What truly is the definition of Sports? Late last night I was watching a HBO documentary on Joe Louis and began to ponder this seemingly rhetorical question. On the surface, the nature and understanding of sports is quite obvious. It is a competition that requires athleticism and skill where the goal is to master and outmatch the others participating. Dictionary.com defines sport as an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature. I dispute this simple, yet completely logically premise.
Popular sports of the day include football, basketball, soccer, MMA, hockey, boxing and baseball. The list of all sports is perhaps limitless including non contact events such as golf, tennis, skating, swimming, bowling, billiards and even beer pong. Then there is the activities branded as sports entertainment as coined by the WWE. Surely true sports is entertaining, but can an activity be more entertainment than sport and still be classified as such?
Around the world, the athletes that compete at the highest level in their sport are revered and interestingly, their words and actions often carry more weight in public discourse than elected leaders, champions of business or athletes elite scholarly counterparts. These shining stars of sports often burn brightly for only a short period, normally lasting about a decade. How is it that they have captured the greatest spotlight with the ability to shape and redefine culture more so than any other profession?
I love boxing. It was of the elite global sports for nearly the entire twentieth century, only beginning to fall from popular interest twenty years ago in the early 90s. Boxing is among the oldest sports in the world with ties that go as far back to BC, winding its way through the Roman Empire, to prizefighting that eventually transformed into its present state with the release of the Marquess of Queensberry rules in 1867. Similar to MMA, it is viewed as a barbaric gladiatoresque spectacle. This misconception can arguably be linked to the clouded definition of Sports as true boxing includes unmatched skill, intelligence and discipline displayed through mental and physical combat with both the opponent and the individual.
My personal view of sports is the requirement of either a ball or physical contact. The best of sports including both and one of origins of the term Bam Sports. This is merely an opinion and not based in any decided evaluation of the true definition. In truth, sports is the nexus of an accepted, specialized skill that most do not possess that garners widespread interest, inspires passion and allegiance as well as social power. While often sports includes a team of athletes, the overall sport is directed by its current individual stars that demonstrate the highest of skill during their career. These stars are the chosen few to provide a voice to the current state of society, approving certain practices and condemning others, resulting in a societal tectonic shift. Sports is where society germinates its change agents.
Joe Louis exemplifies this premise with impact on cultural and social norms as well as political endorsement with the Schmeling fights and WW II enlistment. His example is perhaps the foundation for the recent critisim Tiger Woods has received for not utilizing the platform that he has been given as a global change agent, a globally, implicitly elected leader of the time to direct and guide social justice.
Perhaps the real question is what social injustice will Sports address next?