The Sport of Competitive Eating is Hard to Swallow
Little Silver-Oceanport Patch opinion columnist Angela Weight on athletic artery cloggers.
I thought the world of organized sports had hit a low point when curling became part of the Olympics. But then ESPN started televising rock, paper, scissors tournaments, absurdly redefining what we consider sports.
It’s now evident that the bar has hit rock bottom with the skyrocketing popularity of competitive eating, which has also wedged its way into the vernacular of sports.
Grab a donut or 70 and hail this new era, which gives hope to those with stomachs of rubber and two left feet… and causes Johnny Unitas to roll over in his grave.
With big billing given to events like the annual Nathan’s hot dog eating contest, people everywhere are trying their hands, er, G.I. tracts at becoming gurgitators. What’s a “gurgitator”? No, it’s not a substandard brand of garbage disposal. It’s what competitive eaters call themselves, a term that strikes fear into every hot dog on the planet.
While competitive eaters were once limited to pre-diabetic 10-year-olds and those wanting to get their money’s worth at Big Chu’s All-You-Can-Eat Chinese Buffet, the “sport” (and I use that term regretfully) now draws highly disciplined contenders with fine-tuned strategies for wolfing down an entire Kroger store at mach speed. It also helps to be really hungry and have jaws that can unhinge. That’s why snakes win so many eating competitions in the wild.
Just last weekend, Major League Eating kicked off the 2011 season in Biloxi, MS with the Elvis Presley tribute peanut butter and banana sandwich eating contest. Consumers from around the globe, along with three schools of piranhas, four anacondas and an industrial incinerator, stuffed their faces with enough sammies to feed the school children of Turkmenistan for a year.
While watching this gorge-fest, I had to hold my breath to keep from RE-gurgitating, a serious party foul which results in disqualification for contestants.
If you’re wondering what foods are typically featured on eating contest menus, there’s no limit. Chicken wings, bratwurst, cow brains, baked beans, cabbage, blueberry cobbler, asparagus, chili, crab cakes, burritos and sticks of butter have been competitively ingested. Yes, I said butter. It’s no wonder that paramedics, heart surgeons and HAZMAT crew members are on staff for each event.
I’ll be honest. Integrating eating with traditional sports like baseball, football and wheelbarrow racing is, for me, hard to swallow. Not as hard as finding a hair on my toothbrush or watching Jersey Shore. But still! Making a sport out of something we do anyway trivializes the concept of athletics. What’s next? Competitive breathing? Olympic laundry folding?
The world collectively held our breath as Joe Frazier and Muhammed Ali duked it out in the Thrilla in Manilla, history’s most famous fight. We shed tears of joy when the U.S. hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics. We sighed and said “whatever” the last time Brett Favre announced his retirement. It seems a little far-fetched to picture audience members getting emotional when Takeru Kobayashi set a 53 hotdog world record. Maybe his roommate got a little choked up…the next day. I wonder if Kobayashi is also a champion defecator. There’s a natural connection there, like with acting and directing.
Maybe I’m just old-fashioned and need to get used to this new definition of athletics. Perhaps by the time my nine-year-old son Andrew is a teenager, competitive eating will be a high school sport with tournaments held in the cafeteria. Maybe he’ll earn a letter jacket, or a college scholarship. Hmm. Maybe I could get used to it after all.