Well, I said it was going to be controversial, and I was of course right. In my essay “On the Hierarchy of Sports,” I warned all of you that the essay would offend and anger some readers. Little did I know!
Between the comments section of my Substack and reader responses on Facebook and at Instapundit, well over a hundred people have responded to the essay. With the exception of ESPN, sports remains the one area of life in America where the pursuit of truth is held to the highest levels of evidence and where people can still actually speak their minds.
Some of the responses were very supportive and agreed with my analysis down the line. One fan of the essay wrote these kind words: “This was a pure, soul-fueling delight to read and to watch. I vote for a regular curation of your favorite athletic displays, achievements, and moments in sports.” Thank you! That’s a great idea, and I just might do it.
Others were less generous and less kind. One person wrote: “I think your premise of which sport is best is silly. It is like which is better an orange, lettuce, or steak? Or which is a better art form music, painting, or sculpture? I wondered if you wrote this piece stoned. And I seriously doubt you ever competed on a professional or national level.”
Another wrote along similar lines: “This article sounds like it came from somebody who never played any of these sports.” Along the same lines, one person wrote “I don’t think the author played any of the sports he ranked,” to which someone responded: “He was a professional 12 ounce arm curler in the PBR tiger piss division.”
One outraged reader said of the article that it “reads like the sort of list a 12 year old boy makes at recess.” (This criticism actually comes closer to the truth than any other comment.) Another said I was “clueless” and give “rednecks a bad name.” That one hurt!
Not surprisingly, the most aggrieved respondents were those who thought I had slighted certain sports.
The golfers in particular were outraged. One swinger wrote: “Anybody that believes professional golfers are not great athletes is full of crap right up to his eyebrows, and has never been close to pro golfers as they compete.” Another golfer made a brilliant point that, frankly, I’d never considered before: “I know a lot of athletes in some sports that couldn't simply walk the 18 holes of a golf course on a hot and humid day, even if they stayed straight down the center of the course and didn't have to hit any shots. Most courses that means between 4.5-5 miles of walking. The typical golfer probably has to walk 6 miles alone.” Good point! It’s hard to deny that there is a lot of walking in golf. And another insisted, “Golf entails strength.”
Let’s pause for a moment and take seriously the claims of the golfers. After watching the following video, I now understand why golfers have a just claim to be elevated to the top tier in the hierarchy of sports. The video demonstrates that golfers have the right stuff: speed, strength, agility, and the gift of lift.
My apologies to all the golfers out there. I was wrong. You are true athletes.
And while I’m at it, I should probably also retract my claim that certain events in track and field are most indicative of great all-around athletic ability.
Let’s take the case of Jonathan Edwards, the world record holder in the triple jump (formerly known as the “hop, skip, and jump”). The triple jump clearly comes from the activity known as “hopscotch,” a game played by little girls on the playground (no disrespect to the athletic ability of little girls), so we can’t really take seriously the athleticism of an activity once called the “hop, skip, and jump.”
If you only watch one video from this essay, please watch the following video of Jonathan Edwards doing the “hop, skip, and jump.”
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa! I have obviously embarrassed myself and the Edwards video proves it. Nope, absolutely no athletic ability here.
One of the respondents insisted that there are only three true sports: “bullfighting, motor racing, and mountain climbing.” If death, or the possibility of death, is the ultimate standard for what constitutes true sports, then there is something to this argument.
The champagne-sipping fans of Formula One racing were particularly unhappy with me. One reader claimed that I have “no idea of the cardiovascular fitness required to drive an F-1 car,” and another chimed in with “. . . and doing so while in a sweltering hot vehicle . . . for hours.” Interestingly, no NASCAR fan objected to my rankings, which suggests that I may not lose my Redneck status after all. Let us not forget that NASCAR fans typically live in the land of ACC and SEC football, which means they know true sports when they see it.
Not to be outdone by the motorized vehicle athletes, the horsey people made their case for recognition as well. A few readers denounced me for not appreciating the athletic role of riders. Stupid me, as one critic put it, for thinking “the horse does everything” in horse racing. Clearly I’ve engaged in a form of “implicit” if not “systemic” bias for the horse and against the jockey.
