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Past OTL Shows


Tuesday
True confessions: Inside the mind of a 'rasslin fan

Wednesday
Behind the scenes with the script-makers

Thursday
Is it a sport? Pro wrestling in the context of real sports

Friday
Sound off: Readers react to issues raised in series



This four-part online series on the growth of pro wrestling is a companion to the Outside the Lines television show. The show re-airs on ESPN on April 8 at 3:30 a.m. ET.

April 2, 1999
Wrestling fans say 'uncle'

Tom Farrey, ESPN.com

That was an easy sell.

If anyone suggested 10 years ago that professional wrestling was not a sport, that person or organization would have fielded considerable outrage. But when reminded of that notion in an Outside the Lines television show and online series, wrestling fans in effect said, "Agreed."

The agreement is perhaps a reflection of the evolution of pro wrestling, whose leaders even no longer dispute that it should be considered in the context of sport. Their television ratings are too good now, and a reflection of the desire by their audience for ever-more-preposterous story lines.

A robust debate, however, was held at the other end of the spectrum: Which is the purest sport of all? ESPN.com users voted basketball to the top of the list, agreeing with columnist Tom Farrey, but made a strong case for track and field events. They also registered their displeasure that certain sports were left off the 25-sport poll.

Below are poll results, listed in order of finish, and selected comments:

 
THE PUREST OF SPORTS
  SPORT
1ST PL. VOTES
TOTAL POINTS
  Basketball
2,107
193,360
  Track & field
1,290
191,080
  Soccer
1,251
190,783
  Football
843
189,752
  Amateur wrestling
1,152
178,532
  Swimming
109
165,741
  Hockey
534
163,641
  Baseball
990
153,337
  Cycling
22
141,079
  Lacrosse
93
134,426
  Tennis
49
132,847
  Boxing
183
130,370
  Gymnastics
60
130,232
  Rowing
56
128,253
  Diving
3
123,121
  Snow skiing
15
102,622
  Golf
133
100,435
  Auto racing
50
71,353
  Extreme sports
29
71,176
  Bowling
34
65,727
  Bodybuilding
15
55.804
  Horse sports
7
44,379
  Luge
17
41,613
  Hunt./fish.
57
38,647
  Ballroom dancing
26
27,314


My friends and I have had extensive debates about just this topic. While I agree with most of (Tom Farrey's) assessments, there is no way basketball is the purest of all sports. The simple reason for this is you are nearly required to be a genetic mutant to compete at the highest levels. Sure, there is an occasional exception, like Spud Webb. For the most part, however, anyone under 6-foot-2 is at an inherent disadvantage.

Louis Wolinetz
Washington, D.C.


I have another criteria that I would add to the list for what makes a sport "pure:" It should have simple, easily understandable rules. This is why I rated track and field as the most pure sport. When you tell someone "OK, throw this spear and the winner is the guy who can throw it the farthest," I think you've really reached the essence. By the same token I dropped football near the end, since trying to explain a football game to someone who has never seen one is a real exercise in futility.

Ben Fulton
Bloomington, Ind.


I totally disagree with Farrey's statement about baseball. Obviously you have never played the sport if you are going to say that baseball involves infrequent use of the body. And speaking as a college pitcher, I can say that this position is as demanding as any position in any sport in terms of being in good condition physically and mentally.

Evan Holland
Flagler College (Fla.)


I respect and enjoy soccer, but I contend that middle- and long-distance track events require the qualities (Farrey cited) in spades. The best illustration of these qualities can be found in Kenny Moore's book "Best Efforts," specifically his chapter on Sebastian Coe. Every race above 800 meters requires the competitors to have a strategy that can adjust to the execution of those strategies by other runners. Moreover, just watch the Kenyans and Ethiopians run a competitive 5,000 or 10,000, and you will see the discipline and creativity required to run those races.

Erik Johnson


I feel that wrestling is still not a sport. I know that it takes a lot of athleticism to go out there and not kill yourself, but all of the fake blood and jumping from the roof onto someone's head is fake. But hockey, basketball, football and so on is really a competition. Anything with a script is not a sport. Take a movie such as Speed, in that you could call it a sport because it takes a lot of athleticism to do the stunts. But once again it has a script, so in my mind it is not a sport.

Derek White, age 12
Cincinnati


Following Farrey's criteria, rugby must be the perfect sport. It has all of the virtues of basketball and soccer (for example, teamwork, skill and strategy). But, rugby adds a requirement of physical and mental toughness that is equalled in almost no other sport. It is a purer form of football, which would be the best sport if they played it without pads.

Scott Matheson


Basketball is truly a man's (and tough woman's) sport. What other sport can you sweat like a dog and grunt like a beast and still see the whites of your opponents' eyes? All the while still have the finesse to drop in a 20-foot J and get nothin' but twine! And look at the bodies these guys get from B-ball -- you don't see that with a football player.

Terry Spier


Farrey's article was both amusing and articulate. However, arguably the most purest sport, amateur wrestling, was not discussed. Win or lose, the only "thing" responsible is yourself. No teammates, no equipment, no excuses, no this or that, YOU.

Joe Lareau


In my opinion there is no doubt that "professional" sports of today are closer to pure entertainment and therefore closer to pro wrestling than they are to the original concept of the game. Pro basketball is perhaps the worst offender -- they even have the story complete with "bad guys" like the Worm and Shaq, and special privileges and calls for superstars.

Raj Parmar
Mesa, Ariz.


There is one sport Farrey neglects to mention. It is a sport that matches all of his criteria. It is a contest with intense physical activity, no animals or assisting technology, no subjective criteria for winning, frequent body use without using limited areas and a definite mental aspect. The sport is rugby.

Jon Ekedahl


Basketball?  No way. With four 12-minute periods with scheduled breaks at every four minutes for television commercials, players are in nowhere near the condition that they have to be in to play soccer or lacrosse.  Not to mention the seven guys on the bench who can be substituted in and out at any time for the original five.  Teamwork definitely is a key in basketball, but with the professional rules as they are, that even takes a hit as there can be no zone defenses and all too often we see the four men on one side of the key so the fifth guy can go one-on-one. 

Ray Kolodzieczak
Oakland


At the heart of sports is the competition -- striving against your opponent and only your opponent. In a "true" sport only one thing matters -- winning and losing. If you can have a "score" or "time" without competing against someone, it ain't a sport. Sorry bowling, golf, track, swimming, skiing, etc.

And one more thing -- if you can play it without being a member of a team, it ain't a sport. Sorry tennis, chess, etc.

Teamwork and competition. That leaves baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and soccer. And that's it.

Steve Ubelhoer
Chicago




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