For several years, I played competitive racquetball- traveling all over the state and throughout the country. Dedicated to the sport, I was fortunate enough to play at Baldwin-Wallace College, which a couple years ago won the NCAA National Championship. I also had the privilege to play against the best players in the country, amateur and professional, many of which were from right here in Ohio.
Competitive and professional racquetball is much different than the sport most people think of when one mentions it. Though I am a bit partial on the matter, I would argue that their athletes are among the best in the world. The game is tough as nails, both powerful and lightening quick. The ball often travels, within its confined space, between 150-170 miles per hour. However, what is more amazing are the diving efforts put on by the game's top players. I have often commented in comparison to a baseball player that makes a diving catch, which sends the crowd into frenzy, that the top racquetball players make that play sometimes several times per rally- at much higher speeds and while getting out of the way of his or her opponent.
The hope for many involved in the sport is that it would make it onto ESPN, where not only would others be exposed to this great sport; it would also showcase the athletes that played it. To be fair, there is one big problem with racquetball and that is that it is not a great spectator sport- for two reasons. First, the television coverage does not do the sport justice; it is much faster than it appears on television. Secondly, it is a challenge to build and present a glass court that allows cameras to record the relevant action. That being said, it has been televised and ESPN has done a nice job in the past with its production. The problem, however, is that it is rarely on and when it is, it is usually on at two o'clock in the morning.
My complaint with ESPN has been when a lesser sport, again by my bias standards, was shown repeatedly and often in prime time (or at least not 2:00 am). While in recent years I have come to accept racquetball's fate on ESPN, the issue has resurfaced in my mind of late due to recent ESPN programming decisions. Three shows (though if I researched their programming schedule I am sure there would be many more) immediately come to mind- Texas Hold'em Poker, National Eating Competitions and a show on celebrity sneaker collections.
I am mindful of the fact that "sports programming" can be twisted to fit a number of definitions, but I would define "sport" as a competitive individual or team endeavor utilizing mind and body. However, by my definition, if it could not be included in physical education classes, it is not a sport. I could add some other criteria, like one must perspire while participating and the working out must actually benefit performance- but maybe I am being too narrow-minded.
Texas Hold'em Poker is certainly not a physical challenge and, in fact, it is gambling. I have nothing against the game itself or its popularity, or even against gambling, I just do not consider it a sport. It does contain skill and luck, but I do not anticipate the physical education teacher taking time to teach it along with Black Jack and Roulette in gym class.
The eating competition was a learning experience, as the "athletes" were very popular with their followers- signing autographs, trash talking and making dramatic entrances. While it does involve, to a very modest degree, physical and mental talents, it is more like "lunch" than physical education. Perhaps in the future, if the sport catches on, students will be asked to bring a few dozen hot dogs with them to school for gym class!
As for the "sports programming" that includes the display of celebrity sneaker collections, I am at a loss for words. I guess the "tie in" is that individuals that participated in sports once wore these sneakers.
Although the mission statement of ESPN reads, "to serve sports fans," I have no intention of campaigning ESPN to show "real" sports programming like racquetball and the many other sports that have thousands of immensely committed athletes- those athletes that train and compete for the love of the sport, not the love of money. In the same respect, I would probably not get too far anyway; for the "E" in ESPN did originally stand for "entertainment" (the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network). Apparently, there are those out there that find celebrity sneaker collections entertaining.