“A Life After Wide Right” (31 Longreads in 31 Days, Day 24)

I’ve always felt in awe of field goal kickers at any level, when the game comes down to a final kick, the hopes of both teams hanging on the outcome of the swing of their leg. It’s hard to imagine the pressure they face, knowing that a thousands of fans are watching in the stadium, and, in college or the pros, millions more on television. One foot to the left or right… one yard longer… and everything is different. Hero or goat, decided in the smallest details: the wind, the angle of the ball, a tiny difference in the point of contact with the ball.

Scott Norwood misses a potential game-winning field goal at the end of Superbowl XXV

Photo by Phil Sandlin / Associated Press

Perhaps no one knows this better than former Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood, who missed the potential game-winning field goal in Superbowl XXV. His miss from 47 yards out is legendary. An article on NFL.com called it “the greatest choke in NFL history.” A Life After Wide Right by Karl Taro Greenfeld in the July 12, 2004 issue of Sports Illustrated, examines Norwood’s life before and after that infamous miss.

The first thing that jumped out at me with this story is that it is mostly written in the present tense, which give everything a sense of immediacy. Each step in Norwood’s career feels invested with a urgency.

Structurally, the story starts at the end, showing the reader where Norwood is now, what he does for a living, and the notoriety he still carries with him. But then the narrative jumps back to the start, and we get to understand what it took for Norwood to make it to the Superbowl at all. Just to make an NFL team once seemed like the long-shot dream:

Every off-season, Scott comes home to Annandale. After every year at James Madison University, where he earns a football scholarship. And then, after he graduates with a degree in business in 1982, and Del and Scott blanket the NFL with videotape, and after he signs with the Atlanta Falcons—and is cut. After an upstart league called the USFL is formed and he wins a job with the Birmingham Stallions and kicks 25 field goals in ’83. After he tears some cartilage in his knee in his second season with the Stallions and is released. After successes and after failures, he comes back to work out with his father at the same old high school field. They never speak of what it feels like to be cut by an NFL team. Or how it feels to drive from Atlanta back to Fairfax County in the light-blue Riviera and move back in with your folks. Or what it is like to be a guy a few years out of college still practicing field goals with your dad. They never talk about how life isn’t fair, or how, no matter what happens, you keep showing up. Del will occasionally express displeasure with, the Falcons for cutting his son, or with the NFL or USFL for not appreciating what a good kicker they passed up. And then Del and Scott will jog down the field to retrieve the half-dozen balls and stuff them into the sack and drag them back upfield and set ’em up again, five yards deeper. And when Scott’s knee heels, they don’t talk about how excited they are when the Bills invite him to camp. He is one of 10 kickers they’re bringing in. That doesn’t matter, Del tells him. You just keep showing up.

The weather in Buffalo drives other kickers mad, but it suits Norwood. The wind, the cold, the rain, the spartan practice facilities. But Norwood has been through worse. He’s been cut, injured and overlooked, and compared with that, kicking in rain or a harsh wind blowing from the north is almost a pleasant diversion. He’s comfortable with the elements, and from his career as a soccer player he knows how to control the ball in inclement weather, to keep it down in the wind, to improvise. The other kickers are cut, one by one, and finally Scott shows up and looks around the locker room one morning and he’s the last kicker left.

All of this backstory isn’t just there to flesh out the narrative; it shows the reader what shaped Norwood, the adversity he overcame, and why that all of that would help him cope with the experience of being viewed by millions as a Superbowl choker.

The story shows us how his wife felt the moment the kick sailed right, what his coach said to him, and how his teammates tries to console him, and what it was like when members of the media mobbed him in the locker room:

Then the reporters are let into the locker room. They’ve rarely bothered to speak with Norwood. But today, of course, he is trapped in the incandescent TV lights and on the business end of three dozen microphones. His special teams coach, Bruce DeHaven, stands by him as he answers every single question from every single reporter. He will stay in the locker room a full hour after most of his teammates have gone. How does it feel, Scott? Were you nervous? Did you feel like you hit it good? What are you going to do now? What do your teammates think? How does it feel to miss that kick and lose the Super Bowl?

