Some sporting victories are unequivocal. There is no debate. There is no question over who won and who lost, and there is no further discussion on strategy, tactics, rule interpretations, and/or alternate outcomes. The winner is the winner, and the loser is the loser. For example, there is rarely any discussion over the shot put. Whoever throws the giant iron ball the farthest wins. You can't even complain about the wind, as a gale-force zephyr would not alter the arc of a sixteen pound lump of metal.
But not every sport is like the shot put. Compare the images . . . synchronized swimming is not like the shot put. It's more subjective. You need to evaluate a lot of subjective criteria. You can't just vote for the hottest chicks in the most revealing swimsuits.
Or maybe you can.
You see the problem here. There is a continuum of objectivity/subjectivity in sports. Some sports are inarguably true and some sports are completely subjective. And I believe there is a correlation between the amount of deception (or "gamesmanship," if you like euphemisms . . . or "cheating," if you don't) and the amount of subjectivity in the sport. I'm certainly not trying to put together a comprehensive list here, nor am I completely confident in my rankings . . . but I'd like to open the discussion. I did my research, and I could not find a single article on the internet that ranks sports from subjective to objective, and neither could I find an article which ranks the corresponding levels of deception -- and so I will give it my best shot, and you guys can do the hard thinking in the comments.
Obviously, the most truthful and objective sport is the shot put. There are a bunch of rules for throwing the shot put, but I think those were created just so shot putters had something to say about their sport. Can you really throw the thing any farther if you break the rules?
Target sports: archery, darts, jarts, corn-hole, bowling, skeet-shooting, etc. These are mainly dead on. The only reason they are slightly below the shot put on the continuum of objectivity is because of the one-on-one nature of the matches. You might be able to mention something about a tail-wind or the oil on the lanes or the lack of friction on the corn-hole board and slightly change the way your opponent approaches the target, but this isn't going to work for long, as empirical evidence is going to override your poor attempt at gamesmanship rather quickly. Also, if everyone is drunk enough and can't see straight or do basic math, then you can pad your score in darts.
Running. The clock doesn't lie . . . but you can! But I don't think telling the rest of the folks in the pack that you're not even a little tired as you ascend Heartbreak Hill has much effect on anyone's time (other than your own, because you've depleted your oxygen levels trying to trash-talk). You can draft a bit and work in tandem to box competitors out during the longer running events, but if you do this in the 100 meter dash, then you're disqualified.
Golf. Fairly clear cut. If the ball goes in the hole, there's not much to talk about. There is some deception as far as clubbing goes . . . but it's subtle. You can't actually club your opponent with a seven-iron, though that would boost the ratings exponentially, nor can you act as if you are in da club and dance around your opponent as he addresses the ball, while your caddy plays trap music from a Say Anything boombox. What you can do, however, when your ball goes flying over the green and into a sewage ditch, is say, "I should have hit a six iron," even though you actually hit a four iron. This will make your opponent think you can skull a seven iron 210 yards, and perplex him into submission.
You can also lie about how the green breaks -- it's good to use classic aphorisms, such as: "this one always breaks towards the water" and then point towards the Caspian Sea. And if everyone you're playing against is three-sheets-to-the-wind, and you're in a deep pot-hole bunker, then you can chuck your ball out and no one will be the wiser.
Tennis. Tennis mainly is makes sense. If it goes over the net and stays within the lines (or hits any part of them) then it's in. The only major elements of deception are spin and wearing a really short skirt that shows off your incredible legs -- but the latter only works if your opponent is a lesbian. Aside from those tactics, however, there isn't too much subjectivity and deception, except that most of us don't have a Hawk-Eye line calling system at our disposal, and so we have to call our own lines. I'll let you in on a secret . . . if you play me in tennis, I'll give you the first questionable call, and then I'll call the next sixteen in my favor.
Basketball. As much as it's fun to complain about the refs in basketball, each team gets a LOT of possessions. Things actually have a chance to even out. Everyone walks. And there's nothing more unequivocal than the sound of a swish. It's the sound of truth. A team can get a few good calls and a few good rolls, but statistically, there's no such thing as a streak shooter. Despite the amount of subjectivity in any team sport refereed by humans, the numbers are big enough in basketball to let the better team prevail.
