Friday, October 23, 2009

Does Sports Terminology Matter?

Posted By on Fri, Oct 23, 2009 at 3:21 PM

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I've been drawn into some pointless debates, and it happened again this week when I was corrected by a "cyclist" for (not) using the term "biker" in a story about a person who rides a bicycle.

Not guilty on the language tort, but more on that later. The more interesting question is how much influence the sports intelligentsia should exercise in making public policy. Less than they think, is my opinion.

There is a self-destructive tendency for sports know-it-alls — I include myself — to screw up the sports they love. Instead of making their sport more accessible to strangers, they build entry barriers around it. Participants must wear the proper gear, use the proper terminology, partake of the right events, join the proper league, receive the correct coaching, and acquire worldly sophistication. And I am not, by the way, talking about the bicyclist (the term preferred by the New York Times, or at least used in Friday's edition in a story about a northeastern bike trail) I wrote about, Anthony Siracusa, whose Revolutions concept could not be more democratic or commendable.

I admire the passion of sports hardcores but am wary of giving them the keys to the public till or the leadership of the planning committee. If I had my way, indoor racquet sports would be in every fitness and community center, but I have a distorted view of the popularity of such sports. Casual participants see it differently.

A couple of examples. Wearing whites (ala Federer at Wimbledon) was the norm in tennis tournaments 40 years ago, then the dam cracked and the fashion parade (ala Nadal at Roland Garros) began. No harm there, the sport boomed. A second example: dark-soled shoes mark up indoor hardwood floors, particularly when the floors are unfinished, as squash courts are. But students often ignore the signs banning them and wear running shoes. Throw them off? No. They should play. We decided to provide free gum-soled non-marking shoes at the courts.

Back to bikes. I suggested that Memphis is borderline bike friendly because it's flat and has lots of wide streets that, if you choose your time and day, are little used by motorized gasoline-powered personal vehicles, also known as cars. Plus, Mud Island (free to bikes going over the monorail and up and down the elevators), Tom Lee Park and Greenbelt Park (wide sidewalks), and Overton Park (no cars in the old forest), to name only three, are very bike friendly, granted that you have to safely get there first. I have biked often and safely in Midtown and downtown for 20 years but would not think of riding to East Memphis.

A serious cyclist (him? her? just not a "biker") disagrees, and thinks serious cyclists should lead the planning for connecting parts of the city via marked bike routes and dedicated bike lanes in Midtown and downtown and not just the suburbs. Memphis has a long way to go.

Excellent suggestions, and fine with me, to a point. The point being, we all get our say, we don't all get our way. The more insistent and pedantic we are, the longer it seems to take to get anything done. I hope the proposed bike trail on the old railroad between Midtown and Shelby Farms gets done in my lifetime, but I wonder.

A marked lane doesn't make a busy street bike friendly. Neither do idiotic discussions about terminology. Face it, we're a nuisance to some drivers. Bicycle riders of Memphis, unite. No matter what you call yourselves. Now about those pants.

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