Sunday, February 14, 2010

But Is It A Sport: Curling (Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!)

You might think that with the end of football, I've got nothing more to say about sports. You'd be wrong -- partially -- because the fact is, I've got nothing much to say about sports...but that was true during the football season, too.

With the end of football, I can focus my sports-related attention on other things that aren't necessarily "football" or "making jokes about Packers fans and pointing out how stupid they are," or "pointing out that everyone gets on Brett Favre about ending his season with an interception on 3rd-and-long but things look a little different once Peyton Manning does the same thing, am I right?" Through the long, cold offseason (and, yes, it's always cold in Wisconsin, even in May and June and July), I think about other sports topics, topics like Is that thing really a sport?

That's the genesis of "But Is It A Sport?", another feature of my old, defunct sports blog (it's this now) that I'm resurrecting here. In But Is It A Sport? I analyze whether a given activity is, or is not, a sport. I've done this already in the past for a great many things, but those posts are deleted and so I can do it again, starting all over with the task that falls onto my shoulders -- my shoulders because I'm a natural born authority on everything from possibly-right statistics to words that are so lame they're cool -- the task of determining whether that thing is a sport.

Today's Thing-That-May-Be-A-Sport is... Curling!

The Basics: Curling is like shuffleboard, only slower, and using things your mom handed you when she wanted some help around the house.

In curling, teams of two to four players slide a large stone (or "rock") down the rectangular square of ice (or "sheet") to a target on the other end (the "house".) The game consists of ten rounds (or "ends"), with each "end" being the "throwing" (but not really) of 16 stones (or "God, that's a long round").

One player takes the rock, and kneeling down, "throws" it by shoving gently forward and caressing the rock towards the other target. Once the rock is released, the sweepers jump into action... sweeping. They use specially made brooms (or "brushes") to guide the rock, helping direct its path and extend the throw. (Or "really? They use brooms?") There is apparently yelling during this time, and players may use a stopwatch to help determine something or other.

There are three kinds of shots, which seems impossible given that it's a slow-moving large rock on a straight sheet of ice, so I'll just name them and move on: They are the the guard, the draw, and the takeout.

Once all the rocks are thrown and the ice has been fully cleaned, or something, the score is added up by using math, specifically, geometry, kind of. A team gets one point for each its rocks that are closer to the center of the house (or "button") than the other team's closest stone. Got all that? I thought I gave up those kinds of calculations midway through 10th grade when Mr. Mulrooney stopped teaching to me and focused on the rest of the class.

There's also something about a biter which, sadly, is not an opponent chosen to try to interfere with the sweepers.

How much cooler would this picture
be if that lady in the back was about
to tackle one of the sweepers and gnaw
off her arm. 73% cooler, that's how much.

Does It Use Specialized Equipment That Costs A Lot Of Money? This is one of the first, and most important, criteria for being a sport. Things that don't use lots of equipment and cost tons of money to play can never be sports, because if you don't need lots of money and tons of equipment, then theoretically, anyone can do it, at any time -- like, say, running. Anyone can just get up and run, whenever they feel like it, unless they're being interviewed by Regis Philbin. Or soccer: all that takes is something round, and some space, and you're playing soccer. Or being a lawyer: All you have to do is own a tie, and talk.

That's why none of those things qualifies as a sport, or gets respect. Curling, then, must have specialized equipment that costs a lot to play or it may not make the cut as a sport.

Curling uses rocks and brooms. That's it. And ice. Rocks, brooms, and ice. Or, as it could be paraphrased, life in the upper midwest.

Sorry, curlers: a rock is a rock, even if one does cost $475.

$475: Or about 1/2 an average mortgage payment.

Quite literally free for the taking.

Does It Have Big Names?
To have a chance at being a sport an activity has to have big, recognizable household names, the kinds of people kids will hang posters of and who might show up in a cameo role in an Adam Sandler movie. Googling the phrase most famous curler leads one to this headline from this site:

Corner team stocked with famous curlers
Former world champs McCarrel and Tetley on board, Ryan on standby

So there are famous curlers, curlers with names like McCarrell and Tetley, which sound like famous-sports-guy names. The article, though, appears to be not so much about McCarrell and Tetley, but about Corner, and how he was maybe going to retire or something. I'm not sure, actually, what the article is about. I just skimmed it. But I did read this paragraph:

"I was really tired of the game," said Corner, 40. "Tired of competitive curling and all the travel, the time away and never having summer holidays. I'd been doing it since 1988 and I just felt I wasn't getting the same feeling out of the game. The passion wasn't there, so it was time to step back."

In curling, Word Balloons are
mandatory equipment.

And thought, instantly, how there might be a market for a new kind of sports movie, one about curling. It would start with a shot of Corner, standing in his home, staring at all the Purple Hearts he's won (that's the award that you get for winning the Ontario title in curling), and the pictures of those years on the road with McCarrell and Tetley, and thinking about hanging up the ol' rock, when McCarrell calls him up.

"Did you hear?" McCarrell says to Corner, who hasn't heard because he's been pensively staring at things. So McCarrell tells him: "Tetley's dead, Corner. It was a tragic accident. One of the biters on a guard shot didn't cross the tee line, and that was it for him." So Corner decides to have one last round and try to win it all for Tetley. I call it Blank End (after the curling term for an end in which no stones make it to the House.)

