I teach sports journalism at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, which created the first master's degree in sports journalism and is home to the National Sports Journalism Center.
Given what I do and where I am, I shouldn't have been surprised when I was asked what separates a sport from something else -- something presumably involving Frisbees, brooms, tubas, pompoms, mascara, shuttlecocks, or used rental shoes.
I answered by paraphrasing Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's attempt to define obscenity. I'm not sure what a sport is, but I know it when I see it.
This, I admit, was not a satisfactory answer.
I then asked students in two classes I teach, an undergraduate course, Introduction to Sports Journalism, and a graduate seminar, Sports, Media and Society.
There was considerable agreement that the following are sports: football, hockey, baseball, soccer, basketball, tennis, racquetball, swimming, rugby, volleyball, lacrosse, wrestling, water polo, long-distance running, skiing, and track and field.
There also was agreement among the students on the defining characteristics of a sport.
A sport requires physical exercise or athleticism. The athlete must use multiple muscle groups. There must be coaching. There must be widespread acceptance that it is a sport. There must be a standard set of rules and the scoring must be subjective and, therefore, the winner should not depend on a judge or referee.
In addition, there must be a competition between at least two people or teams. Therefore, hunting isn't a sport unless the deer being hunted is armed and Bambi can return fire.
Next, if you gain calories while you participate it's not a sport. This disqualifies bowling, fishing, darts, gaming, shooting pool, chess, poker, and beer pong.
To emphasize the aforementioned, if you're sitting down, it's not a sport -- unless you're moving 150 miles per hour at the time. In addition, if you have to apply make-up, it's not a sport -- unless you're moving 150 miles an hour at the time.
Circumstances can determine whether something is a sport or not. For instance, if you carry your bags and walk while playing golf, it's a sport. If you take a cart and drink beer while you golf, it's not a sport. It's just driving a cart and drinking beer while you play golf.
To give this discussion the seriousness it deserves, it's necessary to seek a comedian. Comic Jim Norton once said, "I don't watch anything in the Olympics that I can see my family do in the backyard after five cases of beer."
If Norton's words are applied here, and there's no reason why they shouldn't, this would disqualify croquet, corn hole, and Lawn darts. If a family drinks enough beer and has festering issues, this may apply to boxing, wrestling, and mixed martial arts.
If a sport involves brawling, paramedics, or law enforcement officers, it's not a sport. Unless it's hockey or international soccer.
Finally, the aforementioned list was not exclusive and should include most of the sports in the Winter and Summer Olympics.
An exception is synchronized swimming, which has been hard -- no, impossible -- to take seriously since Martin Short's and Harry Shearer's parody appeared on Saturday Night Live. In the routine, Short and Shearer perform in the shallow end of a swimming pool. A manic Short, wearing an inflatable life preserver, explains, "I'm not that strong a swimmer."