Sport is not about fighting or hunting

A while ago, Michael O’Hare, Professor of Public Policy at Berkeley, wrote:

School team nicknames have many strange conventions, especially the taste for war and predation. A game isn’t a war, or a fight!

This was an off-hand comment in a blog post discussing something else, but a brilliant one.

It is easy to know that figure skating is not a sport and that biathlon is a sport. What is harder to know is why. The most common attempt at explanation is that real sports (like soccer or American football) do not involve judging. Which is kind of funny when you stop to think about it. OK, OK, subjective judging. But that doesn’t work either. The scoring in figure skating is no more subjective than the various tests used to make calls in American football. And what is more subjective than the decision of when to award a penalty kick in soccer?

The article I link above (under “most common attempt”) deals with this by saying that sports have, in principle, objective scoring. This seems, to me, narrow and silly as a distinction. It would make ski-jumping a sport and boxing not, for example—both ridiculous. Perhaps, non-sports are competitions which women and gays like more than do heterosexual men? Did I say that out loud?

O’Hare has, I think, put his finger on it though. A sport is either a combat simulation, a hunting simulation, or a competition on a physical skill of significant importance in hunting or combat—where, obviously, historical utility counts as much as does current. This works to put figure skating in the non-sport category and biathlon in the sport category. Swimming is a sport. Diving and synchronized swimming, not. Archery, running, javelin, and wrestling are sports. Riding skateboards, not so much. If the British Grenadiers had ridden skateboards into battle, can there be any doubt that riding skateboards would be a sport?

There are a few difficulties with O’Hare’s theory. Is baseball a sport? It does not appear to qualify. This is fine with me: it is routinely called a game instead. Gymnastics? How to apply the test? Strength, agility, and balance are certainly valuable hunting/combat skills. But gymnastics does not test these individually. It’s kind of a mash-up. And if you are going to allow mash-ups, then how do you keep out ballet or even, shudder, slopestyle snowboarding?

On the bright side, we get to exclude luge. Well, unless the British Grenadiers, unbeknownst to me, used to luge into battle. Perhaps, then, boxing and luge/ski-jumping are good test cases. If you think boxing but not luge/ski-jumping is a sport, then you join me as an O’Harite. If you think luge/ski-jumping but not boxing is a sport, then you are an objective scorist.

The last comment on the objective scorist article is another piece of true brilliance. He manages to come up with a complicated schema mentioning neither combat nor hunting which, nevertheless, selects combat simulations as Tier I sports, competitions on combat skills and hunting simulations as Tier II, and other activities as non-sports.

Who says Cultural Marxism is not productive of intellectual brilliance?

22 thoughts on “Sport is not about fighting or hunting

  1. Pingback: Sport is not about fighting or hunting | Reaction Times

  2. O’Hare heaps scorn on school “[administrators who] obviously haven’t read a newspaper in twenty years.” But he himself can’t figure out why a team would want to be called the Trojans, after “the biggest losers in history.”

    He might well have wondered also why so many teams name themselves after Indians.

    I suppose he must have read the Iliad at some point; he’s old enough to have come up while it was still required reading for every high school student. He was probably forced to read Last of the Mohicans, too. But, apparently, none of it penetrated further than his visual cortex.

    He understands neither the nobility and beauty of the Trojans and Mohicans, nor does he understand that glory may be found even in defeat. So he shows that he understands neither war, nor hunting, nor sport.

      • Three times only, and each time it was over almost before it got quite started. No putting up of dukes, just bam bam done. So, nothing like a real bout. Closest I ever got to that was sparring with a karateka when I was studying aikido and fencing. Why?

      • It’s exhilarating when you make it through alive, even win. Roger McGrath used to write articles in Chronicles about the virtues of physical fighting. A young man needs to have fought.

