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Photo credit: Herring Cove Golf Course, New Brunswick, Canada, by New Brunswick Tourism on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tourismnewbrunswick/5080505287/

Photo credit: Herring Cove Golf Course, New Brunswick, Canada, by New Brunswick Tourism on Flickr.

In late 1999 or early 2000, the Chicago Tribune compiled a list of the top 100 Chicago sports moments of the 20th century. Over lunch one day with a conservative friend, I bemoaned the fact that the Tribune had omitted Khalid Khannouchi’s 2:05:42 finish in the 1999 Chicago Marathon, then a world record. Khannouchi was the first marathoner to break the 2:06 mark, shattering the previous world record by some 23 seconds, and although his record has been broken many times over in the intervening years, setting a world record at the Chicago Marathon helped solidify its reputation as one of the top races in the world. Indeed, Chicago is now included as one of the World Marathon Majors, along with New York, Boston, London, Tokyo and Berlin. So my point about Khannouchi was valid.

My conservative friend, however, was not impressed.

“Nah,” he said. “That’s not a sport.”

“Wait, what?”

“Look, it’s not a sport if it doesn’t involve the use of a ball,” said he.

“So bowling’s a sport,” I said, “and so is pool. But running 26.2 miles in a little over two hours … that’s not a sport?”

I mention this because last week Tbogg at The Raw Story happened upon a tweet from professional golfer Steve Elkington–which, predictably, Elkington subsequently deleted–in which he cracked wise about openly gay NFL prospect and SEC defensive player of the year Michael Sam:

ESPN reporting Michael Sam is leading the handbag throw at NFL combine. …

No one else expected to throw today

Ha, ha. See, its funny because gay. Am I right?

Sigh.

In any event, I’ll leave the subsequent disemboweling of the homophobic golfer to Tbogg, who can do it better than I can. But I will echo an obvious point here: Sir, do you, as a golfer, really want to go athletic-toe-to-athletic-toe with a real, live football player?

Now, I’m not saying that golf isn’t a sport, because I subscribe to the theory that, like music or art, a sport is anything people decide to call a sport.

But if, like my conservative friend some years ago, you really want to pick nits over what constitutes a “real” sport and what doesn’t, golf just might end up on the wrong side of the ledger. Sure, golf requires tremendous physical skill. But physical skill isn’t the same as athleticism. Woodworking requires physical skill. So does painting, or sculpting, or playing a musical instrument like piano or the drums. Sewing requires physical skill, as does cooking a gourmet meal, laying tile, or hanging wallpaper.

Athleticism, though, is more than physical skill. It’s more than just hand-eye coordination, or physical deftness. It’s speed and strength and endurance and agility. It’s quick wits and peripheral vision and the ability to make split-second decisions. It’s having an awareness of everything that’s going on around you, even if you can’t see it, and having the physical ability to react to it. Basketball, hockey, American football, soccer–these require athleticism. And, since we just wrapped up the Winter Olympics, even the stoner-sports like skiing and snowboarding require genuine athleticism, too. Hell, figure skating, ice dancing, rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming all require far more pure athleticism than golf.

And, you know what? So does running a marathon. Especially at a world-record pace.

But no matter how you define what is or isn’t a “real” sport, that definition doesn’t involve any consideration of an athlete’s sex, hetero- or homosexuality, gender identity, or whom that person may or may not sleep with. Steve Elkington may want to keep that in mind the next time he attempts to ridicule a 6-foot-3-inch, 255-pound first-team All American who racked up 12 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss in the toughest conference in college football.

Or, he could just stick to swinging a golf club.

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