There is nothing more American than Joey Chestnut. Every year, on America's birthday, Joey Chestnut stands on stage, confident he can shove more stuff -- specifically, hot dogs, America's most American food -- into his face than anybody the hell else on the planet. And year after year, he does it, leaps and bounds better than anybody else.
He's not an athlete by most definitions we have. At 6'0 and 225 pounds, he has the height and build of a beefy running back without the speed and agility and strength. I'm guessing he can't touch rim. But the truth is, he does something with his body that the rest of us can't do.
Here, I will argue not only that Joey Chestnut is an athlete, but the best -- and most American -- America has to offer.
1. Joey Chestnut is demonstrably, significantly better than anybody else
Chestnut has won seven straight Nathan's Hot Dog Eating contests, and most haven't been close. He set a record with 69 hot dogs last year, beating his closest competition by 18 hot dogs. He ate 143 percent of what his closest competition ate. The year before, he won 68-52.25. The year before that, he won 54-45. He's -1200 to win tomorrow, which makes him such an overwhelming favorite it isn't really worth betting on him.
And it's not just hot dogs. Of the eight 2014 events with winners listed on the International Federation of Competitive Eating website, Chestnut has won six, and one of the other two was held the day after an event he'd won. That includes wings, deep-fried asparagus, pork sliders, chili, and ice cream.
In what other modern American sport does any one figure win so frequently, and so thoroughly? Joey Chestnut dominates and knows he dominates.
2. Joey Chestnut pays attention to betting lines
@OddsShark the over is a safe bet.— Joey Chestnut (@joeyjaws) July 3, 2013
He ate 69.
@jason_samide is that the over under? Im going to give everything I have..im committed to accepting the pain and getting a new record.— Joey Chestnut (@joeyjaws) July 3, 2014
With no real on-field -- on-stage? -- competition, Chestnut's only battle is with the Vegas oddsmakers who guess how much food he can put in his mouth. And he pays extremely close attention to them. Most athletes have to pretend sports gambling doesn't exist. Basically, it's just Chestnut and Floyd Mayweather who admit they know and care people wager cash on sports. And it's great.
3. Joey Chestnut is the Melting Pot
Sure, Joey Chestnut holds hot dog and apple pie world records, which is American.
But America is about more than just being American. It's about being a welcoming beacon to the world, a mix of what this planet has to offer.
Joey Chestnut holds the world record in matzoh balls, the most Jewish food possible, and pork, the least Jewish food possible. Joey Chestnut holds the records for tacos and tamales, the delicious foods of our neighbors to the south, and for poutine, the delicious food of our neighbors to the north. Joey Chestnut holds the record for Philly Cheesesteaks, a northeastern delicacy, and for Krystal hamburgers, a southern... well... not a delicacy, but whatever.
The point is, Joey Chestnut doesn't give a crap where you or your food comes from. If you ask him to eat a ton of it, he'll do it, and he'll do it better than anybody else. Joey Chestnut will unite the world through his ability to be better than you at eating food, which is the American way.
4. Joey Chestnut is the Land of Opportunity
Joey Chestnut was just a college kid whose brother decided to enter him in an eating contest on a whim, since he was good at eating stuff, as this GQ profile explains. Now he makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year eating stuff.
As a person who sends out Tweets for a living, I feel comfortable saying that the American dream is finding something that shouldn't be worth doing and becoming famous doing it. We should all aspire to what Chestnut has accomplished.
5. Joey Chestnut is the best at doing something every single person on the planet does
There's nothing more grating than the SportsScience segments on SportsCenter where they try to gauge which athlete in which sport is better than the other. Is LeBron a better athlete than Adrian Peterson? What about Bo Jackson, or Wayne Gretzky? What if we factor in "clutch?"
The truth is, our perception of what makes a great athlete is skewed by the specific things each of our popular sports entails. Basketball values the ability to precisely place a large ball in a hoop. The varying positions in football require wildly varying talents. It's difficult to determine who the best athlete in the world is, because we ask them to do such different things.
However, there are a few things we all do with our bodies. We all run, and Usain Bolt is the fastest. Unless you include long distance runners, or marathoners. Determining the strongest man is hard, too, because different types of lifting stress different muscles. The dude who wins the clean-and-jerk at the Olympics doesn't win the snatch.
Every single person on the planet eats food. And there is concrete evidence that regardless the type of food or the length of time required to eat the food, Joey Chestnut will eat more of it than anybody else.
We all eat food, and yet most of us would struggle to eat 1/10 of the amount of hot dogs Joey Chestnut will eat Friday in the same time. We couldn't challenge him, or even come close.