Friday, July 19, 2024

THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: Some sweat, and a scoreboard — but perhaps hot dogs and geese, too

| July 10, 2024 1:13 AM

What is sport?

Many years ago, I was part of a classroom argument about that very definition.

If I’d known back then about my ultimate career choice, I probably would have been a louder participant in the discussion.

Instead, I dreamed about becoming major league baseball’s first left-handed shortstop.

Anyhow, the specific item that got students involved on that spring afternoon — and encouraged teachers to have us write essays on the subject — was a regular weekly feature in Sports Illustrated magazine.

It was about bridge.

Yes, the card game.

After a total ruckus, especially from the boys, several of us were asked to speak up and define a sport.

Or sports, more generally.

The most memorable response came from Joe Scheid, whose only other claim to fame at age 12 was getting beaned on the side of the head at a baseball game — setting off chaos among families, friends, kids of various ages and an umpire who really wanted to be someplace else.

Meanwhile, back to the matter of defining sports.

Joe got right to it.

“You have to sweat, and there needs to be a scoreboard,” he said.

CLEARLY, that ruled out bridge.

And chess, which has been the subject of debate all these years later.

I’m sorry, but chess is a GAME, not a sport.

You wouldn’t confuse Yahtzee with pro football, would you?

This business of deciding what actually should be called a sport is in my mind for a couple of reasons.

First of all, there was an almighty brouhaha that wound up with bad news for the Hall of Fame face-stuffer, Joey Chestnut.

You know, of course, that Chestnut somehow crams an obscene number of hot dogs (with buns) down his gullet every year — thus winning the Nathan’s gobble fest and making spectators just slightly a bit ill.

This year, however, Joey had to take his summertime act from Coney Island to Fort Bliss, Texas.


Well, here’s the explanation according to The Athletic — and yes, I’d like the rationale for hot dog consumption being covered in a sports publication.


“Chestnut, 40, won 16 of the last 17 Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contests in Brooklyn, N.Y., and planned to participate again this year before Major League Eating (MLE) banned him for partnering with Impossible Foods, a plant-based rival brand.

“He learned he was barred three weeks ago, a decision that shocked the competitive eating world and Chestnut’s fans.

“Chestnut ate 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes last year to capture his 16th Mustard Belt, and previously set the world record of 76 hot dogs and buns eaten in 10 minutes in 2021.”


Major League Eating?

The competitive eating world?

I’m going to phone Joe Scheid and ask him if swallowing hot dogs at a manic pace fits his classic description of a sport.

In the meantime, I’m a just little uncomfortable just thinking of sweat and a scoreboard at a hot dog contest.

Even tonight’s pizza doesn’t sound quite as appealing as it did a couple of hours ago.


I need to think of a nice, cool delicacy to cleanse my palate.

And my mind.

Key Lime pie, maybe.

OK, I mentioned earlier that the notion of defining sport was buzzing in my head for a couple of reasons.

The hot dog thing is … guh … best forgotten until Joey gets to work next year.

But I do have a tale that puts sport right out on the edge of odd.

I’ve had a heck of a lot of fun with it, too.

Back in the 1990s, I hosted a sports talk show in Kansas City with Gib Twyman, a local columnist.

One night, we saw a TV feature on crazy sports events from around the world.

The very best was a boat race between two villages in Italy.

I don’t remember all the details, but essentially, a group of men from each town paddled to reach the finish line — while onlookers went bonkers.

That wasn’t all.

A designated climber from each boat had to scale a striped pole at the end and folks cheered them on.

Each village’s climber had to grab some sort of fabric thing and get it back to earth.

There was much hoopla and such for the winners, but the BIG deal was trying not to finish last.

That embarrassed village’s participants were forced — for reasons that apparently went back centuries — to carry a symbol of shame for a year.

So, what were they stuck dragging around?

A basket of geese!

What else would it be, in an Italian boat race that ends on top of a pole?

Yes, you’re right.

We got those geese on the radio show almost every night.

All the squawking was better than describing Joey and his hot dogs, I promise.

Meanwhile, how would you vote?

Are the hot dogs and the geese actually sports?


Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press four times each week, normally Tuesday through Friday unless, you know, stuff happens.

Steve suggests you take his opinions in the spirit of a Jimmy Buffett song: “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On.”