Sports sites have asked themselves “Is it sports?” for as long as sports sites have existed. The question pops up when the content buckets runneth over into areas that have historically had very little to do with sports, but with which the sports world has become enamored. Dogs, for example, are very much sports — headlines like, “This very good dog likes to tickle himself with his owner's purse” grace publications like the one you’re reading right now.
Many editors have been known to say, “No, drawings of you by your 28-year-old colleague are not sports,” and yet, many sportswriters have persisted. I am one of them. In fact, I have become particularly entrenched in the murky waters of the “is it sports?” swamp, to the point that I regularly field emails and tweets from readers asking me if a certain thing is or isn’t sports.
Please believe that I didn’t intentionally make “is it sports?” my thing. I wish could say that my master plan has always been to become Her Highness, The Arbiter of Sports, but I possess neither the foresight nor the organizational skills to pull something like this off. In fact, I’m a card-carrying member of the Flying by the Seat of Your Pants Party, and whenever I’ve tried to mastermind something in the past, it’s looked more like the Falcons blowing their 25-point lead than the Patriots winning in overtime.
So how did I get here?
It all began when I started writing recaps of The Bachelorette last year. I didn’t regularly watch the show, but I found it very funny that Aaron Rodgers’ brother and failed NFL player Jordan Rodgers was one of the contestants vying for JoJo Fletcher’s heart. That felt very much like sports, so I decided to track his progress as though he were playing football for as long as he was on the show.
Little did I know that Jordan Rodgers would win The Bachelorette, and I would end up writing about it for the duration of the season, and then all the seasons thereafter until the show ends or I die (the latter will probably happen first). The Bachelor is definitely sports, and I made it my mission to convince the doubters that this is true (fortunately, many other sportswriters share this belief and many websites agree). And by “my mission” I mean I just tweeted “The Bachelor is sports” a lot.
Anyway, from there, things spiraled out of control, and at this point I’ve tweeted “__insert random shit here__ is sports” or “__insert other random shit here___ is not sports” an embarrassing amount of times. Here is a long and slightly depressing list of things I’ve said were sports over the past year.
I don’t agree with my past self on all of those rulings. I’m not sure what was going on in my head when I dubbed “hot young actors as adults” sports, because that is not sports. Neither is the girl band Fifth Harmony taking a picture. However: Space exploration definitely is sports, as is driving a cargo van. And I firmly stand by my belief that being hungover on Amtrak is decidedly not sports but is, instead, the 10th circle of Hell.
This is what this garbage fire of a thought exercise is doing to people.
@TheWilderThings I'm at brunch, not paying attention, but just muttered out loud "are haircuts sports?" And now everyone is looking at my like I'm crazy.— Graydon Gordian (@MrGordian) April 23, 2017
I’m sorry for everything, including the impending descent further into this rabbit hole/weirdest recesses of my very weird brain that you’re about to experience. But, before we go there, I have to make an important distinction between sports and a sport. A sport is, like, baseball, or soccer, or football. Sports comprise a more nebulous idea.
But there is a set of criteria I use to decide whether something is sports or not.
In order for something to be sports, it has to check off at least four of the following six boxes:
- Does it involve competition?
- Does it require a significant amount of physical exertion?
- Can you write about it on a sports website without a ton of people asking you why you’re writing about it on a sports website?
- Can you choose sides?
- Would more people be entertained by watching it than wouldn’t be entertained?
- Would you do it for fun?
You might think: If we have this list, why do we need you, The Arbiter of Sports? Why are you writing this? Can’t we just determine whether a thing is sports on our own using these criteria? The answer is that you don’t need me at all. But there is a subjective angle — like, you have to define “competition,” and “people,” and “fun” — and if you’re too lazy to do that heavy lifting, I’ll do it for you.
Which brings me to the last and final item on the sports list:
7. Does it feel like sports?
No. 7 is reserved for special cases in which a thing might check all four of the boxes, but it so doesn’t feel like sports that I just can’t let it be sports.
For example: Someone asked me over the weekend if “mansplaining sports” is sports. I’ve run the numbers, and it does meet four of my six criteria. (Nos. 3, 4, 5, and 6, for the record.) But, because I am the Arbiter of Sports, I’m invoking Rule No. 7 and saying with certainty that no, mansplaining sports is not sports. Mansplaining sports is just bad.
(One of my colleagues is yelling at me about how I shouldn’t need Rule No. 7, because it negates rules 1-6, and that my system is therefore flawed. But this is my blog and he just has to deal with it.)
And now, without further ado, here are some rulings that readers have requested over the past few months.
Are wings sports?
This was a bad one to start with because it’s so obvious. Yes. Of course wings are sports. Wings are sports in the same way that dogs are good. Wings are what sports would taste like if you could eat them. Wings are flavored with the hearts of the victors and the tears of the losers. Wings are the trophies of the food world. I don’t remember who asked me for a ruling on this one, which is lucky for them, because if I did, I would publicly blog shame them.
