I’M A SPORTS GUY. I was not the most gifted athlete in high school, but nevertheless, I can talk sports and compete in a pick-up game of almost anything and hold my own. I know the rules, the teams, the athletes, the standings, and the usual nuggets of information that separate the casual sports fan from the guy who can tell you who the backup goaltender is on the Minnesota Wild (Nicklas Backstrom, by the way).
Now, our office is a pretty docile place. Many of us get along, and the conversation during the day as we work feverishly to put these magazines together for you each and every month runs the gamut from technology, to movies, to American Idol, to healthcare, to Lost, to 24, to bad songs, to sports, and mostly everything in-between. The chatter is good—despite being trivial most of the time—but when it comes to sports, things take a dark turn. There are the typical conversations that you would expect from a company in western New Jersey whose employees come in from Pennsylvania and the Garden State. The Eagles and Giants are well-represented, as are the Yanks, Mets, and Red
Sox. Rangers, Devils, Flyers, and even Islanders are represented in the forgotten league known as the NHL. NASCAR is a hit too. As for the NBA, I don’t think anybody cares. Th e Memphis Grizzlies? Th is is a real team?
Anyway, every time, whenever the sports conversation rears its head, whether over bagels on Friday or at the Monday editorial meetings, somebody brings up a question, and every time, it’s a question that I know is going to eventually make my blood boil, my head spin, and likely ruin my weekend: “Are they athletes?” This simple question enrages me not only because I know they know it enrages me, but for the fact that I argue it every time, always—always—to no avail.
It all started when I opened up my big mouth to complain about the World Cup of soccer and how boring the sport was. That led to an exchange about the most conditioned athletes, and I said something about Tiger Woods being the greatest athlete of our generation. The collective reply was seemingly more confused than Tom Cruise. I then heard it, after seeing it in their eyes: “Tiger Woods isn’t an athlete. He’s a golfer.” Was I here right now? Did I just hear this correctly? Tiger Woods, probably the greatest golfer to ever play the game, is not considered by some to be an athlete? I was wrecked. After all, I consider anybody that competes, whether professionally or not, against somebody else to be an athlete.
Webster’s defines an athlete as “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.” Doesn’t golf require physical strength, agility, and stamina? Walking up to 4.5 miles with a 40-lb. bag between holes? Stamina. But am I wrong in thinking Tiger is an athlete? Let me hear your thoughts, you golf-playing docs! E-mail me at email@example.com
Anyway, where do we draw the line? Are NASCAR drivers athletes, or do “the cars do the work for them,” as our production guy John Salesi claims? How about cross-country skiers? Billiard pros? Fencers? Sport fishermen? Bowlers? Pro video game players? Bullfi ghters? Sumo wrestlers? Equestrians? Competitive eaters? Archers? Poker players? Curlers, for that weird ice sport (not hockey) from Canada?
The list can go on and on, but I think you get the point. Looking at all of these sports or games, the distinction may lie in the public perception of what’s an athlete versus who is considered athletic. A 350-lb. offensive lineman is an athlete, no question. But is he athletic? For me, yes. If the sport/game requires some kind of physical and/or mental strength, agility, or stamina, you’re an athlete, plain and simple. So whether you’re throwing horseshoes with a beer in one hand, whacking a ball with a mallet through a bunch of wickets out on your lawn, or, as the reigning grill jockey champion, stoking a charcoal fire and prepping some wood for an annual BBQ contest, be proud. You may not be competing in Beijing in 2008 or Vancouver in 2010, but you compete, nevertheless, and for this, I salute you!