But until that, or some other great curling movie gets made, the two most famous curlers in history aren't exactly household names. And one of them might be dead -- that's what I heard on the Internet.

The lack of any great curling movies (I assume; it's Sunday and I'm too lazy to google it) leads me to question whether curling will meet the next test, which is:

Is It On TV? It can't be a sport unless it's televised. You know that old saying about a tree falling in the forest when nobody's around, so we'd all become fishermen or something? Isn't that a dumb saying? But it does go to show that if your activity is not on TV, it's not a sport.

Curling, apparently, will be on TV now that the Olympics are here again. Doesn't it seem like the Olympics have become an annual thing, or something that's always going on? I disliked the idea of alternating the Winter and Summer Games when it was first proposed, and I've been proven right (as always) because the Olympics are no longer a once-every-four-years special event stretching throughout the whole year; now they're always there and they last a couple of weeks and if they don't feature Michael Phelps, nobody cares. (Luckily for NBC, Phelps is competing in the Biathlon this year.)

But curling will be on TV, according to, and will also feature a "grandad," a guy who is the oldest member of the US Olympic team -- maybe the whole team, not just the curlers -- and who I was all ready to make fun of being old until I realized he's six months younger than I am.

Plus, he looks like
a movie star.

I adapted to other athletes and celebrities being, for the most part, younger than I am and still told they were old -- like Brett Favre, who's considered old and is a year younger than me. I always figured Well, they only seem old because it's a very physical, demanding thing they do and so it's hard to do that well when one gets into the 30s or 40s. But now, I learn that 41 is old for... sweeping. Great.

I didn't know if curling was only on TV during the Olympics, or whether it was only on TV at those times that channels are desperate to televise something, like Sunday afternoons or opposite the Super Bowl, so I double-checked on ESPN, and learned that the curling matches are already over for the entire Olympics. The Olympics which are, as I write this, 36 hours old.

I can see where this is heading.

Does it have an arcane rule that only a total insider could understand? Great sports have great rules: Football has the tuck rule, for example, a rule that appears not only to mean the exact opposite of what it's titled, but also which makes no sense when you get into the details of it. It's great rules that sound contradictory and make no sense which allow activities to rise to the level of sports, making the presence of at least one arcane rule a necessity to qualify as a sport.

And arcane rules allow one to claim confusion and
get away with certain liberties, right Mr. Belicheat?

Curling seems promising -- the Potomac Curling Club's site has four different versions of rules, including one called Skins Rules, which turned out not to be for naked curling but was instead for a "more aggressive" version of the game. Will it let people hit each other with the brooms? Let's see:

Sadly, no. But they do have a rule which allows for players to use something called "Draw Shot Distance" at the end of pre-game practice to determine who will throw First or Second Stone, and if that doesn't do it, then the teams will use their "Draw Shot Challenge" ranking to decide that, and if that doesn't do it, they toss a coin. That's arcane enough for me, and if a coin toss was enough to determine who would sign first at Appomattox Courthouse, it's good enough for everyone.

Which brings us to the final criteria: Can You Get Seriously Injured Playing The Sport? Anything that's really a sport carries with it the prospect of cool sports injuries, the kind of cool sports injuries that lead fans to go Ooooooh! when they happen, and cheerleaders to dote on the players while they heal up, and eventually, an orthopedic surgeon to get a new condo on Vail.

Did you know that orthopedic doctors used to just be called orthopedic doctors, until Baby Boomers starting getting older and needing orthopedic doctors, only the Boomers (who didn't change the world in the 60s) wouldn't go to an orthopedic doctor, because they felt that was for old people, and, as Roger Daltrey famously sang:

"Hope I die before I suck it up and go see an orthopedist for that nagging knee injury I got when I tried to see if I could dunk the Nerf Basketball in the backyard"

So doctors solved that problem by changing their name to Sports Medicine, and now boomers go happily. Yet another reason to pity Boomers and put them in nursing homes as quickly as possible.

I'm sure the nursing home will have curling.

Anyway, Curling must have at least the potential for injury if it's going to be a sport, and, unfortunately, potential is all it has. Curling seems tailor-made for injury: rocks, ice, and sticks: it could be like hockey, only with a far heavier object to hit at your brother and make him cry. But nothing happens. Here's an amazing shot, by curling standards:

That was a lot of yelling and shouting and all, for what amounted to a bunch of women cleaning up after something. And that was one of the fastest shots I've seen in curling. Most of the time, it's not even that fast. Most of the time, nothing appears to be happening.

The Verdict: Curling is sometimes called "chess on ice," which tells you pretty much all you need to know: Anything that can be compared to chess is emphatically not a sport. Chess on Ice would probably be more of a sport. Especially if it was Live-Action Role Playing Chess On Ice.

How come, in fact, Live Action Role Playing Chess is not already a sport? It's been more than 30 years since George Lucas showed us that little chess game on the Millennium Falcon, the one where the pieces battle it out on the board; how has nobody yet come up with the idea of having actual people dress up like actual pieces on the Chess board, and then battle it out for real? I think Live Action Chess should be added to the Summer Games 2010 roster immediately.

As for Curling: Not A Sport.

Update: After finishing the above, I checked to see if there already was Live Action Chess, and I found out that

(a), there is:


(b) That is so the opposite of what I was thinking, and
(c) Seriously, who are those people? And why are there furries there?

No comments: