Galloway: Are drivers athletes?


Columnist Noah Galloway debates the merits of referring to race car drivers as athletes. 

Noah Galloway

Google’s definition of athlete is “a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise.” First of all, race car drivers don’t need to excel or be proficient in physical exercise, considering they are sitting the entire duration of the “athletic event.”

Secondly, the definition Google provides for sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” This would include improvisational actors/actresses and certain board games such as Dutch Blitz, Jeopardy and Chess. Obviously, this creates a definite grey area in which there isn’t a clear cutoff for the sport threshold, which is to say some doubt should creep in regarding this debate.

I think it’s safe to say Google is wrong about the definition of a sport, considering what activities would be included within the definition. I’ve created a new definition of a sport. 

My definition would be something on the order of: For a game to be considered a sport, the human must be the primary force of movement within the boundaries of an event. I think it’s unreasonable to throw a human on an animal or in a car and call them athletes within a sport. Or, we could break sports into two different definitions.

A new definition should be created that would provide tiers or levels of “athletic sport.” You might see driving and chess at the bottom of the tiers. It would make sense that golf and baseball would be in the middle. Basketball and both types of football might be near the top. 

Alternatively, you could keep sport and add the definition of “mental sport,” where peak strength and cardiovascular endurance isn’t necessary and the primary objective is mental coordination, along with technique that doesn’t require excessive physical strain. Mental sports would include driving, jeopardy, chess and golf. 

On the other side, a “physical sport” is the opposite — peak physical conditioning is required. This includes American and European football, basketball, track and field and numerous other sports. 

The most difficult activity to place is baseball, considering pitchers can be very overweight and still be successful. Outfielders are likely in phenomenal shape, having to sprint to catch baseball’s careening over the field. Same goes with kickers in the NFL: much of the difficulty is the mental fortitude to be calm and collected while lining up for a game-winning field goal. 

Obviously, sports and athletes are all along a spectrum as far as physical conditioning needed for their game. I also think it’s fair to say the definitions of “sport” and “athlete” are too broad. We need to create new definitions to properly place athletes in different categories. In 2009, Jimmie Johnson won AP’s top male athlete. Being a reasonable human, it’s hard to picture someone being athlete of the year when physical conditioning is of little importance. 

Let’s be clear: This argument is not black and white, and it’s so difficult to create categories of who we think are legitimate athletes. There is an event in which runners complete 135 miles through Death Valley in the heat of the summer. These athletes have unbelievable physical and mental conditioning. I think it’s fair for them to be dismissive of the guy who sits down in a car and drives while calling himself an athlete. I personally don’t consider race car drivers athletes, but I would love to hear a counterargument!

Noah Galloway is a senior in psychology.