For some, every Thanksgiving is that time of year when they must come face to face with the extended family. These are the same people whom you might know extremely well from embarrassing stories your parents conjured up from the back of their aging memories or vice versa. They may know all about you from when you were “oh so cute!”

However, not every angsty teenage boy has that connection with the large extended family since new members seem to appear sporadically to various family gatherings. These family members are often unknown by their nieces or nephews who are drowned by the onslaught of names and slightly familiar faces. Having not seen their family in a while, these aunts, uncles, or married cousins always try to catch up with seemingly colloquial phrases that most teenagers like myself have heard countless times. It’s always the same though, a mundane response, which ironically seems to manifest a story in the distantly familiar family member about him or herself.

One such generic question is “What sport do you play?” For some, it’s a quick easy response. “I play [insert generic sport here].” Others feel like they’re put in the spotlight as they may have been kicked off the team or just didn’t participate in one, the perfect recipe for an awkward response from an equally socially awkward teenager.

But what if the answer was pole dancing?

The questioner might be stunned or look at you with an expression saying, “really, bro?” It doesn’t seem normal for anybody to answer the question with pole dancing. This may have been the case before the Global Association of International Sports Federation had officially recognized the peculiar hobby as a sport in October of this year.

This decision comes in light of the controversial decision to consider esports, or competitive computer gaming such as League of Legends, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, as a sport. The debate mainly centers around the lack of obvious, physical athleticism taking place, but others claim that professional gaming requires strategy, quick reflexes, and mental acuteness to be successful.

Esports (Professional Gaming)

I’m not here to argue for esports or against esports being recognized as a sport nor am I going to argue for or against pole dancing; rather I’m going to prove why the ambiguous term “sports” should be examined instead.

To put my argument into perspective, I’m going to make an analogy. Think of sports in the context of the general idea of America’s founding. Before any European interaction, natives had lived throughout North and South America without European intrusion. These natives represent the original sports; however, after many years of relative peace, the Europeans descended upon American soil and claimed it as their own. In a sense, these Europeans, because they were stronger, more advanced, and, in terms of our metaphor, more popular, encroached upon the natives land, effectively stealing it from the original owners. These are what we can call the popular sports. Skip many years into the future and suddenly there is talk of immigrants wishing to flood America and look for a new home, to much contempt from many Europeans, now Americans. Ironically, they complain about the stealing of their land by immigrants despite their actions only a couple centuries before. These immigrants can be compared to modern sports.

The original sports are what I consider true sports, not popular or modern sports.

What are the differences among the three types of sports then?

Original sports: these sports are most of the activities from the ancient Olympics, which according to their website were pentathlon, running (track and cross country), jumping, discus throwing, wrestling, boxing, and pankration (a form of martial arts). Among this category, I’d also include, albeit not in the ancient Olympics, rowing, weightlifting, and swimming.

Popular sports – these are the invasive games that immediately pop into our heads when we think of sports such as: basketball, baseball, football, soccer, tennis, golf, volleyball, hockey, rugby, lacrosse, bowling, and many others that one might immediately think of.

Modern sports – while less flashy, these are all the sports that some like to debate against being a sport, generally much newer than the other two types. These include esports, pole dancing, dodgeball, curling, and, to some, golf.

What’s wrong with the definition of sports?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of a sport is “a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other.”

The problem with this definition is that it’s far too broad for anyone to even have a debate over whether something is a sport in the first place. Hopscotch is a game involving a physical activity with a set of rules where people compete against each other. The same applies to Four-Square, cooking competitions, or a hot dog eating contest for that matter. Each example is a contest or game that involves a physical activity with a set of rules involving competition, but I don’t see the Global Association of International Sports Federation recognizing any of them as a sport.

Thus, I think there must be a fine line between sports and physical activity, highlighted by these six reasons.

The first argument for original sports: Age

Original sports have the most history. Most of the ones listed have historic relevance that shadows the longevity of the popular sports and modern sports. This alone, like the wise man and the young boy, should set them on a higher pedestal of social relevance than the popular or modern sports. As a result, some ancient sports that may have been noteworthy exceptions can be cast aside do to their contemporary irrelevance and their lack of an ability to transcend the sands of time such as chariot racing, a former ancient Olympic event.