  3. Christopher Lasch addressed the degeneration of sports in his seminal work Culture of Narcissism. At this time Lasch was already transitioning out of the Leftist milieu. Yet he still employed the Frankfurt School’s basic methodology i.e. he drew heavily on Marx and Freud. His assessment on sports was pretty interesting. He pointed out that the phenomena of sports at universities started in the late 19th century and this owed primarily to the haute bourgeoisie’s fears that their sons lacked the fortitude to maintain the new found “progress” of American society. As Dr. Bill points out, the connection of sports to the martial prowess is clear and is not necessarily new. Even today I believe most U.S. Military Academies require every student to participate in some kind of sport. It was amusing reading some of the anecdotes that Lasch cited, such as late 19th century academics complaining about the dominance of the sports culture at institutions ostensibly devoted to higher education. I guess some things never change.

    Aside from laying the foundation of national greatness and staving off decadence among the children of the affluent, sports took a new turn with the rise of “professional” sports. I think most people here can anticipate what Lasch’s critique of the corporatization of sports entailed.

    I think traditionalists could take notes, even from Cultural Marxist critics, on the transformation of sports in our society. For much of Western history, sports took on a festive almost quasi-religious role, something readily accessible to the community itself. Sure in some sense we still see these ideas connected with sport in our time but like every other activity in our civilization, liberalism has so badly corrupted and warped this human activity, whether it was to inculcate martial virtue so as to maintain and expand liberal empires, to the grotesque spectacle of modern professional sports, the profaning of sports is representative of the downfall of our society,

  4. Bit of a tangent, but I’m going to defend baseball as a sport under this definition. In addition to the general athleticism required of good baseball players generally, I’d say baseball includes an element of strategy to it not required of other sports. Baseball is played less at the “game” level, but more as a strategic campaign (AKA a series). You can lose a game, even against a rather pathetic foe, but it’s all about mounting up enough wins to take the pennant in the end. A whole organization is there to be managed (this is very true even at more advanced amateur levels): Pitching rotations, certain players having days off, batting orders, etc. This is not to stay that other sports do not require some strategic thinking, but it is integrated into the fabric of baseball in a way it isn’t in many other sports.

    All sorts of important lessons, particularly for aspiring officer types, are there to be learned from this. Everyday is a new day. You can win the battle and lose the war. Don’t exhaust your men. I’m sure there are others that people can think of.

  5. What a coincidence that after 36 years spent with books and computers I will try a sport the first time in my life today. I mean of course I used to do my gym weight routines in my twenties like every young man who wants to find a girlfriend, sweaty iron still smells like youth to me, and did pleasure sports like skiing some red coded ranges in the Alps (the black coded ones are tough), but this is not a real sport. To me a real sport is, indeed, much like caveman lifestyle of fighting and hunting. Either a team sport, or something like sparring in a club with people I know. So today evening, Jeet Kune Do, here I come! I am both expectant and terrified. How can be as stupid to choose as my first sport the one Bruce Lee has invented?

    My reason is that I have never been much of a masculine man, which worked well enough for me, because I was not self-centered very much and for this reason the disrespect I felt for my own self did not matter much. But now as a husband and father I strongly feel without learning to respect myself I will not be able to play these roles optimally. So I feel I need to enter the path of the warrior – well, 2×1 hours a week is not even a weekend warrior, but still a start.

    I wonder if Professor O’Hare thinks this kind of self-respect is not a good idea or it does not need to be earned this way? It is not some kind of stupid-macho club of braggers I am entering, my would-be teacher wrote the real warrior path is defeating our own egos, not each other, sparring partners and later on opponents merely help in this. Still, the inventor of this art was frequently nicknamed the Dragon.

    • One of the sadder results of atomistic state capitalism has been the decline of serious adult sports clubs. Few people are aware that the national pastime was once *playing* baseball, not watching it. Today, we either get joke sports like kickball or watered down versions of real sports like flag football or softball. Most people do nothing at all save bowling alone.

  6. Pingback: Wherever an Altar is Found, There Every Last Feature of Civilization Exists | The Orthosphere


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