DeHaven asks him every few minutes, “Have you had enough? Do you want me to get rid of these guys?” And Scott shakes his head and replies, “I think I owe it to the fans to answer some questions.”

Sports psychologists will tell you that openness is the first step to healing from this sort of loss. They use words like process and grieving and cleansing, but Scott just sees it as his duty. His father would simply call it showing up.

Greenfield then shows us Norwood’s life after football and how that miss haunted him for a long time. The reporting here is excellent, because it’s not Norwood saying much about how it affected him, but the the observations of his brother Steve and his wife, Kelly:

Scott seeks to put his business degree to work selling insurance, mortgages, annuities and trusts. It’s hard work, especially the cold-calling, having to dial his way through a list of phone numbers every day and say, “Hi, I’m Scott Norwood, and I have a great opportunity today for you to take care of your family.” It takes weeks and months of cajoling to get a prospective policy buyer or annuity purchaser to write that check. For the first time in his life, he finds that just showing up isn’t enough.

Everywhere they go, to movie theaters, to doctor’s offices, to restaurants, Scott knows what everyone is thinking: He’s the guy who missed. “I would try to talk to him about other things,” Steve says, “but you just knew it was on his mind.”

“I saw him working through it,” says Sandra. “He would come and tell me, ‘This is real tough for me, but I’ll get through it.’ And we would all tell him, ‘Scott, it’s football. There are other things out there in life.’ “

In sports movies, the hero often has a second chance, an opportunity at redemption on the big stage. Real life isn’t often as tidy. Norwood’s life after that famous missed kick is less cinematic, but Greenfield provides a satisfying epilogue.

For many sports fans, Scott Norwood exists mostly as a trivia answer. But Greenfield’s profile reveals the a rich personal story behind the man and helps us understand what he learned after missing the biggest kick of his life.

Read A Life After Wide Right →

The Hard Life of an N.F.L. Long Shot (31 Longreads in 31 Days, Day 17)

For most of us, NFL preseason games in August are meaningless. Few of the starters play, the games are sloppy, and nothing much seems to be at stake. The Hard Life of an N.F.L. Long Shot by Charles Seibert for the New York Times Magazine shows us that for a handful of college stars hoping to cling to a dream of making it as professional player, everything is at stake.

Pat Schiller

Photo credit: Christaan Felber for The New York Times

The story follows the summer and fall of former Northern Illinois University star Pat Schiller as he tries to make it onto an NFL roster. When his name doesn’t get called during the NFL Draft in April, his fate comes down to impressing coaches during offseason workouts and preseason games. Like many other athletes who are close enough to be considered for the league, but not quite good enough to get a guaranteed spot on a roster, it’s a uncertain time. His future swings in the balance: are his football days behind him, or can he make a few key plays at the right time that will earn him a chance to play in front of thousands of screaming fans in a regular season NFL game?

Seibert does a good job showing us the conflict and uncertainty around Schiller, the stress he faces being a hometown hero at the same time that he’s fighting for an unlikely roster spot on and NFL bench:

Later that evening, my last night in Geneva, Pat and I stopped into a few of the local haunts along his hometown’s historic main street (a location for the period film “Road to Perdition”). Wherever I went with “Mayor Schiller,” as one friend called him, drinks materialized and tabs disappeared. Owners, managers, friends and friends of friends all stopped by to ask how Pat was doing and to wish him well.

