I was recently introduced to a new sport — one that I never knew existed. I was
flipping channels one day, and there it was, on ESPN2: competitive eating.
At first, I was ashamed of ESPN. I wondered
what could have possibly brought the sporting world to this new low. When ESPN started
broadcasting poker tournaments and chess matches, I was a bit apprehensive. Isn’t it
bad enough that they broadcast professional bowling? I asked myself. And now
competitive eating? What could possibly be next?
But then I started
to reconsider. I watched as several obese men, a scrawny guy who I can only imagine was
a homeless man trying to get a good meal, and several very serious Japanese competitors
tried to shove as many hotdogs as possible into their mouths (and keep them down) in
twelve minutes. They shoved two in at a time. They dunked the buns in glasses filled
with some sort of liquid to make them soggy. They did little dances to help themselves
Meanwhile, the announcers tried to remain straight-faced while
discussing the dedication and year-round training that goes into the sport. They
compared the competition’s leader to Michael Jordan and all the other sports greats. (All
the while wishing that they hadn’t gotten drunk at the company Christmas party and hit on
the boss’s wife — if they’d only stayed away from the punch, they could be announcing
real sports…like bowling.)
It was then that I realized that ESPN
was doing a great thing by celebrating this often-overlooked sport and its hard-working
athletes. It reminded me of seventh grade, when we were all forced to participate in
intramural sports at school. Some people always looked forward to intramurals, but not
me. I was never especially athletic. My long legs made me rather awkward, so I could
never really run — which eliminated most sports for me. But my school had gangly kids
like me in mind when they decided to offer intramural tetherball. I could play
tetherball. I would have won the finals, too, if my opponent hadn’t cheated when the ref
wasn’t looking. But I took home that second place ribbon and displayed it with pride —
as, I assume, did the winners of the table tennis competition and the euchre competition.
And that made athletically awkward nerds like me feel athletic for once in our lives.
We, the winners of the table tennis, euchre, and tetherball competitions, had won a
sporting event. We were jocks.
For a few days in there, our
bitterness toward the school’s real jocks faded, and we ignored the fact that the
majority of our school’s extracurricular cash went into athletic programs instead of
academic programs. We didn’t care.
And that’s what ESPN is doing.
They’re showing that everyone is good at something. Sure, those obese men may
never be able to slam-dunk a basketball, but they sure can consume plates of crawfish!
And that puny little homeless man may never win an Ironman triathlon, but you’d be amazed
by the vast amounts of spaghetti he can shovel down his gullet. And those Japanese guys
may not be Olympic speed skaters, but boy, can those guys digest!
you, ESPN! Thank you for making the nobodies feel special. Thank you for covering
questionable athletic events and making their competitors feel like super stars! And
keep ‘em coming!
I look forward to watching UNO tournaments and word
search competitions and scarf-knitting championships and gardening matches and beer
guzzling battles and extreme dusting competitions in the comfort of my own living room
for years to come. Someday, salaries for these athletes will eventually catch up with
those of, say, professional baseball players. And we can only hope that the Olympic
committee will eventually follow ESPN’s lead. Because we, the couch potatoes and scrawny
guys and gangly girls and wimpy nerds of the world, are all good at something.
And we deserve a chance to be professional athletes, just like everyone else. We deserve
sparkly gold championship belts and huge trophies to grace our mantles and shiny gold
medals to wear around our necks, too.
Personally, I look forward to
joining the competitive TV watching circuit in the fall — and I have every intention of
bringing home the coveted championship La-Z-Boy.