The second argument for original sports: Test of Human Ability

From me just listing the original sports, one can get an idea as to what separates these from all the others that weren’t mentioned in the list. The big one is that they are all tests of a specific human ability or combination of human abilities. Each sport measures the best when it comes to that ability and the person who can overcome the obstacles first and in the most efficient way, wins.

For example, cross country and track measure a person’s ability to run a certain distance faster than everyone else on the starting line. It’s a test of physical strength and mental endurance. Similarly, swimming measures a person’s ability to move through water in the most efficient way possible. Fighting sports such as martial arts and boxing are tests of stamina and physical strength as well as a large amount of strategy.

The ability being tested in football is skewed by the vast amount of rules, another argument that will be examined later. In football, what human ability is being tested? Some players are faster than others, but others are stronger than them while some are there simply to kick the ball. What are you measuring there?

There doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus as to who is the better player. Most other sports lumped into the grouping of popular or modern sports also don’t have this trait such as basketball. The wide variety of players makes it nearly impossible to compare one’s ability to another’s.

There is no clear human skill being tested in each game, a characteristic that should be important to being a sport.

The third argument for original sports: Best Team Doesn’t Always Win

Another argument that bounces off of the previous one is that the best team doesn’t always win. Most popular sports that involve a non-subjective scoring system pin two teams against each other to battle out until the clock hits zero at the end of the allotted time. The team with more points is the winner and the team with less points is the loser, right?

Well, it’s not alway the case. The Texas Rangers beat the World Series champions, Houston Astros on August 29, 2017 with a score of 12-2. So why aren’t the Rangers the World Series champions?

Last season, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Green Bay Packers in the regular season 30-16; thus, they must be better than them, Well, several months later, the Cowboys lose 34-31. Who’s the better team there?

From these two examples, it can be assumed that maybe the best team isn’t truly the winner and maybe the losing team really is the better team. This seems unfair to the better team because if they truly were better, they should have won every game they played. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be this type of logic in most popular and modern sports.

The original sports, however, for the most part have this clarity. The winner can very easily be identified as the better and the loser be identified as not as good. Take for example, Usain Bolt. The man is an eight-time Olympic gold medalist and eleven-time World Champion. In that time period of dominance, one can say he was fastest runner, the true winner; thus, when comparing him to Jesse Owens, another famous sprinter, you can objectively say that Bolt was faster because of his times.

1996 Chicago Bulls or 2016 Golden State Warriors anyone?

The fourth argument for original sports: No 100-Page Rule Book

The sport oughta be straightforward and easy to learn. If I wanted to play a sport, I shouldn’t spend an hour learning the fundamentals before I finally get to the ambiguous and confusing penalties and rules that most popular and modern sports have. Everyone knows how to run or lift weights, but not everyone knows how to play football or basketball.

In this right, you can begin to compare most popular sports and modern sports to board games. They each have a sheet of rules in order for you to play, and one simply can’t play the game without this rule sheet.

Original sports have rules though, don’t get me wrong. One shouldn’t immediately discard the argument because of it. Rather, it should be noted that most rules are there to help make the sport fair and are far from complex. For example, in swimming, the breaststroke must be done in a specific way or else that person is disqualified. The same for track runners who enter someone else’s lane. It’s in place in order to help keep the playing field fair.

In turn, sports who shoot themselves in the foot with rules help cause the two point safety in football or, according to Golf Digest, “If a gust of wind moves your ball, you can play it from its new position. But if artificially propelled air moves your ball, you must replace it without penality.” Also according to UTSA rules, “if a player’s hat falls off during a point, an opponent may immediately call a let due to unintentional hindrance.”

This also means that a friendly game of family football isn’t truly playing football unless you follow the rules. If you play a game of football with friends where there are no linemen and it’s ten second rush, you aren’t playing football. The same goes with just about every other popular or modern sport.

This lack of a simple concept makes it much less of a contest too and more of a game…

The fifth argument for original sports: Game VS Contest

“I’m going to the wrestling game. I’ll see ya later.”

Is it just me, or does that sound weird? As a matter of fact, one can try it with nearly every original sport I listed. Cross country game. Martial arts game. Crew game.