Verdict: Wings are sports.
Relatedly: I recently said that I ate too many wings, and everyone was like, “there’s no such thing as too many wings!” But trust me, there is such a thing, and you know it when it happens.
Is Harry Potter sports?
Harry Potter involves competition and physical exertion (they’re always running around with their wands out, trying not to die and shit). You couldn’t really write about it on a sports website unless you’re writing about quidditch [*puts on glasses, flashes Official Nerd Badge*] but you can choose sides — down with Voldemort! People are definitely entertained by Harry Potter, and you definitely do Harry Potter stuff for fun, so:
Harry Potter is sports. So are American Girl Dolls. I know you didn’t ask about American Girl Dolls, and I know they’re not related to Harry Potter, but I just really needed to tell you that.
Is *NSYNC sports?
*NSYNC is a competition in that you’d be like, “I like Justin the best!” and your friend would be like, “Joey is better!” and you’d be like, “What are you, high?” and they’d be like, “No, I’m not high, I’m in fifth grade, that would be wildly inappropriate.” Or they’d be like, “Yes, of course I’m high, why else would I, a 28-year-old, be arguing with you about who is the better member of *NSYNC?”
*NSYNC definitely requires physical exertion (those guys could dance!), and while you can’t write about it on a sports website, you can choose sides (see the hypothetical conversation above). People are entertained by *NSYNC, and you would definitely do *NSYNC for fun. [Editor’s note: phrasing.]
*NSYNC is sports.
Is timing bathroom breaks at bars during sporting events sports?
This is one of my favorites. Let’s do the math: Yes, it requires competition, in that you have to get to the bathroom before someone else does. Physical exertion? You bet! You can write about this on a sports website, you can choose sides (you always want to be the one who doesn’t have to miss any bit of the game), and it’s very entertaining to watch your friends stress about it. Is it fun? No, but we’re already at five out of six, so ...
Bathroom breaks at bars during sporting events are sports.
Is a girlfriend or boyfriend sports?
Once you’re actually dating someone, dating doesn’t involve that much competition. It does require physical exertion when you have to help your better (or lesser, depending on who you date) half do stuff like move a couch, or when you visit their parents and help their mom, like, plant lettuce or something. Or when you have sex (congrats! Also, sex is sports, but we’re not going to get into that here).
You can’t write about relationships on a sports website unless you’re referring to athletes’ relationships, and most people aren’t athletes, so, no, we’re going to say that box doesn’t get checked. While you can choose sides, no one really wants to watch normal people just be in a relationship, so it doesn’t check the entertaining box. I guess you date people for fun? But it’s mostly to stave off the existential dread of dying alone. Three out of six means:
Significant others are not sports.
Is parenting sports?
I have zero experience here, and originally ruled that no, parenting is not a sport. But then my coworkers who have kids were like, “you need to check yourself.” So I checked myself, re-ran the numbers, and found that yes, parenting is sports: There’s competition involved, because sometimes you want your kid to do something and the kid doesn’t want to do it, and then things devolve into a Battle of Wills. Parenting is definitely physically demanding because you have to not only birth a child, but also carry them around until they can walk.
You can write about parenting on a sports website in terms of whether you opt for zone or man-to-man coverage if you have more than one kid. You can definitely choose sides — Team Kid or Team Mom or Team Dad — but I don’t think anyone is, like, dying to watch you raise a kid, so no, it’s not entertainment. And humans do it mostly to satisfy an evolutionary urge to procreate and love something deeply, rather than for fun. That puts us at four out of six, so, therefore:
Parenting is sports.
Is tailgating sports?
Yes, ugh, another one we don’t need the checklist for. Who keeps asking these obvious questions? C’mon guys, be better.
Tailgating is sports.
Are haircuts sports?
Haircuts can be competitive, sure — I Googled it and haircutting competitions exist. Haircuts aren’t that physically demanding, though, and you can only write about it on a sports website if it has to do with athletes. You can’t really choose sides — unless hating a haircut is choosing sides? It can be entertaining to watch, but it’s not something you do for fun. It’s more out of necessity.
So, no, I guess haircuts aren’t sports. But they really feel like sports, so I may have to invoke Rule No. 7. Though I don’t want to abuse it, so:
Jury’s still out on this one. Feel free to weigh in.
Is karaoke sports?
“AND I NEED YOU NOWWWW TOONIIIIGHT, I FUCKIN’ NEED YOU MOOOORE THAN EVER! AND IF YOU ONLY HOOOLLLD ME TIGHT—”
Yes, karaoke is sports.
Is LinkedIn sports?
[*Points to Rule No. 7*] Hell no.
But, while I have you here, how would you feel about being added to my professional network?