Tough Time Swallowing Eating as a Sport

By Jason Menard

The lead headline on the Nathan’s Web site reads, “World Readies for Hotly Anticipated Kobayashi – Chestnut Rematch.”

Really? It does?

OK, sure. 1.5 million people last year tuned into ESPN to watch the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating championship, but can we ease up on the hyperbole a little. After all, while competitive eating may live up to its name, it’s certainly not a sport. And I’m sure there’s not some guy in France saying, “Guillaume, viens-t’en. It’s time for zee stuffing of zee crazy people.” And that’s in a nation that’s crazy for fois gras!

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a very strict definition of what is and isn’t a sport. For one, I don’t believe that anything that deals explicitly in the realm of subjectivity should be considered a true sport. When you win based not upon what you do, but rather what a third-party think you have done, then it’s time to change the channel.

And I know this angers many people – especially fans of such non-sports like figure skating, gymnastics, and diving. Hey, I’m not saying they’re any worse than other sports, nor am I denying the incredible amount of effort, dedication, and training that goes into become an elite practitioner of those activities. But I don’t really see a difference between those aforementioned quote-unquote sports and disciplines such as ballet or other forms of dance.

In fact, all of these should be respected as art forms and appreciated as such. That’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t make them a sport.

That being said, by my definition competitive eating should be considered a sport. But come on… I know common sense isn’t all that common, but really. Let’s face it. Competitive eating is more circus sideshow than athletic endeavour. It’s safe to say that the 1.5 million people tuning in to this tournament either fell asleep at the remote, or enjoy rubbernecking at accidents on the highway.

After all, that’s what this event is – a train wreck. We’re subjected to watching people shoveling food down their throats in a manner that’s equal parts repulsive and revolting. Like NASCAR fans waiting for the inevitable multi-car pile up, some competitive eating fans wait for that serendipitous moment when vomit enters the equation.

Sorry, I’ll pass. This is no more of a sport than if I decided to start a league to see who can hit themselves in the head the most times with a ball-pein hammer. In fact, maybe I should suggest that and see if we can get a cross-over league going – after all, ESPN is sure to fork over the dough.

Beyond the inane spectacle of watching people force hot dogs down their gullet or whatever other gustatory challenge lies before them, the fact of the matter is that this sport is dangerous. After all, we only have to remember back to September when a Chubby Bunny contest that involved seeing who could pack the most marshmallows into one’s mouth went horrible wrong.

And let’s not forget about what this is doing to the athlete’s bodies. At a time when legitimate sports like football, baseball, and cycling, along with its illegitimate pseudo sport cousin wrestling are under the gun for not showing enough concern for the long-term effects of performance-enhancing drugs or concussions, why is competitive eating exempt from this scrutiny?

After all, Joey Chestnut’s world record performance of 59 ½ hot dogs in 12 minutes meant that he ingested 18,000 calories – or roughly nine days worth of the recommended caloric intake for an average person. And let’s not forget the 2,000 grams of fat – which represents a whopping 18 days worth of fat at one sitting.

I guess it’s all fun and games until someone blows an artery. And can anyone actually argue that these competitors aren’t going to be subject to long-term health ramifications resulting from their participation in various eating competitions?

Hey, I’m all in favour of social Darwinism. I figure if you’re dumb enough to wolf down half a month’s worth of fat in one sitting, then you probably missed a few rungs on the evolutionary ladder. So maybe I’m more concerned with those who sit and watch this spectacle – encouraging its growth.

Then again, from the circus geeks who would eat live animals to the travelling performers who impale themselves for our pleasure, society’s always shown that it loves a good freak show. And I guess that’s a void that competitive eating is trying to fill, one hot dog at a time.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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