Column by Brian Hoffman – Sports Editor
I was listening to sports talk radio shortly after the 4th of July and they were debating whether or not Joey Chestnut should be considered an “athlete.” My question is, is this even reason for debate?
Chestnut, as you likely know, is the legendary “competitive eater” that is featured every 4th of July in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in Brooklyn. This year he won the contest for the seventh consecutive year, eating 63 hot dogs in 10 minutes. That was 15 and a half hot dogs better than the second place eater!
Seven consecutive Nathan’s titles is impressive indeed, you can’t argue with that. Tom Brady has won seven Super Bowls, but not seven in a row. I don’t think the New York Yankees, in all their glory, ever won the World Series seven straight times. UCLA won seven straight NCAA basketball championships from 1967 to ’73, and they’re often mentioned in the same sentence as Joey Chestnut. People say, “Joey Chestnut, he’s no Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.”
But is Chestnut an athlete? The argument for him being one is that he has to train to be able to down all those hot dogs, and he’s a competitor. No denying that, but does that make him an athlete? Chris Farley trained to be an actor. Minnesota Fats was a competitor in billiards. I’m sure John Daly has practiced a lot of golf, but I don’t consider any of the three to be athletes.
What Chestnut is, to me, is a fascination. Why would anyone even want to eat 63 hot dogs in 10 minutes? Is it for the money?
Well, I did a little research on that. The hot dog eating winner gets $10,000, and Joey has won it 14 times. So, his 14 championships have earned him $140,000, not a lot for 14 years of consumption. Ken Jennings made more than that in a week playing Jeopardy, and he’s not an athlete either.
Chestnut also won a pumpkin pie eating contest in 2021, downing almost 17 pounds of pie in 11 and a half minutes. He’s made some money from endorsements, mostly from food companies and even one from Pepto Bismol, which makes more sense. Do you remember, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!!” That was for AlkaSeltzer, but you get the idea.
Blue ribbons and upset stomachs aside, the question of whether he’s an athlete is no question at all. Lebron James is an athlete, Joey Chestnut is a sideshow that has captured the imagination of folks not much different than the sword swallower at the traveling carnival.
“I can’t believe he swallowed the whole thing!!”
As I just espoused, you don’t have to be an athlete to be a competitor.
The first week of July my wife and two of my grandsons accompanied me on a trip to Pennsylvania to watch the Phillies play baseball against the Cardinals. We stayed at a hotel and the TV in the room “only” had about 40 channels instead of the hundreds I get here in Virginia with DirecTV. And don’t laugh if you remember when there were two channels here in the valley and a snowy Channel 13 from Lynchburg, if you could get it.
As we were scrolling through the options we came across a professional “corn hole” tournament. After watching for a minute or so I became engrossed in the game. While these weren’t athletes, there was certainly a skill involved and the competition was keen.
At one point a woman competitor put 27 of 28 throws in the hole, and I know that’s not easy no matter how much you practice. We ended up watching the tournament for almost an hour and, I must say, I enjoyed it.
Do you remember when the pandemic hit a couple years ago and “corn hole” was a regular event on ESPN with most of the normal sports shut down? I never considered watching it at the time, but last week I realized I can enjoy just about anything when people who really care about what they’re doing are competing.
I think I just described most of the Winter Olympics.