Athlete, not an athlete?
Nevada Appeal Motorsports writer Roger Diez welcomed me with a belated Christmas gift on Thursday — a column idea.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote that a person doesn’t need to be athletic to drive a car. Roger immediately wanted my head in a defective HANS device. Obviously he wasn’t too fond of my thoughts (I wasn’t too hurt because most people aren’t).
Left in my box was a copy of an article that states researchers have found medical evidence that NASCAR drivers are indeed athletic. With black roses on top, he wrote: ‘Jeremy, FYI!, Roger.’
Fortunately, that was the only available space for comment. If there was more, he surely would’ve drawn a one-fingered hand gesture showing how people at Champion Speedway greet people who think race car drivers aren’t athletes.
The problem with this debate is, unlike the checkered flag, there is no end. I mean, what is an athlete? Everybody has their own definition. According to Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, an athlete is ‘One trained to engage or compete in exercises, games and contests, requiring physical strength, agility, speed, etc.’
My personal opinion, which is as useless as ice to an Eskimo, is that all of those attributes must be required for an athlete to perform in his/her sport. Basketball? Need it. Football? Need it. Volleyball? Need it. Soccer? Need it. Baseball? Need it (most of the time, i.e. Mo Vaughn). But what about golf, rodeo, cheerleading and the other borderline sports?
Hmm…I’m still not sure. A lot of these sports require skill but not athleticism. So let me break it down sport by sport and determine if you need to be an athlete in each one.
–Golf: Absolutely not. Both Craig Stadler and John Daly couldn’t jump over a phone book yet they have combined to win 16 tournaments, including three majors. Come on, Daly smokes during a round of golf at the Reno-Tahoe Open and can still shoot under par. In football, does Peyton Manning flip a cigarette through his face mask in the huddle and allow Edgerrin James to light it right before finding Marvin Harrison on an out route?
–Cheerleading: Absolutely. Both the male and female variety. Any girl that can do the splits, then proceed back to the sidelines via back flips is an athlete. Period. And any boy that can toss 100-pound girls in the air and hold them with one arm for over 30 seconds is an athlete. Period.
–Rodeo: This is a hard one and I don’t want to get spurred in the back for saying the wrong thing. But in general, to jump off a moving horse onto a steer, wrestle it to the ground, then tie it up has to involve some sort of athleticism. And team roping, although not physically demanding, demands agility and accuracy to fling ropes around a moving small farm animal’s legs. So in events like steer wrestling, bareback, saddle bronc and team roping, cowboys/cowgirls have to athletic. Barrel racing? No. The horse is doing all the work. Bull riding doesn’t require athleticism, just brain damage.
–NASCAR: Sorry, Roger, but no. I read the article you left for me and while I certainly believe Jeff Gordon’s heart rate is pounding while circling the track at Talladega, it isn’t necessary to be athletic to drive cars fast. It’s like golf. There are athletic people on the PGA Tour and on the NASCAR circuit but you don’t need to be an athlete to be on either one.
–Bowling: No. While I’d love to consider it an athletic feat each time I roll a gutter ball and then chug a 10 oz. plastic cup of Bud Light, I just can’t. Of course, professional bowlers do a nifty skip move before releasing their spinning ball, but are they physically exhausted after doing it for an hour? If somebody answers yes, then bowlers are definitely not athletes.
–Other: Poker (no), Yo-Yo (no), Ping-Pong (Yes, but only in Asia) and anything else somebody can think of sport that doesn’t require running and jumping or the combination of both. Poker and Yo-Yo require great skill, as does golf, bowling and driving cars fast. But as far as athletic prowess goes, they can’t be considered.
There’s my ignorant opinion. I’d like to hear yours.
Jeremy Evans is a Nevada Appeal sports writer. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org