“It’s weird,” he said to me during a rare lull. “For some reason I’m cool because I’m able to play a game. And they don’t realize how hard and cutthroat it is now. They’ll say things like, ‘Hey, worst-case scenario, you’ll be on the practice squad.’ And I’m thinking, Are you kidding? That would be unbelievable. But these people are really counting on me, and I feel a lot of pressure to not let them down. That’s a big part of what drives me. And I like being the interesting guy, you know? I want to be talked about and turn heads when I walk into a place. Who doesn’t? It sounds so egotistic, but it’s what it is. And to think this is all going to be done one day, probably sooner than later, and I’ll have to face reality. Have a 9-to-5 job, not be Mr. Interesting anymore and never have the rush that I get before games. That’s scary to me.”

Like hundreds of other would-be NFL players, Schiller struggles with the possibility that at 22 or 23, his career as star athlete has peaked, and it may be time to drop a lifelong dream.

As Schiller continues to struggle to make the squad, his hopes start to hinge on the health of other players, and the reader gets to see the macabre but real aspect of the game: an injury to one player is an opportunity for someone else:

Somehow it wasn’t until we were watching postgame highlights that either of us noticed the backup linebacker, Robert James, whose former place on the practice squad Pat now held, had come into the game sometime during the fourth quarter. Pat sat bolt upright, grabbed the remote and scrolled back through the game to determine the precise moment James entered. He then went to the Falcons’ game thread on his computer, eyes narrowing, lips slightly parted in anticipation.

“Stephen Nicholas,” he muttered. “Ankle.”

For the next two days of my visit, we were on the Stephen Nicholas ankle watch. Texts and calls came from all directions. Everyone Pat knew, it seemed, was aware of Nicholas’s ankle. Gruder, with whom Pat had only exchanged a couple of text messages since Gruder was released in August, wrote, “You getting called up this week?” Chris Browning of ProForce phoned to ask the same thing. Over dinner the following night, the number of Dave Lee, Pat’s agent, flashed up on Pat’s cellphone. Pat held the phone to his ear. A protracted silence.

The story is a revealing, inside look at what it takes to make it as a pro athlete. Seibert lets us see the physical and psychological toll it takes on the players on the edges of the game.

Read The Hard Life of an N.F.L. Long Shot →

“Todd Marinovich: The Man Who Never Was” (31 Longreads in 31 Days, Day Nine)

Mike Sager’s 9800-word profile of Todd Marinovich for the May 2009 edition of Esquire is an impressive work. It details the rise and fall of Marinovich from prep star, to USC standout, to NFL washout, to drug addict and convict. The quarterback’s story has so many plot twists, so many highs and lows, it almost seems too melodramatic to be true.

Todd Marinovich

Photo: Getty Images

Sager doesn’t hide where the story is going. By the sixth paragraph, he shares the stats of Marinovich’s fall: “nine arrests, five felonies, a year in jail.” The story isn’t about surprise; it’s about the question many of us who watched his career have wondered: “what the hell happened to that guy?”

He starts out by showing us where Marinovich came from, his family influences, and the pressure that his infamous father put on him since birth:

With the birth of his own two children, Traci and Todd, came the perfect opportunity for Marv to put his ideas into practice. “Some guys think the most important thing in life is their jobs, the stock market, whatever,” he says. “To me, it was my kids. The question I asked myself was, How well could a kid develop if you provided him with the perfect environment?
For the nine months prior to Todd’s birth on July 4, 1969, Trudi used no salt, sugar, alcohol, or tobacco. As a baby, Todd was fed only fresh vegetables, fruits, and raw milk; when he was teething, he was given frozen kidneys to gnaw. As a child, he was allowed no junk food; Trudi sent Todd off to birthday parties with carrot sticks and carob muffins. By age three, Marv had the boy throwing with both hands, kicking with both feet, doing sit-ups and pull-ups, and lifting light hand weights. On his fourth birthday, Todd ran four miles along the ocean’s edge in thirty-two minutes, an eight-minute-mile pace. Marv was with him every step of the way.

With this, we get a better sense of how Marinovich became known as the “Robo-Quarterback,” the child born, raised, and, some say, engineered, to be an elite professional athlete. We also see, very early on, that all that pressure had a price.

