What's Passing For Sports These Days
"Spanning the globe...to bring you the constant variety of sport..."
If you're over 40, you can almost hear Jim McKay speaking those words, and chances are you can finish the rest of the script that preceded each and every "ABC's Wide World of Sports" for some three decades or more.
McKay and his colleagues brought us the Harlem Globetrotters on the decks of aircraft carriers...lumberjack competitions...guys who'd leap over barrels on ice skates. It was the kind of stuff you'd never see in the papers, but couldn't stop watching every Saturday afternoon. And, while obscure, there was no doubt that these, indeed, were athletes.
"Wide World of Sports" educated and entertained. Fast forward to 2007.
What passes for sport today?
Poker...and competitive eating.
I'll never be among those who can watch Gabe Kaplan playing Texas Hold 'Em for two hours, but I have nothing against those who do. That said, I'll NEVER agree that poker is a sport. A game? Sure. Sport? No.
Same with competitive eating. As Lance Allan of Today's TMJ Four said so eloquently the other day, "When did gluttony become a sport?"
Answer: when ESPN started covering it.
The World Wide Leader In Sports is an easy target, but this one's a no-brainer. Eating and cards aren't sports. What they are is: cheap to cover.
It provides programming during dead spots. On slow news days. When you can't trot out another Michael Jordan highlight montage. Or an NFL Films documentary of the evolution of the soccer-style place kicker.
The process gets a boost when we watch, and it seems, we are. In a big way. Except for me.
It's not that I'm above it all--trust me, my bar is set way low. I'm the guy who watched the "Celebrity Fit Club" finale just to see the guy who played Screech do his calculated shenanigans aimed at making sure everyone who saw it remembered his name above everyone else's.
Poker...bores me. Plus, I cannot STAND the soundtrack...minute upon minute of clacking chips. I usually never have enough of them to rub together, much less make NOISE with.
Competitive eating? Just...plain...gross.
I can watch/witness/smell just about anything...blood, guts, a game-ending ninth inning Cubs homer that dooms the Brewers to a disheartening defeat. But there's something about watching competitive eaters cramming their cakeholes with hot dogs, drooling, drinking, stuffing, snorting that tests my gag reflex. And, God forbid someone has what's politely deemed a "reversal"--competitive-eat-talk for what most of us did in college after Wapatuli night. Again, if someone else wants to watch...fine. Just don't call it a sport. If you do, I'm championship material, having eaten three Italian beef sandwiches (sweet, with cheese) at Roma's in Chicago after a Cubs game a lifetime ago.
Jim McKay and the Wide World of Sports didn't cram a camera in my face that night, trying to call my gastro-intestinal excess a sport--and no one should be doing it today with "competitive eaters." It is what it is, and what it ISN'T is a sport.
It's just plain reality t-v: easy to make, cheap, not very nutritious, but able to cure our never-ending appetite for the strange.