September 2011 - Eat, Drink, and Hire Lawyers

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

The Apocalypse is nigh. I know this because the Bible says so. “War, famine, pestilence, and Major League Eating.” I’m pretty sure those are the four horsemen John the Divine partied with on Patmos while penning Revelation.

And sure enough, two thousand years later, Joey Chestnut has introduced the End of Days by eating 50 hot dogs in ten minutes.

I know this because I read it on the ESPN ribbon on the bottom of my tv screen while I was watching a baseball game. We got a big screen a few years back so I could read the ribbon from my favorite chair fifteen feet away. So far this is the most disturbing thing I’ve read.

The ribbon went on to explain that Chestnut had accomplished this amazing feat without the distraction of competition from Tareku Kobayashi, who had been barred from the competition because he refused to sign a contract with Major League Eating.

Honest, that’s what it said. It said there is something called Major League Eating. And they have contracts. As near as I can determine, this entity sponsors contests in which people vie to force comestibles into their bodies faster than anyone else can.

Of course, if you’ve ever watched one of these contests, you know they have nothing to do with eating. This isn’t eating, any more than using a chainsaw to demolish a guitar is music.

The contestants splash hot dogs (complete with buns) into bowls of water to soften them and then stuff them down their esophagi for ten minutes, not so much chewing as vacuuming. If this is eating, why is it no one else on the planet soaks their hot dogs in water before eating them plain . . . and wet?

Is it just me, or is this the kind of wretched excess that brought down the Roman Empire, the Etruscan civilization, and the Three Tenors? Seriously, how many steps are there between paying money to watch people force bratwurst down their alimentary canals and paying money to watch lions force Christians down their alimentary canals?

Fifty apple fritters in 10 minutes? That’s eating. Fifty dim sum? Been there. But fifty things you couldn’t eat one of without bringing up last night’s lasagne? That’s not eating, that’s water-boarding with Oscar Mayer.

And yet Major League Eating1 must be a serious enterprise. They have a logo and a website—which is about all it takes these days to convince people you’re respectable—and a commissioner and a Hall of Fame.

Oops, check that; the website says the Hall of Fame is “coming soon.” But their headquarters is in New York, where all serious people live. That should make up for the not-ready-for-prime-time Hall of Fame.

The website is the key to legitimacy. We’ve now raised at least three generations of people who believe anything they read on the internet. These people believe the government has been lying to them ever since Roswell. They think the “mainstream press” is engaged in some kind of vast, anti-competitive conspiracy to suppress “the truth” and cannot be trusted. But they will believe Elvis Presley is alive and raising golden retrievers in an abandoned Burger King in Tulsa, if they get an email from an uncredentialed stranger that says so.

I know this because they forward these emails to me daily. And if I have the temerity to challenge them, I’m immediately referred to ElvisIsAlive.com or WhyWon’tObamaAdmitHeCamefromPluto.com, as if that pretty much settles that.

For these people, having a website proves that Major League Eating is a real sport. And having both a website and a logo just like the NBA and the NFL and NASCAR—well that eliminates any doubt about the organization’s bona fides.

That’s probably why they have recognition by ESPN. ESPN generally sets the bar low enough that it’s indistinguishable from a speedbump. This is, after all, a network that got its start televising Australian Rules Football and dressage.

You got a website AND a logo? You’re in. Welcome to ESPN coverage.

And for a fledgling sports2 league, recognition by ESPN is pretty much what recognition by the UN would be to a group of rebels living in corrugated tin lean-tos in the jungle and tossing hand grenades at passing soldiers. Once ESPN puts you into the ribbon, you’re the real deal. You can start negotiating sponsorship deals with people other than the hot dog company and Pepto Bismol.3

And, of course none of this can be accomplished without the invaluable4 assistance of our profession. MLE seems to have recognized this need. After all, the ESPN ribbon said that Mr. Kobayashi had not been allowed to compete in the annual Fourth of July Coney Island Fiascorama Face Stuffing5 because he had not signed a contract with MLE.6 So it appears they are all lawyered up and ready to go.

Which is good. Because you don’t have to watch a competitive eating match for long before you absolutely KNOW these people are using performance-enhancing drugs. I mean, how many roofies would it take before you would soak a hot dog and bun in water and eat it? What kind of hallucinogenic would you need to stuff these concoctions down your gullet fifty times in 10 minutes?

So they will inevitably need Roger Clemens’ and Barry Bonds’ and Marian Jones’ lawyers for their players. And the Justice Department will, of course, need to employ additional staff to mistry the cases against the MLE Hall of Famers.

There will be more work for criminal lawyers as competitive gourmands develop the athletic sense of entitlement that seems inevitably to show up in bars, nightclubs, and drunk-driving arraignment courts around the country. And the same competitors will need lawyers to negotiate their endorsement contracts as the youth of America scramble to make sure they’re using the same antacids as their heroes.

We’ll need labor lawyers to handle the strikes and lockouts. The NBA and NFL folks should bring a ton of experience7 to those tables.

There will be leagues. There will be franchises. Lots of work for corporate types. Copyright lawyers will have to study the team names and logos. And, of course, there will be work for bankruptcy lawyers and divorce lawyers if the league lets out a franchise in Los Angeles.

Antitrust lawyers will have to see about getting an exemption like MLB’s for MLE.

Wrongful death specialists will be called in to handle the cases of the survivors of twelve-year-olds who think this is their future. “I remember just last Christmas, we gave him ten packages of Dodger dogs and sixty buns and a Joey Chestnut autographed water dish. He was so happy. And now he’s gone. It’s all their fault.”

And while there’s really no telling where all this will end, we can be pretty sure that no good can come from anything that starts with soaking hot dogs in water. And wherever there is “no good” you need lawyers.

All in all, probably not a favorable development for civilization.

But for a legal profession hit hard by recession? A bonanza.

So God bless MLE and the International Federation of Competitive Eating, Inc. Now can someone direct me to the offices of the International Federation of Competitive Choking and Gagging, Inc. I hear they might need a goal judge.

Beds Notes
1. Not to be confused with Major League Baseball, whose grip on reality is only slightly less tenuous, but who at least knows how to eat a hot dog.

2. Jeez, it hurts me to apply that word to this activity.

3. Really. Near as I can determine, MLE’s sponsors are Nathan’s hot dogs and Pepto Bismol. I guess you gotta play the cards you’re dealt.

4. And yet high-priced. 

5. Or whatever it was called.

6. I must admit to a certain bemusement here. While the logo of Major League Eating consists of a left hand thrusting a fork in front of the letters MLE, the official website lists the organization’s name as the International Federation of Competitive Eating, Inc. I don’t know why they have two names, but it somehow seems like more proof they have plenty of lawyers.

7. And a ton of money.

William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at william.bedsworth@jud.ca.gov.