In the name of journalistic research, renowned sports writer Rick Reilly played rock-paper-scissors, sat in a sweltering sauna, and dropped a ferret down his pants.
The Sports Illustrated columnist, ESPN host, and 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year was on a globe-trotting quest to find the world's most absurd sporting competition, a journey chronicled in his hilarious new book, Sports from Hell: My Search for the World's Dumbest Competition (Doubleday).
Reilly will be signing copies of the book at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe on Friday, May 14. We recently caught up with him to get the scoop on chess boxing, cooking human lasagna, and ferret legging as a sport for Phoenix.
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I was sick of going to Brett Favre retirement press conferences. I was also tired of writing about the same sports. It's hard to believe that the Super Bowl and Wimbledon final four gets boring, but I wanted something new.
What was the dumbest competition you encountered?
Chess boxing. It's very popular in England, Germany, and Poland. People box for three minutes, then someone brings in a chess board, they take off one glove, and play chess for several moves. Then they go back to boxing. I made a joke about it: What has one glove, chases queens, and isn't Michael Jackson? Chess and boxing together makes no sense to me. Someone said to me that boxing and chess are similar because they both require strategic moves and are mentally taxing. I say the only thing chess and boxing have in common are that the competitors don't have sex before matches. But chess players don't have sex after matches, either.
What was the most dangerous sport you encountered?
The World Sauna Championships. It's in Finland, and it's nationally televised. I entered, and you get in a glass sauna - and there's people cheering you. I had no idea there were sauna fans. But it's 261 degrees in there. You're like a half-baked chicken that goes in for the rest of the baking. The heat hits you like a runaway Prius. I lasted four minutes, and I thought the tip of my nose was aflame. The winner went 12 minutes and 21 seconds. I figured it out - 12 minutes and 21 seconds at 261 degrees is the recipe for lasagna.
Do we have any "dumb" sports in our own culture?
Yes, baseball. It's dumber than John Daly and Courtney Love combined. It used to be two hours, and now it's three. To give you an idea of how dumb baseball is, last week, Ken Griffey Jr. fell asleep in the clubhouse and missed his turn at bat. Commentators fall asleep. It's the only sport that needs a 7th inning because people fall asleep. And what other sport puts 70-year-old men in uniform?
What the heck is "ferret legging"?
Ferret legging could be big in Phoenix. It's big in Wales. People put on sweatpants, and then a ferret is dropped down one leg of the pants, and the point is to see how long you can last with it wiggling and scratching in there. If you did this in Arkansas, you'd at least be engaged. You can't have something down your pants for that long. I did it in Virginia and last three minutes.
Rick Reilly will sign copies of Sports from Hell: My Search for the World's Dumbest Competition at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe on Friday, May 14, at 7 p.m. Signing tickets will be issued with book purchase. Call 480-730-0205 for more information.