One effective technique Sager uses is to present a story or a scene, framed in the larger context of what we know is part of the larger story about the man, such as this story about one of his high school games. Sager takes Marinovich’s memory by ties it to elements of the story that are yet to come:

Todd fought for breath. His head was ringing, his vision was blurred, he wanted to puke. Later he would recognize the symptoms of his first concussion. Marv’s conditioning was designed to train the body and the mind to push beyond pain and fear. Throughout his career, Todd would be known for his extraordinary focus and will — qualities that would both enable and doom him. Two years from now, the left-hander would lead a fourth-quarter rally with a broken thumb on his throwing hand. Five years from now, he would throw four college touchdowns with a fractured left wrist. Sixteen years from now, he’d throw ten touchdowns in one game, tying an Arena Football League record, while suffering from acute heroin withdrawal.

This is very effective. He breaks up the mostly conventional chronolical narrative with connections like this that underscore for the reader how Marinovich’s childhood and formative experiences would shape him later in life.

Sager also makes subtle, telling observations as he talks with Marinovich. Not long after detailing the rigid diet and nutritional regiment Todd’s father imposed on him since birth, we get a little scene like this from a a pop warner game that provides contrast:

He’d just cleared the line of scrimmage when Goliath-boy stepped into the gap and delivered a forearm shiver very much like the one that had gotten Marv ejected from the Rose Bowl. Todd crumpled to the ground. Blood flowed copiously from his nose.

The whistle blew. As Todd was being cleaned up, Marv convinced the coach that Todd needed to go back in the game. Immediately. At quarterback.

Todd stood over center, his nose still bleeding. Part of him felt like crying. The other part knew that it was the last few seconds of the scrimmage and the team was down by only a few points. For as long as he could remember, no matter what sport he played, he always had to win.

He took the snap and faded back, threw a perfect pass into the back corner of the end zone. “That has always been my favorite route,” he says now, sitting outside a little coffee shop on Balboa Boulevard, drinking a large drip with six sugars and smoking a Marlboro Red. He tells the story from a place of remove, as if describing something intimate that happened to someone else. “I remember seeing the ball. It was spiraling and there was blood just flying off of it, splattering out into the air.”

When the catch was made, there was silence for a beat. “And then I remember the parents cheering.”

So much is packed into that anecdote aside from what happened on the scoreboard. We see the overbearing nature of his father. We see the vulnerable, scared kid inside Todd; but also the fiery competitor. He remembers the parents cheering, but not, it seems, his own happiness. But the most telling detail is that as Marinovich tells this story, he’s smoking and drinking a coffee with six sugars; a stark contrast from the boy described a page earlier as being sent to birthday parties with carrot sticks and carob muffins.

More than anything else, what strikes me about this piece is its scope. This is clearly not a profile put together after a few hours at a table with Marinovich. It’s evident that he spent a lot of time with the quarterback, asking countless questions and pressing him for what he thought and felt at a given time. The end product is dense and loaded with not only what happened to Marinovich, but what he was thinking at every step of the way.

Read “Todd Marinovich: The Man Who Never Was” →

“Urban Meyer Will be Home for Dinner” (31 Longreads in 31 Days, Day Three)

Sportswriting is often overlooked as a source of serious journalism, including long form narrative nonfiction. Yet many of my favorite nonfiction writers — Gary Smith, Gay Talese, Buzz Bissinger — have focused much of their talents on the world of sports. Wright Thompson’s “Urban Meyer Will Be Home for Dinner,” from the August 6 edition of ESPN the Magazine, is one the better recent profiles I’ve read.

This profile looks at the new coach of the Ohio State football team, starting his new job after struggling with life-threatening stress and burnout at his last job. It’s an honest look at a man who struggling to reconnect with his family and his ambition at the same time. If you’re a sports fan, as I am, a lot of Meyer’s career choices have been mocked and criticized by sports pundits (Meyer quit his job from Florida twice before retiring and unretiring to go to Ohio State); few really had any sense of what was going on with him or what was driving his decisions. This story reveals a lot about about the personal crises Meyer faced.

