Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest 2011: Who Is to Blame for Its Popularity?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 4, 2011

NEW YORK - JULY 4: A family eats hot dogs in front of an advertisement for the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest, to undergo later that day, on July 4, 2009 in Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Joey Chestnut of San Jose, California defeated Takeru Kobayashi of Nagano, Japan with eating 68 to his 64.5 hotdogs. Kobayashi won six previous competitions before tying last year with Chestnut. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
Yana Paskova/Getty Images

The 2011 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest was won by a familiar face, as it was Joey Chestnut taking home his fifth consecutive Mustard Belt. In 10 minutes, Chestnut finished off 62 hot dogs, six short of the world record he set in 2009.

No wonder they call him "Jaws." His parents must be very proud.

As is always the case, there were plenty of people on hand to take in the scene at Coney Island, and many more took it in on ESPN. I haven't found or heard any exact figures, but last year's contest drew 40,000 spectators and was watched by nearly 1.7 million people on TV. One assumes those numbers only increased this year.

Because, you know, what better way to spend your Fourth of July than by watching people stuff themselves full of a food product that is decidedly American? Few sights are more spectacular.

But let's not kid ourselves. Few sights are more disgusting either. I have never claimed to be a man of wealth and/or taste, but I have to admit that watching grown men (and women) pack themselves to the gills with hot dogs is not exactly a California sunset. Presumably, I'm not alone here.

And yet, the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest is an annual extravaganza. All one can really do is shake his head and ask, "How the [bleep] does that happen?"

Well, we can probably safely blame ESPN. It is a network that we all know and love, but there's no denying that the powers that be in Bristol are always on the lookout for the latest niche sport (I use the term loosely) that they can package and sell to the sports-crazy American public. First it was the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 1994, and then the Hot Dog Eating Contest made its ESPN debut in 2004.

But hey, it's not ESPN's fault that people are actually watching the blasted thing. That's all on we the people. Our bells, I fear, are getting easier to ring every year.

If I had to venture a guess as to why the Nathan's extravaganza strikes such a deep chord, I suppose I would have to say that it has something to do with the American Dream.

Kind of a weird thing to say, I know. But think about it. We live in a country where the slogan could very well be "Get Greedy, Get Fat, Get Famous," and the Hot Dog Eating Contest perfectly encapsulates the idea. The contestants embark on an oddly appealing pursuit of happiness, and we live vicariously through them. 

"But wait a second, the Hot Dog Eating Contest is an international event! Look no further than Takeru Kobayashi!"

This is true. The Nathan's contest does have an international appeal, which is more than you can say about many American sports (i.e. football). But as I understand it, the American Dream also has an international appeal. Heck, the legend goes that the contest itself was started by four immigrants who were arguing over which of them was the most patriotic, and they decided to settle the matter with a hot dog duel.

Well, why not? If this is what the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest is all about, who am I to be an iconoclast?

Bottoms Buns up, 'Merica!