Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Sports Guy is back!

Well, not back in any sort of meaningful way. Allow me to explain.

Look, I'm not in any way implying that Bill Simmons, aka The Current Sports Guy, stole my handle. There's no way he could have. When I started
The Sports Guy in a little weekly paper in Vancouver back in 1993 and subsequently moved it to an embarrassing weekly rag called Sports Vue shortly thereafter, the internet was something only computer nerds, academics and Al Gore knew much about. Hell, 99.9 percent of newspaper readers in Vancouver didn't even know about my little sports humour column. So the odds that Simmons would have stumbled upon it are even less than the chance of him writing a column without mentioning Boston, the Celtics, or a shitty movie from his misspent youth.

Plus, let's face it, "The Sports Guy" is hardly an original moniker. I'm not claiming to have invented it. It was, in fact, my editor at
The West End Times – and former high school classmate – Ross McLaren who so brilliantly came up with the name. Brilliant, you see, because unlike Simmons, Guy is my name. The Sports Guy. Get it? See what he was doing? Sometimes it pays to have a generic name. Not that this is an example. I got paid the princely sum of 25 bucks per column.

You'd think with a generic name like Bill, he or his editors could have come up with something more fitting. The Sports Bill? Probably not. Bill Me Now! Meh. But something like that. It's not my problem.

I'm just saying I was, if not the first, certainly
before Simmons.

And let's get this out of the way lest anyone thinks I'm trying to say I was better. Not a chance. Simmons is hilarious and a must-read. I was okay. Better than some, I think, but that's about it. I haven't written about sports since the Vancouver Grizzlies skipped town, whenever that was. These days I cover comedy for various publications but mostly The Georgia Straight. In that respect, the Grizzlies were the perfect training ground. I mean, Bryant "Big Country" Reeves as your $65 million centre, replacing Benoit "Big Mouth" Benjamin? It doesn't get any better than that.

With this blog, I'll dig out the gold (the yellowing newsprint has a certain golden hue) from the vault and reprint it here for your dining and dancing pleasure. They haven't been seen since their original publication date and they're sure as hell not going to be anthologized anywhere else, so this is as good a place as any.

When I'm not running old... er, I mean "classic" columns, I'll write about any sports-related topic that comes to mind. That includes commenting on
The Current Sports Guy on occasion.

To start with, let's go back to the very first Sports Guy column. Sort of. They didn't give me much space at the
Times, so I expanded on the same subject years later when The Georgia Straight hired me to be one of a few pinch hitters for their sports columnist at the time, Kerry Banks, who was taking the summer off to write a book.

Here it is, where I lay out explicitly my strict definition of what constitutes a sport. From the summer of 1999:

by Guy MacPherson
The weekend of bogus sports is over and it’s on to the real thing. Goodbye, you funky-knickered golfers and alcohol- and cigarette-sponsored race-car drivers. It’s time for the real athletes to take over: baseball’s pennant race is in full swing, as are Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, who continute to swing for the fence every time up to bat; ice-hockey training camps open throughout the land (I qualify hockey with ice for those stubbornly holding onto hope that field hockey will ever make it into print); and it’s only weeks before the NBA starts bouncing back into our consciousness. Kinda makes the impending darkness of autumn easier to take.

The beauty of this time of year for Vancouver (motto: City of Losers) is that both the hockey and basketball teams are tied for first. The Canucks (motto: We Can’t Get Any Worse!), without the distractions of Pavel Bure and Mike Keenan, hope to rebound from a very forgettable season. The Grizzlies (motto: The Canucks Stole Our Motto) are going with a new look since general manager Stu Jackson learned that his title enables him to make trades. So it’s encouraging.

It always amazes me that the dailies are expected to criticize some professional organizations but treat others like family. Attach a corporate sponsorship to your event and you’re guaranteed puff pieces and your very own supplement. Don’t insult the golfers or they’ll get their knickers in a knot and stay away. Half the racers don’t even speak English or read our papers, so I don’t see why they get treated with kid gloves in the local press.

