NASCAR: Are drivers athletes?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 31, 2011

By Scott Adamson
Scripps Howard News Service
Twitter, the invention that allows human beings to connect with other human beings via short, misspelled messages, has become quite popular among celebrities — especially celebrity athletes.
Why talk when you can tweet? Having actual verbal conversations with people is so 1990.
Of course all it takes is one tweet to get a lot of people squawking, and that was the case recently when a professional football player revived the debate over whether or not racecar drivers are athletes.
Seattle Seahawks wideout Golden Tate started a controversy when he tweeted that NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, who also has an Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year title to go with five consecutive Sprint Cup championships, is not an athlete.
His first tweet said, “driving a car does not show athleticism” and later added “Gurantee (sic) he couldn’t in million year (sic) play any SPORT. I’ve driven a car on unknown roads at night at 90 mph no big deal. No sign of athletism (sic).
Naturally NASCAR fans and some drivers took offense, letting Tate know he knows not of what he tweets.
Johnson has invited Tate, a Notre Dame alum, to come to the track and find out what it’s all about, while other NASCAR competitors insist the skill it takes to negotiate a machine around asphalt for four hours make them athletes.
OK, let’s clear this up once and for all.
If you go by the definition of “athlete” provided by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, racecar drivers are, indeed, athletes.
Here it is:
“A person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina.”
Although I’ve never driven 500 miles on a closed course at 180 miles per hour, I can safely say the feat at least requires agility and stamina, if not physical strength.
Granted, it’s not enough evidence to stop people from arguing about it because determining what an athlete is or is not is clearly the most important issue facing our world today.
Those who insist NASCAR is not a sport and drivers are not athletes will point out the fact that anyone can drive.
This is not true.
Take I-85 from Greenville, S.C. to Atlanta and over the course of the trip you will encounter hundreds if not thousands of people who cannot drive.
Trust me.
And ESPN, the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports, has proclaimed Secretariat the 35th greatest athlete of the 20th century.
Secretariat, in case you missed it, wasn’t even a person. He was a horse.
And he couldn’t drive at all. Well, maybe he could drive an automatic, but certainly not stick shift.
I’ve really thought about this whole “what makes an athlete an athlete” issue long and hard and here’s what I’ve determined:
I don’t care.
If you think NASCAR is a sport and think drivers are athletes, that’s fine.
If you do not think NASCAR is a sport and do not think drivers are athletes, that’s fine.
Watch sports you want to watch, even if some people don’t consider them sports.
Cheer for athletes you want to cheer for, even if not everyone considers them athletes.
It just doesn’t matter, folks.