Wednesday, February 10, 1999
SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column
Wrestling is a sport
What has been the longest underlying theme in professional wrestling? Kane-Undertaker? The story of the NWO? Austin-McMahon? Not even close. The longest underlying theme in professional wrestling has been the question of whether or not it is a sport.
Since the mainstream rise of wrestling, the question has never been answered. In the 80s, all participants and far-too-ardent believers claimed it was a sport, while skeptics pointed out that pre-arranged matches with gimmick-clad contestants does not constitute a sport. The closest we ever came to having the question answered was when Hulk Hogan was asked if wrestling was real, and he replied that it was real entertainment.
In the 90s, a different tact was initiated by Vince McMahon and quickly mimicked by his competition...that wrestling was not a sport and that he was not even in the wrestling business. Now, the industry was termed that of sports entertainment, qualifying more as a form of entertainment than a sport. This opened the door to leaving behind a show of full athleticism and allowing characterization, scripting, and storyline. Some of these need not even involve wrestling at all, for the wrestling industry had become the sports entertainment industry.
I'm not satisfied. Is wrestling a sport or not? The TV Guide has Wrestling in the Sports section. The Sports Network airs wrestling as part of its programming. Our question has never been answered. Perhaps the more applicable question: What is a sport?
If a sport is any show of competition, then wrestling is qualified. That competition's result may be pre-determined, but most contemplate the same being true of heavyweight boxing. Heavyweight boxing is indeed a sport, as far as most are concerned. What if competition as defined by wrestling is simply determined differently? What if the competition in wrestling does not revolve around winners and losers, but rather putting on an impressive show, whether or not you are slated as the match's loser? Then, wrestling is certainly a show of competition. Skeptics argue that too much of wrestling's programming has nothing to do with wrestling at all. I've seen highlights from hockey, for example, where two players are shown fighting. Is fighting supposed to have anything to do with hockey? Is the right to fight in the rulebook?
If a sport is any show of athleticism, strength, agility, precision, and endurance, then wrestling is qualified. When Mick Foley punches an opponent to the mat, those are no doubt fake punches. When Mick Foley falls 15 feet through a table, Mick Foley IS falling 15 feet through a table. Is it a show of endurance when Mick Foley does this? Was it a show of athleticism when Hart and Michaels wrestled for over an hour at WMXII? Was it a show of strength when Goldberg jack-knifed the Giant? Was it a show of agility every time Taka Michinoku leapt out of the ring onto his opponent outside the ring? Where sport is defined by athleticism, it becomes vague. Basketball players are in good shape, and basketball is a sport. Curlers need not be in good shape at all, and curling is a sport on the basis of its need for precision. If sport is defined as such, then wrestling is certainly a show of athleticism, more so than many other pure sports.
Does a sport need to encompass these things? It need not be based on goals scored, as in all two-teamed sports. I once argued with a room full of people on a point I was not even sure I believed. I argued that wrestling is a sport so long as gymnastics and figure skating are sports. All three involve competition, all three involve shows of athleticism, and none of the three involve back-and-forth accumulative scoring. The fact that wrestling matches are pre-scripted and orchestrated is a moot point. A gymnast's or figure skater's act has also been pre-scripted, orchestrated, and rehearsed to perfection, much like a wrestling match. Is it important that the judges in professional wrestling are the fans themselves who ultimately determine a contestant's future in this business, unlike a handful of official judges in figure-skating?
Is wrestling a sport? Should the term 'sport' remain so ill-defined and vague, then the answer is yes. When broken down, wrestling contains all of the elements that define other pure sports. So long as the public believes that wrestling is a parody of sport, it will never be taken seriously as one, but feel free to tell me how wrestling is not a sport when it strays off of its theme as do hockey fights, when it has pre-determined endings as do some speculated heavyweight boxing matches, when it offers its stars as icons as do hockey and basketball, when it is based on the quality of performance alone as is figure-skating. Tell me how wrestling is not a sport.
Marc Wortman is from London, ON, and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.