Urban Meyer

Photo by Jamie Sabau for ESPN The Magazine

One thing I admire about this piece is that it is a very traditional feature story; no complex structure, no deception, no literary trickery. The narrative is almost the textbook curve of a “hero’s journey.” Aside from the opening scene, it is mostly a straightforward chronological story, giving us Meyer’s history leading up to today and the conflicts in his life. Thompson offers this direct “nut graf” in the ninth paragraph:

In front of him is a second chance. Behind, there’s his old dream job in Florida, which he quit twice in a year, and the $20 million he left on the table, unable to answer the simplest of questions: Why am I doing this? During the break, he studied himself for the first time in his life, looking for a new him or maybe trying to get the old him back — the person he was before a need for perfection nearly killed him.

And Thompson employs the strongest tool for a nonfiction writer: scenes. The story if packed with little moments from Meyer’s life, flashes of emotion and experience that take the reader inside his private life. Here’s one amazing paragraph from the story, rich with detail and scenes that say so much about the young Urban Meyer and his struggles:

He discovered more than a calling in college. He met a beautiful woman named Shelley, and after he got his first job in Columbus, she moved to town. Once, a possum peeked its head over the television, and Urban and his roommates screamed and stood on the couch, yelling for Shelley, the Ohio farm girl, to do something. Urban made less than his rent. He lived on happy hour egg rolls. Staying up all night during the season, he cut 16 millimeter tape, nursing a six-pack of beer through the tedious job. He loved it. To make ends meet, he picked up shifts at Consolidated Freightways, driving a forklift. Shelley calls it his “Archie Bunker job.” He bought steel-toe boots, and three or so nights a week during the offseason, he pulled the graveyard, getting off at 6 a.m., showering and heading to the football office. At the warehouse, they got a breather about 2 a.m., those callow faces yellowed in break-room light, eating peanut butter sandwiches, maybe a bag of chips. He looked around and saw the same question on every face, one he knew they could see on his: Why am I doing this?

That paragraph is only 196 words, but consider the research and interviewing that led to it. It describes five scenes from nearly 30 years ago, and Thompson dug up details like what he ate, what he wore, and what he was thinking at the middle of the night. This little paragraph is a short story. It’s a narrative inside the narrative, beautifully written.

The close of the story is ambiguous, which isn’t surprising, because the football season is about to start, and nobody knows how this will all turn out. The story ends at a new beginning for Meyer. The future is murky and unknown, something we see in the final image from the story:

Standing before his players in the meeting room, he can smell it, hear it — feel it even, in places he doesn’t understand and can’t control. Nobody makes a sound. Meyer’s shirt is wrinkled, untucked a bit. Thick veins rise on both sides of his neck. He squints out at the team, his eyes dark, hiding everything and nothing at all.

It’s an ominous final scene. Most readers, by this time, will feel sympathetic to Meyer, hoping for him to succeed without letting his career consume his life and health, but Thompson doesn’t try to sugarcoat it: Meyer is back at work, fired up with intensity and passion, and it’s unclear if it may unravel him and his family again.

Read Urban Meyer Will Be Home for Dinner →

20 years later, I still miss The National

The Cover of the final issue of The NationalBud Shaw has a great story over at Mental Floss on the rise and fall of The National, a short-lived national daily sports newspaper.

I read it regularly and loved it, before it died a year after it sprang into existence. It was supposed to be the USA Today of sports, covering both national and local sports every day. It was loaded with some of the best sports writers of any era: Frank Deford, Scott Ostler, and Dave Kindred.

At the time the National was on newsstands, I was a Lakers fan living in Chicago. Back then, if you wanted to follow another team other than the local teams, you had no real options. This was before the Internet. But I fondly remember sitting at lunch, reading the National for daily, in-depth coverage of my hometown Lakers from 2000 miles away, an idea that was revolutionary at the time.

