VETTEL: Time To Define Athlete?

Perhaps no people in competitive activity had better years than Tiger Woods and Lorena Ochoa. The two dominated professional golf this year, winning a half dozen or so events and setting money earnings records and the like. No I don’t want to offend them, or anyone who engages in the game of golf at the highest level, but as far as I’m concerned, they are not “athletes”.

I bring this up because Woods and Ochoa were named world wide athletes of the year by the Associated Press. In a year that brought us LaDainian Tomlinson and Vince Young, Tiger is the best “athlete” in the world? In a year that brought us two majors for Amelie Mauresmo and another great season for Lisa Leslie, Ochoa is the “athlete” of the year? There’s just no way!

Ten Reasons Golfers are not Athletes

10. No athlete ever had his/her best season while 30+ pounds overweight.

9. Athletes do not smoke a cigarette during competition.

8. Athletes do not wear knickers under any circumstances.

7. Athletes never have to worry about losing to their grandfather.

6. Athletes do not make it through the year never having walk so much as a quarter of a mile (tops) without stopping.

5. Athletes do not compete while someone else carries their equipment.

4. Athletes do not call penalties on themselves.

3. Athletes do not routinely wait ten minutes between the “action.”

2. Athletes are rarely if ever at their peak in their mid 30’s/early 40’s.

1. Athletes do not expect everyone within a half mile to stop moving and remain completely quiet while they ply their craft.

No don’t get me wrong. I know golf can be a physical grind on a hilly course and that golfers need nerves of steel and precise hand-eye coordination, but that does not make them athletes — at least not in my mind. Then again there are a number of others whose exploits are found on the sports page that I don’t consider athletes, either. Bowlers, for example are not athletes. Many of the above golf references work for bowlers as well. Race car drivers are not athletes. I know the NASCAR junkies will fry me over this one, but if you can compete while sitting down you aren’t an athlete. Yeah, they sweat a lot more than golfers do, but they still sit throughout their competition. Maybe if they had to change their own tires I’d re-consider but I doubt it. Yes, Lance Armstrong could sit most of the time, but he had to push the pedals a helluva harder than the driver does.

For better or worse, here is my definition of an athlete:

Someone who engages in athletic competition that demands such qualities as strength, speed, endurance, agility and skill. An athlete may make use of “equipment,” but the equipment cannot do most of the work.

No, this isn’t a fool proof definition, but it serves to point out that there is a difference between athletic competition and “games.” In horse racing, I view the horse as the athlete, not the jockey. Golf and bowling are games of skill, not athletic competitions. Auto racing is every bit a competition of pit crews and racing “teams” as it is drivers versus driver.

Then again, you might think differently.

Later, we can debate the definition of a “sport.”

Back to the original issue, my vote for the Male Athlete of the Year should have been Vince Young who opened 2006 with the most incredible individual performance in college football history and ended it by elevating a terrible team into playoff contention and likely claiming rookie of the year honors. The Female Athlete of the Year should be Mauresmo who won two grand slam singles titles.