Thursday, May 20, 2010

Things People Do in the Name of Competition

Slammin' Sam on Sports Media
In “Field of Dreams”, Shoeless Joe Jackson comes out of a cornfield and can’t believe where he ended up. “Hey, is this heaven?” he asks in awe and wonder. If a baseball field in Iowa is as close as it gets to the great beyond, what’s the alternative? Leave it to Rick Reilly to answer that question in his new book, “Sports from Hell: My Search for the World’s Dumbest Competition.”

I don’t need to explain why or why not you should read Rick’s latest book. After 11 National Sportswriter of the Year awards, you know what to expect from this chronicler. By now, you’ve made up your mind what you think of him and his work. The only thing that’s left is the subject matter.

Here’s what you should know about this book:
1. The criteria – must be a real sport (Ie. its competitors are no-nonsense about the pursuit); the competition is not about stupidity for its own sake (Shin kicking, which laughs in the face of doping, need not apply for Rick’s quest); Rick determined he had to conduct a thorough observation of the sport in order for it to qualify (Sorry, now-defunct World Housekeeping Championships); Who knows why, but Rick did not want to put his life on the line for the sake of this book. (That meant he had to forgo a sport involving beheaded calves). In all, eight rules served as the guidelines for this journey, but you get the idea.

2. Sports – Thirteen sports made the cut. World Sauna Championships, Ferret Legging and Jarts rank as my favorites.
World Sauna Championships – Relaxing turns painful when competitors in bathing suits see whose skin boils last. You know it’s legit when Australian oddsmakers encourage gambling on the event. The Tiger Woods (best of the best, if that moniker is a little unclear nowadays) of the sport arrived in a mobile home equipped with a sauna. Who can blame Rick for losing his objectivity and giving Timmo the Great a pat on the back after the Chosen One lasted more than 7:30 in the sauna? Five hundred fans watching the event could not have been happier with the show.

Ferret Legging – “Piranhas with feet,” “shark-of-the-land.” Those are descriptors used for the furry creatures. Why in the world, then, would someone stick one or more clawing animals down his pants? For the sake of winning and bragging rights, of course. The world record holder went without underwear for five hours and twenty-six minutes while a ferret partied in his pants. With names like “Peppy” and bios that read, “He is suspected to be deaf, but this doesn’t slow him down,” our guide knew he was in for it (Sports, 25).

Jarts – Described as a “weighted spear for children to play with,” this game is forbidden in America (177). Like darts, jarts with a “j” requires participants to heave projectiles into a narrow circle. Between 1978 and 1986, there were more than 6,100 documented jart injuries. That fact doesn’t stop hearty folks in Piqua, Ohio from keeping the merriment alive. Shane Davis remains undeterred, saying, “I bought this house just for the yard. It’s perfect for the tournament.” (181-82)

3. What’s the dumbest sport on the planet according to Rick? That would be Chess Boxing. Don’t tell the athletes who play it.

Sam Miller/Free Keon

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