Thursday, August 20, 2009

Should Golf and NASCAR be considered sports?

Ask the average sports fan if they respect football or basketball player's athletic ability and dedication, and they will no doubt say yes.  But ask the same question about golf or NASCAR, and you will usually get a snicker.  The fact is, most sports fans don't respect golfers, NASCAR drivers, and a whole host of other quasi-sports athletes.  Are these sports inherently easier?  Do they deserve less respect from the public?

A typical NFL training camp consists of all day sprints, bench presses, and endurance and agility drills.  These drills are extremely tiring and taxing, and as a result, NFL athletes are generally perceived as "real" athletes.  However, Tiger Woods, a golfer, has a similar routine, doing 7 mile runs, 3 minute sprints, and weight lifting at high weight and rep levels.  He is said to hit 350 on the bench press at times; he also does 25-50 reps at lower weight levels.  His workout routine is every bit as demanding as an NFL regimen, and the fact that he is the best golfer on the planet shows that golf takes some level of athletic ability, as he is undoubtedly golf's best athlete.  Can golf still not be considered a real sport when it requires demanding workouts and athleticism?

If you think so, consider this; Woods also spends 6 to 8 hours at a time on the driving range, and a similar amount of time practicing his putting.  If you have ever been on a driving range, you know that minutely analyzing and perfecting your shot for even an hour, let alone 6, can be taxing and boring.  The fact that Woods can sustain this level of concentration for extended periods of time indicates high levels of dedication.

So perhaps Tiger Woods is an aberration? Consider Jeff Burton, a NASCAR driver. NASCAR is routinely derided for not being a “real” sport. Jeff Burton has 9% body fat(not quite world-class athlete level, but good), and spends hours each day on exercises that involve stretching, weights, and body weight exercises. He credits his fitness with a significant portion of his NASCAR success. In fact, the majority of sprint cup drivers engage in physical training one way or another.

Think that their workouts are not as intense as NFL workouts? You would be correct on that point, but consider this: drivers routinely spend 4 hours in a race car driving 190 miles per hour in the dead of summer. Temperatures can get to above 120 degrees, and there is very little relief with all the safety gear that drivers must wear. NASCAR drivers must also spend years gaining and perfecting their skills before they can even race professionally, a major hurdle to overcome.

Ultimately, if sports did not require dedication and skill, we would not pay to see the competition, and athletes would not receive millions of dollars. Regardless of whether you define a sport as relatively easy or relatively difficult, there are athletic challenges to overcome in any sport. With the ever increasing levels of competition, every sport requires physical fitness, and even in sports such as NASCAR where it is not emphasized in the media, it is a major factor. Ultimately, it is a disservice to the hardworking athletes to say that the competitions that they engage in are not sports.

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