Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What's in a sport?

This Fourth of July marked the 96th annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island in New York. The competition was once again broadcast on ESPN. I often wonder why competitive eating is considered a “sport.” It has been shown on ESPN for years. But so has the Scripps National Spelling Bee. And other non-athletic events. Just because something is broadcast on the home of SportsCenter doesn’t mean it is a sport.

People often debate what a “sport” really is. Does it have to involve a ball? A stick? Physical ability? Mental strength? According to Merriam-Webster, the long-trusted American English dictionary we all consider to be an official source, the word “sport” as a noun has several definitions listed, which furthers the debate about its actual meaning. The top three definitions call it “a source of diversion,” “sexual play,” and “a physical activity engaged in for pleasure.”

I guess an event like an eating competition could be described by two of these three meanings. It is definitely a diversion from everyday life. Rarely will you witness someone devour 62 hot dogs in a matter of minutes. It could also be considered a physical activity because one must position their bodies in a certain way as they chow down on the increasing amount of solid food going down their esophagus. The more salacious definition, however, doesn’t seem to apply here, unless there is a food fetish involved. (For your benefit, I won’t delve any further into that one.)

So perhaps there is some merit to including specific activities in the category of sports that some of us think have nothing to do with sports. I’m still not totally sold on the fact that eating – even in enormous quantities – takes nearly as much effort as playing football or basketball at the professional level. That is why five-time hot dog eating champ and 2011 winner Joey Chestnut will never rise to the level of Joe Montana or Michael Jordan.

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