On my flight to Reno back in February, I ran across a very intriguing article in the American Way magazine about food eating contests and their contestants. "No Guts No Glory" was the title of the piece and as I read it, I was screaming on the inside with how similar the sport is to ours.
Yep, I said sport.
We get that same question ALL the time. Is pool really a sport? Well, so does Competitive Eating. The author asks the MLE (Major League Eating) Chairman and co founder, George Shea, that question, and his reply was "Competitive eating at its peak level isn't a gag or just some outrageous spectacle. All irony aside, it is 100 percent a sport."
It's funny to me that people question the same thing about pool, but those of us who love pool, would never judge Competitive Eating - we understand that at its core, competition is competition.
Does Competitive Eating get more air time than pool? I do not know. But I DO know there are other sports that hardly ever get on tv if at all - foosball and competitive putt putt. We are pretty dang lucky pool is on tv! Even if in limited quantities.
The familiarities for Competitive Eating was shocking to me. Mostly, because I had NO idea about it until I read the article. They are so many integral things in common with pool, I HAD to write this blog entry to share with you all that the same issues we face, other sports face. And, the same things that I feel make pool special, other minor sports have them as well.
For instance, some Competitive Eaters have nicknames too. "The Black Widow" (ironically), "Gravy, "Jaws, "the Tsunami," "Cookie," "Crazy Legs," etc.
They have a well-known Competitive Eater - Kobayashi. We have Steve Miserak and Jeannette Lee, to name a few of our mainstream pool representatives.
Pool players and Competitive Eating live the same life.
We mention to anyone outside the pool room that we play pool and oh wow - the person we are talking to played pool, too! They get excited and share that they used to be a child prodigy and played in their basement, or they play pool every weekend at the bar and want to see how well we play, or they played in college or the military, etc. Everyone has a pool story who isn't even a pool player and they want to play us when they hear we are good.
Same for Competitive Eating.
Chris "Chompy" Floyd says in the piece, "Whenever I meet a friend of a friend, and it comes up that I just won a cupcake or ice cream or pizza or whatever eating contest, regardless of the food, the response is often enough, "I can eat a lot of that too." I can't explain it, but this stuff just brings something out in a surprising number of folks who may never compete, but you can see them mulling over it."
And of course, they have the same money problems.
"If a competitor is in the sport to make money, they're probably going to be very disappointed, "Crazy Legs" Conti says.
"Because even when you're a nationally ranked eater, you're not quitting your day job," the author Jordan Rane quickly surmises.
As with pool, the top 3 or 4 can make money, but after that it drops off. Just like pool.
Their events *can* have $10,000 added, but there are not that many events in a year to make enough money, nor that many events that add that much. Appearance fees however do bring in the dough (pun intended). That can add almost $100K to your income per year. But again, those are only the top eaters.
As with pool, Competitive Eating is mental. Thomas in the piece says, "I think so much of it is a mind thing - maybe even 60 to 70 percent."
The Competitive Eater sometimes get recognized and their autographs wanted, just like pool.
One guy even called it an alter ego. He has a normal day job, but is a Competitive Eater. Davelos says his Competitive Eating alter ego provides the perfect outlet to support his three passions in life outside of family and career: Food, Travel and Competition. "Being a professional eater has given me a platform to combine all three."
Same with pool. We get to travel all over to compete. Obviously for them the food is the cornerstone to the competition, but even us pool players get to combine our passions for food, travel and competition as well. Just the other day I saw a professional pool player state he was in Dubai, about to head to China, and then next stop was Spain, then the U.S.. How's THAT for passion and fun?
Competitive Eating raises money for charities, just like pool, and they even have an organization that is now international - the MLE I mentioned earlier. Who would have ever thought one would need an organization to run a pro circuit for Competitive Eating?
Competitive Eating has grown so much, even tho most all are coed, just last year they started separate men''s and women's divisions for some of the bigger events (like Nathan's Famous hotdog eating competition on the 4th of July in Coney Island).
The Competitive Eaters are every day folks like you and I. We have a passion (pool or Competitive Eating), and we all dream for our passion to be mainstream someday, but we still love the competition almost to an obsessive level.
Floyd added, "I guess what I'm trying to do in these competitions is to push the disgustingness of it aside and just focus on some sort of quest for accomplishment. I mean, it's not an easy task. It's something that only a few people out there can actually do well."
I feel that way, too. I can't begin to tell you how personally successful I feel about winning the National Championship this year with my women's team. It's so minor to everyone else in the world, but to us pool players, it really IS a life-long accomplishment.
I can't even imagine how the World Champions feel or the U.S. Open Champions. Wow!
And even more similarities between our two sports - women's professional top pool player Vivian Villarreal was interviewed for the American Way magazine (American Airlines' onboard magazine) about 10-15 years ago and pool got some major spotlight time in their magazine. American Way keeps up the spotlight and now shared with their readers about Competitive Eating.
As you can tell by now, Competitive Eating is like any other sport -
mostly mental, takes dedication, has hardcore fans and competitors. The
difference for Competitive Eating and Pool is they are not high ranked among the masses.
I've said my whole life, "If pool paid like golf or tennis, I wouldn't
have my day job. I'd be playing pool for a living instead."