Not only did The National precede the Web, it nearly preceded the desktop publishing revolution, so, as Shaw details in his story, the technological challenges they were trying to overcome in 1990 were daunting. Ultimately, it was a bold, journalistic idea with a bad business plan. But it was great while it lasted…

Check out the full, entertaining article here.

From the Vault: “Sports, Not-Sports, and Everything In-Between”

I originally wrote this piece about ten years ago for Core Magazine, a now-defunct dot-com boom publication. My editor asked me to weigh in on this long-standing debate about what was, or wasn’t, a “sport.” He wanted it to “push peoples buttons.” I think he got what he asked for. This column turned out to be one of their all-time most-read articles and generated dozens of email responses, ranging from people who loved the piece to people who demanded I be fired. Since then, the topic continues to come up again and again at bars and parties; friend have often asked for my official definition from this piece. So here it is, republished for the record. I revised the story two years ago with a few minor updates, but 95% of this article is the original version

This week, ESPN, the “worldwide leader in sports,” begins more than twenty hours of World Series of Poker coverage. Also this month, the network will cover the Firestone IndyCar 200 race, NASCAR events, and the “X-Games,” which features guys on skateboards, bikes, and motorcycles. That’s all fine, although a bit curious for the biggest sports network in the history of civilization, since not a single one of those events is actually a sport.

A golfer walking with a caddy

An “athlete” walks with his man-servant.

The argument over what is and isn’t a sport has raged in bars and parties since Roman times (gladiator fights yes; being eaten by a lion, no). I intend to clear all this up once and for all. I recommend printing out this article and keeping it folded up in your wallet just in case it’s needed to settle a debate on the subject somewhere in the future.

Let me start with a basic disclaimer. Many activities that are not sports are difficult, challenging endeavors that few people have the athleticism, talent, or skill to do well. Many non-sports are as physically tasking or as competitive as any sports. But they aren’t sports. They are something else.

So a definition is in order. Here’s mine: A sport is a competitive human athletic endeavor in which winners and losers are determined by objective scoring or time.

Let’s break that down:

Competitive. This one is obvious. Sports pit athletes or teams against other athletes or teams. Doing sit-ups at the YMCA isn’t a sport. Moving furniture into your friend’s new apartment isn’t a sport. Chopping wood is tough, athletic work, but a grizzled old coot whacking away at a tree in the woods isn’t participating in a sport. In fact, stay away from that guy. He sounds creepy.

Human. For an activity to be a sport, the primary source or power and motion must be the human body. If your “sport” depends on a gas-guzzling engine, a horse, or 60-foot sail, it is not a sport. That means NASCAR’s not a sport — the car’s doing most of the work. Horse racing isn’t a sport, either — certainly not a human sport — all the jockey is doing is riding; the horse is doing the running. And whipping a defenseless horse doesn’t help the weak argument that a short guy riding on top of an animal is a sport. Motorcycling and boat races? Nope. Some guy who rides a skateboard day and night is not a sportsman, he’s a curfew violation.

At some point, a sport must be an activity that requires some measure of athletic power or speed. In short, moving isn’t enough. Some large muscles need to work. This instantly disqualifies table-top and pub games like ping-pong, pool, foosball, and darts. Shuffleboard and bocce ball are also disqualified. Don’t even show me that croquet mallet. I love poker, but playing cards isn’t a sport, it’s a game… or a gambling problem. Spelling words correctly is a great, but it’s not a sport, even if you jump around the stage after you nail the word “serrefine.” Playing a videogame is not a sport, even if that videogame simulates a sporting event. The athletic requirement also puts a serious question mark around any “sport” largely enjoyed by flabby, overweight, drunk men, such as golf, bowling, corporate softball, and eating contests.

