Is Competitive Eating a Sport?

Competitive eating is a new phenomenon that is sweeping the nation. Whether it is someone at home competing to see if they can eat an entire plate of food in a certain amount of time, or a group of competitors trying to outeat each other for the grand prize, millions of American are glued to their televisions, eyes wide open, to watch grown men and women devour as much food as they possibly can. However, is this competition a sport? According to dictionary.com a sport is an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature. A sport should also have an audience. Competitive eating meets all three of these criteria, clearly showing that it is a sport.

A sport must certainly be an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess. Competitive eating is definitely an athletic activity that requires skill. The first time an audience observes a man or woman chow down 68 hotdogs in ten minutes they will be convinced of these athletes' physical prowess. These men and women train months to stretch their stomachs in order to become a champion. Observing these athletes in the middle of their competition, it is clear by the sweat literally streaming from their heads that this is a grueling physical activity.

Competitors must overcome physical pain and mental obstacles in order to accomplish their goals. The article “How to Win a Hot Dog Eating Contest” written by Sondra C. explains four easy steps to help someone prepare for a hot dog eating contest. Step 1 explains how to train for a competition. “Make room by stretching your stomach. Gradually eat more and more every day, eating bulky, fibrous foods like watermelon or cabbage and drinking plenty of water. The human stomach has the capacity of about 1 liter (a little more than 1 quart) but can be distended up to four times that capacity (more than a gallon).” The other steps in the process explain techniques for eating large quantities of food and how to become a faster carnivore. Step 2 is to “develop techniques of eating them that will work for you. Find one that puts that hot dog down fast and smooth. The intuitive approach is to eat the hot dog all at once. Alternatively, you can eat the frankfurters and the buns separately. You can also dip the bun into water before eating it.” Step 3 says, “Suppress the “gag” reflex. Vomiting during the competition will guarantee a loss. Just like the sword swallower, train your mind to ignore the urge to upchuck. Hot dog eating contests are not about taste or appetite. They are about control.” The fourth and final step is to “Time yourself. Find out how much time the contest will give you. For example, Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest lasts 12 minutes. Clock yourself as you practice eating as many hot dogs as you can within that time frame. Track your progress and try to break your previous record.” These steps in training are very similar to what any professional athlete would commit to in preparation of their sport.

The same physical and mental preparation someone would undergo for a sport such as track and field can be applied to a competitive eater. The stamina and mental drive is very comparable in these two sporting events. There are even techniques to competitive eating that have been developed over time. As many professional sports have tricks and techniques that have changed their respective sports, competitive eating has tricks and techniques practiced by its competitors. As the invention of the forward pass revolutionized football, competitive eating techniques have been perfected through many years and many competitors. These techniques include things such as eating the hot dog and the bun separately to speed up chewing. The competitors eat the hot dog first, and then dunk the bun in water to cut down chewing time and make it easier to swallow. Competitors often shake or jump up and down to help food become more compacted, enabling them to consume more. These techniques have developed over time to create strategy and competition throughout the sport.

The competitive nature of Competitive eating is blatantly obvious just from the name. Competitive eating clearly meets this requirement in the definition of the word, “sport”. Whether a single person is competing against a clock to see if he or she can finish the plate of food in the allowed amount of time, or if the competition is between large groups of people to see who can eat the most amount of food in the shortest amount of time, the competitive tension can be felt throughout the room.

The now famous television show Man v. Food displays the sport as one man trying to conquer various extreme dishes found around the country, and sometimes the world. Adam Richman, the host of Man v. Food travels around the country taking on local challenges involving meal size, spiciness, and other daunting factors.

Ned's Hot Dog eating contest held on July 4 shows the other version of competitive eating by pitting competitor's against each other in a 10-minute race to see who can consume the most hot dogs. This competition is well organized and involves fundamental skills. As George Shea, president of the International Federation of Competitive Eating, said in an interview he did for Jim Caple for his article “Competitive Eating a Man-Eat-Dog World” “My point is competitive eating is a very fundamental sport. The fundamental sports are running, jumping, pushing and fighting. Eating is even more fundamental: Who can eat the most to survive and in the quickest time when that mattered whether you survived. There are rules. We have a governing body, and we keep track of the records.” These rules and regulations, guidelines and records, promote a very competitive sport that is easily comparable to other sports with similar competitor drives. Competitive eating clearly fulfills the requirement of competition in order to be a sport.

Competitive eating does not only meets the dictionary definition of a sport, but it draws in the same crowd as a major sporting event. Rich Shea, president of Major League Eating (MLE) explains in his interview with Peter Guest for his article “Could Competitive Eating Become a Global Sport?” “Competitive eating is a fast-growing sport and entertainment product. We do just shy of 100 events a year around the world, primarily in the United States but we are also going overseas. At the 4th of July contest itself, which is our biggest day, our Superbowl, we get 40,000 fans, we'll have a blimp and an ESPN broadcast with just shy of two million households tuning in.” The NFL Superbowl drew in nearly 108 million viewers in 2013. As competitive eating gains advertising, awareness, and fans the Major League Eating Superbowl has the potential to grow exponentially until it rivals other major sports.

In the article “Competitive Eating: The Most American Sport?” Thomas Rogers asks Ryan Nerz, a competitive eating announcer and the author of “Eat This Book: A Year of Gorging and Glory on the Competitive Eating Circuit” “Why do so many people like watching people gorge themselves?” Nerz responded, “It's this unique spectacle that is half sport and half magic. People can't wrap their heads around the idea of eating 69 hotdogs in 10 minutes, so it does have an element of magic.” This “magic” gives the sport of competitive eating its own niche in the world of sports. Competitive eating has all the qualities of a sport, and has the intangible element that draws in crowds to make it a successful competitive event.

Critics may say that a competition in which athletes may cause physical harm to their bodies should not be considered a sport. After all competitors must over-extend their stomachs in training, and at the end of competitions it is presumed that competitors will relieve themselves of the extra food through the same path by which the food entered the body. However, just because a sport is dangerous to an athlete's health does not mean it is not a sport.

Consider other sports with similar health risks. Concussions are common in sports such as football. Baseball players can experience arm, shoulder, and leg problems for the rest of their lives. Sports like boxing and mixed-martial arts are built on the premise of hitting and kicking someone in their head until they become unconscious. However, the Ultimate Fight Club (UFC) is one of the largest sports organizations in the world. This sporting event can draw up to 6 million viewers, despite, and partly because of its violent actions. The idea of hurting yourself or someone else is an accepted part of any sport. Competitive eating's health risks are no more detrimental to the body than any other sport's injury.

Competitive eating is an athletic activity requiring skill and physical prowess and is built on a competitive nature. This sport appeals to a mass audience that could extend worldwide. The danger involved in the sport is not grotesquely more substantial than any other major sport in today's modern era of entertainment. Competitive eating has created its own niche in the mass-market sporting craze of today's entertainment society.

Works Cited

  • C, Sondra “How to Win a Hot Dog Eating Contest” wikihow.com 20 July 2010 Web 27 March 2013
  • Caple, Jim “Competitive eating a man-eat-dog world” espn.com 10 June 2012 Web 27 March 2013
  • Guest, Peter “Could Competitive Eating Become a Global Sport?” cnbc.com 4 July 2011 Web 27 March 2013
  • Rogers, Thomas “Competitive Eating: The Most American Sport?” The Eater Reader Editor James Miller Boston: Pearson Longman pages 131- 134 2011

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