The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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October 10, 2013

The United Sports of America: What should your state's official sport be?

If the United States had an official sport, what would it be? Baseball can call itself the national pastime until the sun burns out, but the correct answer is good old American football. Next question: If every state in the union had to choose an official sport, what would they pick? Football, football, lacrosse, football, skiing, football, football . . . and Alaska gets the one with sled dogs. But what if you had to assign one sport to each state, and could use each of those sports just once? How would you disperse our favorite pastimes among the 50 states and Washington?

Now that's a more interesting parlor game. Only 12 states have bothered to name any kind of "official sport," which leaves a lot of room to impose one's sporting will on the American people. Alas, there must be rules, lest this barroom argument descend into anarchy. Here are my four commandants.

1. No two states can have the same sport. The most important rule of them all. If we declare that Calvinball belongs to West Virginia, then it's off the board — no other state can have it.

2. Sports can be atomized. An immediate exception to Rule No. 1. Some states prefer college football to pro, some prefer high school basketball to college. Allowing different states to own different flavors of the same sport reflects the reality of the American landscape. It also makes it possible to create a map without stooping to include "sports" like pinochle and punch buggy.

3. A sport can be anything that is plausibly a sport. Yeah, punch buggy and high-speed multiplication probably shouldn't count, but I'm no stickler. Competition is a necessity, but sticks and balls are not required. Wife-carrying, chess boxing, noodling — you're all welcome (at least theoretically) in these United Sports of America. But I draw the line at metaphors. However fitting it may seem, politics is not and will not be the official sport of Washington.

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