Who let these dogs out?
Bruce Steinberg knows what is not a sport
On July 4, the prestigious sports channel ESPN aired a "sporting" event which drew nearly two million viewers. These viewers got to watch 40,000 spectators who were at Coney Island to witness 20 people imitate cats in the throes of coughing up humongous furballs.
This self-proclaimed sporting event broadcast over a premiere sports news channel was a hotdog eating contest in which winner Joey Chestnut ate 6.2 hot dogs and 6.2 buns a minute on average for 10 minutes, winning him $10,000, just as soon as he could prove he could keep the onslaught of mush down. You see, the hotdog eating contest sporting rules provide, in perhaps history's finest example of euphemistic wordplay, a "reversal of fortune" simply is not allowed.
My wife, son and I, while sitting down for a meal at a restaurant in a well known Wisconsin family resort, had the misfortune of witnessing a few moments of this thing masquerading as a sporting event on a major sports channel. The images haunt us to this day. I'm withholding the name of the place because the restaurant manager had the tasteful sense to respond to our gagging plea to change the channel with, "Who put that awful thing on? No wonder why those other people ran out!" and immediately changed the station to a Chicago Cubs game. This, in some ways, was also gag inducing, but only for Cub fans, which thankfully we are not.
Before the channel could be changed, the widescreen TV high on the wall displayed the fits and spasms of "athletes" trash compacting hotdogs and water soaked buns (yes, water-soaked buns) with their mouths. Believe me, the aforementioned feline furball analogy was apt. At least with cats, it's a necessary and productive thing for them to do. Gesticulate on the singular thought of ingesting just one water soaked bun and you'll agree by comparison that the image of a cat expelling a furball is downright romantic.
My regular group of Cafeteria Lawyers have often engaged in debates over what comprises a sport. Around Birkie time each year, I hear from the one smoker in the group that cross-country skiing for citizen racers is not a sport because the skiers aren't competing against anybody else; that, to be a sport, a person must compete against another person or team. When I point out we're competing against ourselves, he replies, "Oh, that's just pure, unadulterated socialism. It's no wonder why you guys do your thing wearing shiny leotards, fanny packs and elf shoes."
The two vegetarians at the Cafeteria Lawyer table countered by insisting the American icons of baseball and football definitely do not qualify as sports. Those players train for game days by running and performing other sporting activities, while the baseball and football games themselves involve a whole lot of standing around waiting for something to happen for a few seconds. That's about as exciting as watching retired folks gathered at a bus stop.
That's when the first-ever fight broke out among the Cafeteria Lawyers. Not to worry, though. If you've ever watched lawyers fight I think you'd all agree that the ensuing slapfest doesn't amount to much of a sport either.
I have turned to my household dictionary for help in determining just what a sport is. This tome has the words "Merriam Webster" printed on its cover in gold over red, and it's five inches thick, so you've got to believe what it says is the absolute truth. To wit, "sport" as a noun, definition 1(a): "a source of diversion." 1(b): "sexual play." 1(c): "physical activity engaged in for pleasure or a particular activity so engaged in."
I need a new dictionary. Obviously mine was written by anarchist couch potatoes.
Look, if "a source of diversion" is the number one definition of "sport," then not only is a hotdog eating contest a sport but so is cleaning up after the hotdog eating contestants. I mean whether purged back out the intake manifold or pushed through the tail pipe, all those hotdogs and water soaked buns eventually have to end up somewhere. That'd be a heck of a post-game show, right? And if "sexual play" defines the word "sport" then all of us willing participants ought to be entitled to at least two quarters with a decent half-time show in between.
As a silent sports enthusiast, I will take it upon myself to define the word "sport": "An activity in which the participant propels his or her own body in a purposeful direction by means of his or her own physical exertion, which raises the heart and respiratory rates of the participant at a noticeably sustained level for at least 20 minutes, with repeated intervals of high exertion and rest also acceptable." I have to admit that my definition of "sport" could include "sexual play," but only for a negligible percentage of the population.
Under my definition, of course, golf would not be a sport. Face it, golfers: While there certainly are physically fit golfers, playing golf itself has had nothing to do with making them fit. Rather, the ability to hit a golf ball as desired is a skill that can be accomplished while riding around in a shaded cart, interrupted ever so often by one split second of exertion, followed by a margarita chaser.
Besides runners, cyclists, swimmers, paddlers and cross-country skiers, my list of sports practitioners would include ballerinas, figure skaters, gymnasts and dancers. And why not? Want to compare Kristi Yamaguchi's heart rate, flexibility, stamina, body fat percentage and cholesterol level with that of your average football lineman? I don't think so.
Well, look, perhaps you disagree with my definition of a sport. All I'm really trying to do is remove hotdog eating from consideration. My son pointed out that having a bunch of people trying to mash the most hotdogs and buns into their mouths in 10 minutes is pretty dumb when there are people out there who, you know, are actually in need of food. At least my two cats, after coughing up a furball, have the decency to cower with a look of embarrassment.
Of course I have nothing against the nearly two million ESPN viewers or 40,000 spectators at the hotdog eating competition broadcast. It's the same reason I understand why people tune in to the watch train wreck of human behavior on an episode of The Jerry Springer Show.
I found this other definition in my dictionary: "Given to unintelligent acts." These words are used by Merriam Webster to define the word "stupid." I've since scrawled in the margin "See 'hotdog eating contest.'"
Am I being judgmental here? I don't think so. After all, if there's no relish, peppers, mustard or onions (hold the ketchup) to go along with it, a person has no business eating even one hotdog.
Bruce Steinberg is a father, husband, lawyer and novelist in St. Charles, Illinois.