Baseball. Yikes. Called balls and strikes. Spitballs and corked bats. Pine tar. There is a certain truth to catching the ball before it hits the ground, or knocking it out of the park, but there's a lot of deception in between. Calling pitches is artistic deception, but giving (and stealing) signs is pure prevarication (my friend Kevin is a varsity softball coach, and I am assuming none of his rivals read this blog, so I'll reveal something deceptive that his team uses: ALL his hand signals are fake . . . the coaches sign continuously and preposterously, but none of it mean anything, because all their actual signs are verbal, so when the third base coach touches her cap, pulls her hand across her breasts, and then grabs her crotch, none of it means a thing (although it's very sexy), but when she tells the runner to "be smart" then it means she should steal).
Football. We all saw what happened last year when the real referees went on strike. Without a team of people who know the rules really well, you can't even play this game properly. There are so many ways to cheat at football, that it's not even worth listing them.
Soccer. Good lord. I coach soccer, and the main thing I try to teach children is that soccer is lying. You pretend to go this way . . . and then you go that way. You pretend to pass . . . and then you dribble. You pretend to shoot . . . and then you get fouled. Or maybe it wasn't a foul. But you fall down and hold your knee anyway. You yell and scream. Then you get a penalty shot, and your team wins and you are the hero.
The incentives to deceive in soccer are so far beyond the incentives to deceive at shot put, that the two sports might barely be in the same category of activity.. No matter how much I pretend that my shot put is going to go really far, or my bowling ball is going to knock all the pins down, no matter how much I sell it, people are going to know the truth soon. But with soccer, there are times when you'll never know, even with a replay. Did he hit him hard enough to knock him off the ball? Were his studs up? Was that from behind, or from the side? Shoulder or arm? Did he take a dive or was he actually fouled? If the player is deceptive enough, you'll never know. And then there is offsides . . . the penalty that is literally and scientifically impossible to call.
The histrionics of coaching soccer are extraordinarily different from the quiet logic of helping someone with their golf swing, or even the frantic tactical play-calling of basketball. I have coached all three, and I love the totally fucked up nature of soccer. I am working the referee from the moment I meet him, because the referee really matters in soccer. Even if it's a U-8 game. Especially if it's a U-8 game. That's disturbing. I am also constantly mentally manipulating my players -- including my son -- because that's the only way to get children to continue to play a game that is futile, impossible, random, and unfair. There is also the problem of the law of small numbers (also known as the Poisson distribution) which makes sports like soccer and hockey incredibly specious, and then when you add in the high levels of subjective refereeing and the even higher levels of deceptive play -- the flopping and faking and diving -- then you have to consider that the entire sport is suspect . . . which is not to say that you can't be incredibly skillful at it, but half the fun is cheating.
Diving, gymnastics, surfing and figure-skating. These sports are beyond the pale. They are so subjective that no one except the judges know the criteria . . . even the commentators are often baffled by the decisions. The nice thing about these sports is that they are so skillful and graceful, that no one actually cares who wins. Everyone is impressed that anyone can achieve these feats. But, of course, when people just gawk at your ability, but no longer relate to it, then you are something of a freak. Your best bet in these sports is to simply pay off the judges. Or get involved in a parlay.
Obviously I haven't mentioned a number of sports. Curling, for example. The sport looks fairly straightforward to me, but Wikipedia makes this claim:
"A great deal of strategy and teamwork goes into choosing the ideal path and placement of a stone for each situation, and the skills of the curlers determine how close to the desired result the stone will achieve. This gives curling its nickname of Chess On Ice."
And so Summer Dave -- who, ironically, hates the heat -- is off to Bemidji, Minnesota. Bemidji is one of the coldest places in the continental United States, and it is also home of the renowned Bemidji Curling Club, which has produced a long line of champions. I hope to come back with a greater knowledge of the sport, and I especially hope to interview this beautiful curling babe.