The common definition of the word "sport" usually goes something like this: physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively. This vague definition leaves a lot open for interpretation. Sports fans love a good argument that can't be answered by statistics, and this one is a perennial favorite.
Want proof? Go to the racetrack of your choice and engage the subspecies you find there in a spirited discussion on whether or not NASCAR drivers are athletes. Granted, finding an adversary who can do more than grunt and bellow "Jeff Gordon is a fag" will be difficult, but if you stick to monosyllabic words you'll find that most (if not all) NASCAR fans will argue until they're blue in the face that NASCAR is indeed a sport. This, despite the fact that you've got an owner, pit crew and driver all relying on machinery to win their contest. Sorry, not a sport.
Beyond that, there are many other activities on the debatable fringes of sport. I received an e-mail last week asking whether or not I thought poker was a sport. I actually do. What's that you say? There's no physical activity in poker? Don't make me laugh! Have you ever tried to keep your face completely free of expression while holding four aces? Have you ever tried to bluff your way to a $500 pot while holding a pair of deuces? Have you ever tried to keep from crapping yourself once someone calls said bluff?
That's a whole lot of physical activity, to be sure. Oh, it can't be a sport if you can drink and smoke cigars while playing? Helllooo! Bowling, golf and softball are all popular pastimes that typically involve drinking your liver into submission and nobody questions their validity as "sport." Case closed.
Speaking of trying not to crap yourself, this past week I had the pleasure of spending time with the next Michael Jordan. Does the name Sonya Thomas ring a bell? She's not in the WNBA, nor is she the next female golfer trying to make her mark on the men's tour.
Sonya Thomas holds 11 world records, and it's a shame that you didn't even know who she was until now. Thomas is a perky and vivacious Korean sensation who happens to be a competitive eater. It may be a sign of the apocalypse that competitive eating not only has a governing body (the, um, International Federation of Competitive Eating, or IFOCE) but also that the sport -- yes, sport -- is exploding in popularity right now in the United States. But what's truly shocking -- in a stomach-turning fashion -- are some of the world records these "athletes" hold.
Here's just a taste of the consumption records held by the 100-pound Ms. Thomas:
23 pulled pork sandwiches in 10 minutes
11 pounds of cheesecake in nine minutes
43 soft tacos in 11 minutes
65 (yes, sixty-fucking-five) hard-boiled eggs in six minutes, 40 seconds
134 chicken wings in 12 minutes
Recently, Ms. Thomas appeared at halftime of an Orlando Magic game to take on a few wannabes in a quesadilla-eating contest. The night before, we members of "The Drew Show" (shameless plug: every weekday night on WTKS-FM, 104.1) held a makeshift contest of our own. After managing a respectable (or so I thought) four quesadillas in three minutes, I felt more blocked up than overnight construction traffic on I-4; for a brief moment I found myself hallucinating about a guacamole enema. I was actually proud of my accomplishment, though.
But I also made the mistake that countless competitive eaters likely make: underestimating Sonya's appetite for destruction.
On the air, Sonya took on Tuddle (producer of The Drew Show) and an unnamed listener. Saying the competition was lopsided would be like saying the FCC is just a tiny bit concerned about profanity these days. Eating four quesadillas in three minutes one night, then watching Sonya put down 31 and a half in five minutes is the kind of thing that leaves you feeling sadly emasculated, with the harsh reality that no matter how hard you try at stuff there are always people who are better. At least that's what Dad always taught me.
Sonya wrapped three quesadillas around each other and just kind of Jenna Jameson-ed them into her throat. She said she had never even tasted a quesadilla before. Come to think of it, she likely still hasn't.
When Sonya was done thrashing her competition, she sat down and joined me in conversation. Within five minutes her manager brought her a large bucket of popcorn, which she proceeded to consume in front of me. If this isn't an athlete, what is? She's Tiger Woods combined with Muhammad Ali with some Walter Payton thrown in! She's a 100-pound eating machine! After her bucket of popcorn, she said she was ready for a steak dinner. As she said, "Quesadillas are good, but only an appetizer. Now I need real food."
Now, if you're anything at all like me, you're probably wondering the same thing I am: Where does it all go? FCC regulations restricted me from asking questions about excretory functions on the air, and to be honest with you I was afraid of the answer I might get off the air. Does she purge? Eat a box of Ex-Lax? There are some answers that make you regret asking the question in the first place. Questions like "How is sausage made?" yield answers as unneeded as the answer to "What would a bowel movement from Sonya Thomas look like?"
If she doesn't go all bulimia-style and hurl the food up following the contests, then her toilet must look like a war zone. Come to think of it, maybe there's a sport to be found there as well! Laugh if you wish, but it would be more athletic than getting in your car and turning left all day.