Winners and losers determined by objective scoring or time. Here’s where about half the Olympic “sports” get dumped. No jury or panel should ever decide a sporting event’s outcome. The players in the arena should decide who wins. Any competition in which you can lose by not smiling enough or not charming the judges isn’t a sport, so kiss figure skating, diving and gymnastics goodbye.

That’s right, Gymnastics isn’t a sport. Gymnasts may well be incredibly athletic, graceful, and skilled, but if a bitter Bulgarian judge with indigestion and a hangover can deny you a win, your chosen activity isn’t a sport.

Does this mean that boxing isn’t a sport? Judges decide fights, don’t they? Well, if a fight ends in a knockout, it’s a sport. If it goes to a decision, it’s damn close to not being a sport. Maybe boxing can do away with judges and rounds, and just let the fighters brawl until someone’s sprawled out on the ground unconscious… oh wait, we already have that — it’s called “hockey.”

The second part of this rule is that winners and losers can be determined by time. Nothing is more pure than the brutal reality of the stopwatch. It’s one reason I love watching sprints. Winners and losers are determined by hundredths of a second. Same goes for field events like the high jump: either you clear a bar or you don’t. You squeak over a certain height or inch beyond a certain point… or else, you lose. No aesthetics are involved, no assessment of poise, and no bonus points for style. You either make a time or distance, or you don’t. This is sports at its most basic and pure. Imagine a panel of judges scoring Michael Johnson: “Very fast, yes, but I didn’t like the grimace on his face as he rounded the final curve, and his posture is very odd, so I give him a 7.5. Now that fellow from France did finish last, but what lovely strides! And his selection of red shorts with understated off-white trim is an inspired choice! 9.75!”

Other rules:
All good rules have their exceptions and fine print. The definition of sports is no different. Here are various additional qualifications and corollaries to the definition of “sports”:

Uniforms, not costumes, are part of sports. One more reason to reject figure skating. I’ve seen skaters dressed up in cowboy outfits, 1950s clothes, and Robin Hood costumes. The prosecution rests.

Killing isn’t a sport. Sure, Hemingway thought killing a bull in a stadium in front of tens of thousands of howling fans was a swell way to spend an afternoon, but it isn’t a sport. Neither is shooting down ducks, turkeys, rabbits, or deer. Jaws and The Deer Hunter aren’t sports movies. Suffice it to say that if your sport requires you to break one of the Ten Commandments, it’s not a sport.

Sports don’t have servants. Any sport in which you have a personal manservant or assistant who carries your gear for you on the field of play isn’t a sport. Golf was already in trouble because many golfers are so fat, drunk, or lazy that they drive from hole to hole in little carts rather than walking. But the use of “caddies” to carry gear for golfers disqualifies it as a sport. Besides, any “sport” largely dominated by chubby, middle-aged rich men can’t be a real sport (see the rule on flabby, overweight, drunks above).

Any “sport” with a script isn’t a sport. This means pro wrestling is out. But wrestling was probably already disqualified due to the excessive use of folding chairs as weapons. If pro wrestling is a sport, so is a Jackie Chan movie.

Summing this all up, you’re safe calling football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and tennis sports, as well as most track & field events. I’ll even concede that soccer is a sport. It may be a tedious, boring snoozer of a sport, but it qualifies.

But anything with the words “rhythm,” “synchronized,” “ping,” “figure,” “auto,” or “moto” in the title is probably not a sport.

If you see anyone holding up a scorecard, it’s not a sport.

If you can sit in a chair while competing, it’s not a sport.

If your sport starts or ends with the letter “X,” it’s not a sport.

If it involves drinking or eating anything, it’s not a sport.

If chubby, middle-aged men dominate it, it’s not a sport.

If you wear sequins, it’s not a sport.

If it requires bullets, it’s not a sport.

Finally, let’s be honest: if it’s something I like, it’s got a better chance of being a sport. If it’s something you like, but I don’t, it’s probably not a sport. Simple, right?

Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.