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Defining sports has turned into sport itself

As I found some shelter from the wind that still allowed me to see the mountain goats sleeping on the face of Mount Delano on Saturday, I started thinking about sports and sports coverage.

I have often heard — as well as participated — in debates (sometimes heated) about what qualifies as a sport.

Football is, gymnastics is not. Baseball is, auto racing is not. Regardless of one's point of view, each participant in these discussions has a unique way of defining what qualifies as a "sport." These definitions range from "it has to be a competitive activity" to "it cannot include judging or any subjective measure." (This last rational always leads me to wonder why umpires and refs don't qualify as subjective but gymnastics judges are nothing but biased?)

I'm not sure why we want to define competitions or events as sport or non-sport, but we do. It seems the more rabid the fan, the more he or she engages in defining sport.

So sitting on the face of a mountain, trying to catch my breath, I started thinking of all the activities Deseret News writers cover — everything from cycling to the NFL to ski jumping — and how we draw lines and define different activities. Why is it that people get so bent out of shape when we cover a sport or activity that they don't believe has a large enough fan base to warrant our time? Don't you want a newspaper to cover as much as possible so you might actually learn about something new? I mean, feasting on only NBA games all year (even in July) seems like a pretty bland diet to me.

One thing most sports fans agree on — some sports are better suited to spectators, while others are definitely designed for participation. I'd rather watch Little League football than golf, and I'm sure a marathon race isn't as interesting to most folks as ANY NBA game.

In addition to arguing about what meets the definition of a sport, fans LOVE to argue about which fans are best. Soccer fans are some of the most rabid, loyal and educated, but they can also come across as pretty narrow-minded. They can't believe anyone would find their sport — ties and all — boring.

Meanwhile, I've never met a football fan, even the most recreational, who wasn't a little arrogant about why football is king of the sports world and deserves 90 percent of all news coverage.

Maybe it's because those of us who are drawn to sports love competition so much that we can't avoid making every aspect of our involvement a bit of a game. What is a real fan? Which is better — college or NBA basketball? And how does fan support factor into recognition as a sport?

I mean NASCAR attracts millions of viewers and thousands of spectators and the UFC 100 made more than $5 million off of the 10,800 people willing to travel to Las Vegas to watch a sport still struggling for any mainstream coverage, and people still try to argue those two don't yet deserve to be "real" sports.

And while you might be able to argue that a guy driving a car doesn't require a lot of athleticism, are you really going to argue that gymnasts should be booted out of the club because they're judged instead of timed?

Why does this have to be an exclusive club? Why don't we love competition so much that we recognize that struggle in BMX racing AND baseball. Just because the players in the Women's Professional Soccer don't make millions of dollars doesn't mean they don't deserve to be respected for pushing boundaries to the breaking point.

In fact, that seems to me to be the common denominator in both the sports the masses embrace and those they love to badmouth — testing the limits.

Ultimately that's what we love about a climbing competition or a soccer game — that we might see someone do something no one else has done before. We might be witness to history. We might see the greatest hockey comeback in Stanley Cup history or the most jaw-dropping, super sick trick ever thrown on a skateboard ramp.

Sports force us to face our fears, chase those demons and redefine ourselves every time we work up a sweat. Even if it's sitting on the couch eating chips and salsa, we all feel the rush that comes with witnessing something amazing, whether it's on a football field or a ski slope.

So one more definition, one more argument — maybe a real sports fan is one who spends less time trying to make athletics an exclusive club and more time admiring the ability of those who get up off the couch and live on that competitive edge. Because whether your favorite sport is more of a spectator's feast or a participant's dream, they all bring enjoyment to both the athletes and the fans who (rabidly) cheer them on to victory.

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com