I’m ashamed to say that I’ve sanctioned “horse privilege” for my entire life. Sitting in a fixed position in the saddle, perched low and forward, and cracking the whip obviously takes greater athletic ability than I was initially prepared to admit.
Take a close look at this video of Secretariat, surely the greatest and fastest horse of all time, winning the Triple Crown. Do NOT pay attention to, or privilege, the horse. Instead, keep your eyes fixed on Ronnie Turcotte, his jockey.
Now that I’ve seen this video through the lens of Ronnie Turcotte, I realize that for all these years I’ve unintentionally “othered” jockeys. I’ve been silent about the importance of jockeys and of their athletic ability, and we all know that “silence is violence.” Surely, there is some kind of “implicit bias” course I can take to purge this evil from my soul.
Not to be left out, the dancers have likewise demanded recognition as true athletes. One particularly irate reader denounced my essay as “utter trash.” The greatest sport of all time, he insisted, “is obviously full-contact Morris Dancing (MD).” Another dancing aficionado complained that I had deprecated the “strutting” sports, such as ballet.
There’s no question that ballet requires some strength and great flexibility, coordination, balance, and, most importantly, the gift of lift, but I will confess that full contact Morris Dancing (MD) takes athletics to the very highest level. You might say it was the first “extreme sport” of the modern era. It’s hard to assess the great physical and mental ability associated with the sport.
Judge for yourself (and of course we denounce the blackface):
It is also said that full contact Morris Dancing is very dangerous, both physically and psychologically. The following video, which I highly recommend, demonstrates just how hazardous the MD can be not only for one’s own health but for that of the whole community.
I strongly support federally-funded counseling programs for recovering Morris Dancers. The common good requires that we all sacrifice just a little bit to save America’s youth, who have lost everything to MD. After watching the following video, I’m sure that you’ll voluntarily open your wallets and give generously to support the bi-partisan “MD Recovery Act.”
Not only did I neglect Morris Dancing in my essay, I forgot to include Kabaddi, a traditional sport played in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Rarely have I seen such extraordinary athletic ability. Kabaddi has it all: speed, strength, ability, balance, the gift of lift, and serious physical contact (i.e., violence).
Kabaddi, as far as I can tell, comes in two forms: first, as a one v. one combat sport; and, second, as a team sport.
If you are a young American athlete and you want to show off your native physical abilities, then I say you need to learn 1v1 Kabaddi. You might think of it as the South Asian version of Morris Dancing but without the dancing, or you might think of it as boxing without fists.
Here’s your instructional video:
Kabaddi is also played indoors as a team sport, where it has all the trappings of the classic Anglo-American school playground game, “Red Rover.” The self-evident similarity between Red Rover and Kabaddi raises the obvious question: is Kabaddi a form of cultural appropriation (i.e., did Asians steal the game from the English), or is it the result of cultural imperialism (i.e., did English imperialists force it on the indigenous peoples of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh)? Kabaddi is played today in the United Kingdom and in Canada, which suggests that Kabaddi cultural imperialism is now working in reverse.
Either way, it looks like a lot of fun, and I say let us unite and chant in unison, “Red rover, red rover, send Vihaan right over.”
Lastly, one commenter challenged my hierarchy of sports because I left out the “most remarkable athletic skill of all time, and I mean literally of all time, and that is the ability to throw a rock.” His rationale was not without merit: “That skill was vital for hunting, and put us at the top of the food chain. There is literally no other human athletic ability that isn’t surpassed by another critter, but we are the only ones who can throw things reasonably well.” If that’s true, then I guess the world’s best athletes will be found in Portland and Gaza.
Speaking of throwing things at animate beings, I wonder if throwing Molotov cocktails should be an Olympic sport?
Well, that’s it folks. Thank you for all your comments, positive and negative. And keep them coming!
One last note: I will be publishing sometime soon an essay that considers not just pure athletic ability but some of the other qualities that make great athletes, particularly with regard to team sports.
Don’t forget to submit your aesthetic recommendations to: email@example.com. Please always use as your subject line: “The Beautiful.”
Have great week!