I realize there are those who will strongly disagree with my assessment of golf and car-racing as bogus sports. I’m willing to take the heat. Some of my closest friends are bogus-sports enthusiasts, so I’m used to it. In fact, I’ll anger a few more by lumping figure skating and virtually every other Olympic sport into that category. When ballroom dancing qualifies, you know there’s trouble. You want more? Just tune in to TSN at any time and flip a coin. Aerobics, darts, pro wrestling, fishing, bowling, on and on.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, as I have been forced, through threat of nonpayment, to cover such events for various other “sports” sections and publications. Indeed my rants against what are considered sports by the masses have appeared elsewhere almost biennially for years. It may be getting old, but on the off chance you’re not a regular reader of the Hicksville Weekly Swill, I humbly offer the set of criteriums (that’s how we wrote it at the Swill) I came up with to separate the sporting wheat from the bogus chaff:

  1. The event must require athleticism. Key word: require
  2. It must induce sweat from the activity itself rather than external forces such as the sun, engines, adrenaline, or being grossly out of shape.
  3. It must provide a clear-cut winner.
  4. Participants should accomplish the feat with their own feet (hands... what have you).
At the very minimum, a real sport should include all these. Extra points go to sports with numbered jerseys. Baseball fails number 1.but still qualifies under the numbered-jersey clause. (Bogus sports, by the way, are not to be confused with make-work sports like roller hockey, indoor soccer, arena football, and beach volleyball, which adhere to the criteria but which under no circumstances should be taken seriously.)

By these criteria – and excellent set, I think you’ll agree – you’ll never need wonder again what’s what. Bowling? Not a sport. Korfball? Sport. P├ętanque? Nope. Table tennis? Most definitely. Just follow the easy-to-use step-by-step guide. I’ll walk you through it.

Golf isn’t a sport because it fails numbers 1. and 2. Some golfers are athletic, but it is not a requirement of the game in order to excel at it. And, folks, please remember: I love golf. In fact, I recently placed sixth in a miniature-golf tournament. I even took home the Spirit Award, so don’t accuse me of being anti-golf. It’s a great game. Kick the Can is a great game, too, but it’s not a sport either (see point 1).

Racing enthusiasts disagree, but there’s no denying motor “sports” fail numbers 1, 2, and 4. They’ll tell you ad nauseam about the physical strains drivers go through, the muscular effort required to brace their heads against the phenomenal g-forces that can, literally, take their breath away. Yeah, whatever.

Figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and the like fail number 3. These are subjective events. Granted, they require athleticism, but so does ballet. We go to the ballet (theoretically speaking, of course) for the beauty of it, not to declare a winner. I don’t think anyone is served by having Karen Kain competing against Victoria Bertram for the prima-ballerina belt. And these events are, admittedly, beautiful. Admire them for what they are: ballet on ice, hardwood, and underwater.

And don’t even get me started on curling.

To further prove my point – and I don’t believe for an instant I should have to by now – consider the following inane exchange:

Fan A: Do you like sports?

Fan B: Oh, yeah, baby!

Fan A: Yeah? What are you favourite sports?

Fan B: Figure skating and ballroom dancing are my favourites, but I also love horse racing, the luge, and interpretive dance.

Fan A: Hey, interpretive dance isn’t a sport!

Fan B: It isn’t? Why not?

Fan B: Hmm. Good point.

If we accept this dialogue (Plato, eat your heart out), my grandmother is the biggest sports fan on the planet.


  1. I love this piece, loved it for years. Classic MacPherson at his best. In fact, I think The Sports Guy's* criteria should be used to eliminate some of the weak events that have sadly been allowed as "sports" in the Olympics.

    *That's "our" Sports Guy, not that other lower-cas(t?)e guy.

  2. Yes, this is pretty much a defining piece for you, isn't it Guy? It has also become a defining piece for me whenever I get into a discussion with a golfer or curler about why their chosen activities are NOT sports. Hilarious indignation inevitably ensues.

    Answer me this though, Guy. Why are your sports pieces funnier than your comedy ones?

  3. That's why I made it the first entry, Dan.

    Good question as to why the sports piece are funnier than the comedy ones. Maybe because I don't take sports as seriously as comedy. Maybe they were humour columns that just happened to be about sports. Maybe because I'm older and less funny. Maybe because I don't want to be competing with professional comedians – I'm there to write *about* comics and let them shine.

    There's a great quote by EB White about the subject: "Analyzing comedy is like dissecting a frog; few people are interested and the frog dies of it." I prefer the variation that you can learn lots about the frog, but it dies in the process.

  4. Interesting. I have used a similar argument for when I've been asked about why I write about movies but don't write about music. Namely, I take music much too seriously to put it to the scalpel.

    I really dig the EB White quote.

  5. I thought of another potential reason for why the sports stuff is funnier than the comedy stuff: The Sports Guy was a column. Columns are always more personal.