Why is that? Maybe it’s because original sports aren’t games, they are truly contests, pitting a person or team against another. A big argument against this idea is that a game is a contest, but I’d be willing to say there is a slight difference that separates original sports from popular and modern sports.

First of all, the fact you don’t call original sports a game and you call many popular and modern sports games is proof enough that the distinction between them is there. Also, I know what some people are thinking right now. Tennis match. Try this on for size…

“Let’s go play a game of tennis.” Sound normal to you? Alright, let’s move on.

A game according to is “a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.”

Super Bowl LI

The part of this I find important is the aspect of luck. Was it skill that the hot New England Patriots offense won the coin toss before scoring the overtime touchdown in the Super Bowl to win?

However, did Michael Phelps win 28 gold medals because of luck?

If somebody wins not because of skill, but because of luck, do they truly deserve to be called winners? This concept was discussed earlier too with the idea of the best team losing, and quite frankly, I think the answer is quite obvious.

Furthermore, a game is a form of play. Think back to the question that started this all. “What sport do you play?” A question that is expecting basketball, soccer, baseball, football, and most other popular sports.

Saying that you play any of the original sports sounds odd because you don’t play them, you compete in them. They are contests of human skill and ability rather than luck and basic athleticism because after all, anyone can pick up a game of golf or baseball and do relatively well, but no one can expect to be even an average boxer or martial artist without training.

A sport shouldn’t be a game that a couple friends can just go and do at any moment without an extreme amount of physical exertion. It’s why people don’t play a lacrosse game to become physically fit. They run or lift weights in order to stay fit. Because in a sense a lot of popular and modern sports are original sports, but evolved into fun activities. One can’t play rugby without running. One can’t play water polo without knowing how to swim.

A popular phrase among cross country runners: “Our sport is your sport’s punishment.”

The sixth argument for original sports: It isn’t Subjective

For all of those Jesuit boys in diving and figure skating, who have been holding their breath, don’t worry, it’s your time now. Humans make mistakes. We can all agree on that, but the human mind can always blame manipulation on simple mistakes. The 1919 World Series provides one of the best examples of this manipulation not staying hidden.

Bribing, I can admit, is a possibility in the original sports realm, but this type of manipulation goes beyond bribing. This includes personal biases, something that can’t be taken out of context in a sport in which there is judging, such as gymnastics and synchronized swimming. When two people do completely different figure skating routines, but they equally look amazing to the audience’s eyes, the decision comes down to personal opinion. If one thing should be removed from any competitive sport, it’s the possibility of human opinion.

One such subjective opinion is reffing. “Did Dez catch it?” still plagues the minds of many avid Cowboys fans as the perspective and opinion of one man cost the team their whole season. Also, I’m not here to say all calls are subjective, but because the job of a ref is more stressful than most other sports, oftentimes referees are prone to the indirect bribing of home-field crowds.

While some popular and modern sports revolve around the opinions of a group of individuals, most original sports don’t involve this method; however, some of y’all are probably set off because some of the original sports are scored based off of judges like boxing.

My counter to that is that the judging they have to do is much more clear than the pass interference call the sideline ref in a football game might be calling. Determining a fight by decision in boxing involves the measuring of punches landed, dodged, or parried, so it’s relatively easier.

In Conclusion…

“So what? Why should I care about what the heck a sport is?” is probably what’s going through your mind right now, and you’d be right if only there wasn’t a debate over what can and cannot be a sport, and for most people reading this, they probably never thought their prized football, soccer, basketball, or baseball could not be sports. The concept of sports is such an ingrained part of our society that we’d never change our ways because of the definition, but it brings about a good point.

Maybe there are parts of society today whose definition needs to be rethought. Certain words are used to the point of irrelevancy, and yet words are just that, words. All the meaning they contain, ironically, is subjective. Many of the derogatory words that people frown upon and critic people today for using oddly enough don’t entail the history that others do, but because some are used to oblivion, the opinion towards them become obsolete and lost in the mess of things.

So in the end, the point is that either original sports are the only type of sports or all three types of sports, which includes pole dancing and esports, are acceptable; there is no middle ground. There never was a gray area. It’s all or nothing in today’s world.