obviously i'm taking it a little too seriously, but "skill vs. sweat" is a gross over-simplification, especially if the target of this person's derision is going to be david wells and similar pitchers. those guys (starting pitchers in general) sweat more as much as anybody, and not just because some of them are carrying 250+ lbs around in the hot sun. it's hard work to pitch a major league ball game.

i am willing to go with the general definition that sports are compeitive contests played by atheletes. hence baseball is in, as are football, basketball, and hockey. to address an above comment, so is biking, gymnastics, diving, figure skating, soccer, and definitely boxing. weight-lifting is a sport, but bailing hay is not, since it's not competitive. and as boring as i find it to watch, NASCAR is a sport. those fuckers are in great shape and really have to be in order to compete. during a 500 mile race, a NASCAR driver can sweat off something like 5-8% of his body-weight (your opponent in your original debate will appreciate this). without conditioning and proper hydration during the race, the driver can become light-headed, which is a pretty dangerous enterprise at 160mph.

while i don't think even "competitive" darts or pool really counts as a sport, i guess i am in favor of a pretty broad definition of sport. if anyone is dubious about whether a given activity is a sport then [in the words of axl rose] "get in the ring, motherfucker" and see how tired you feel.
Apr. 16th, 2007 09:12 pm (UTC)
In a broad generalization kind of way, I think sports are where you run and games are where you walk. Sport is physical exertion and sweat. People sweat in baseball, people don't sweat in bowling (unless they're stressed). People sweat in football, not in golf (unless it's a hot day). Sports can be low-contact (track) or high-contact (hockey). What I consider to be games are almost always low/no contact. They tend to be slower-paced. They require skill and strategy, but not necessarily speed and muscle.
Apr. 16th, 2007 09:24 pm (UTC)
This is a pretty popular definition, but in my opinion, the SPORT (because it is a sport) that undermines it most seriously is golf. It is low/no contact, it is slower paced, it doesn't necessarily require speed and muscle (although it requires an extreme degree of head-to-toe coordination, and having some strength doesn't hurt). But it is most definetly a sport. I guess it does fit your "sweat" criteria - walking 18 holes can be really exhausting, and most people work up at least a little sweat even when they ride.
(no subject) - mrshellion - Apr. 16th, 2007 09:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dawestruck - Apr. 16th, 2007 09:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mrshellion - Apr. 16th, 2007 11:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dawestruck - Apr. 16th, 2007 11:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thekatzman - Apr. 17th, 2007 03:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mrshellion - Apr. 17th, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mrshellion - Apr. 17th, 2007 03:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 16th, 2007 09:43 pm (UTC)
I tend to follow bleargeatkitty's line of thinking, but with a slight difference. To me, a sport is a physical competition where the person deciding if it's a sport or not truly cares about the score. If they truly care, it's a sport. If not, it's a game. So it'll vary from person to person and situation to situation.

When I played semi-pro soccer, it was a sport to me. I cared about the score. I gave it my all, and sacrificed my body for stopping shots, for making plays. Whenever I play rec-league soccer, though, it's a game - I care more about having fun, being out on the field, then about the actual results. Winning's still great, but I try to avoid sacrificing my body or hurting others in the process - I don't try for hard slide tackles, if the keeper looks like he/she will make a stop, I don't challenge too hard, etc. My friend is ultra-competitive, though, and to him even rec-league soccer is a sport. So he plays a much more vicious game, and is usually the one nursing a bruise or two and getting into arguments with the other team's players before 90 minutes is up.
Apr. 16th, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC)
I like thekatzman's and thecurlyboy's definitions. I would say all sports are games, but not all games are sports. If you play the game professionally, it's a sport. I like how curlyboy broke it down by competitiveness too.

Poker for most of us is a game, but for the people who do it professionally, it's a sport. Same with darts, golf, bowling, and any other example listed here.

Apr. 16th, 2007 11:34 pm (UTC)


A sport, by the definition thereof. What is the world coming to?
Apr. 17th, 2007 02:15 am (UTC)
I've never been a big fan of beirut or any other drinking game (they cheapen my profession), but tell me this guy isn't an athlete.
(no subject) - mrshellion - Apr. 17th, 2007 01:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 19th, 2007 03:12 am (UTC)
Is chess a GAME until you compete in it as a SPORT?

I see your subset rationale, and it holds water, but there are Boggle tournaments, Yahtzee tournaments, and even Poker tournaments played for SPORT and they can make you SWEAT.
Apr. 19th, 2007 01:54 pm (UTC)
i'm saying all sports start as games. a game only _becomes_ a sport when you have professional athletes competing in the game, with professional coaches AND that level of professionalism adds significantly to the challenge of play.

i don't abide by the whole sweat thing.
Re: nah - dionysusisdead - Apr. 20th, 2007 03:42 am (UTC) - Expand
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )


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