Basketball fans are consumed with the free-agent machinations of LeBron James, but the New York Times is reporting on a much bigger free-agent controversy in the world of sport.  Takeru Kobayashi will not be competing in Nathan's  hot-dog-eating contest today on Coney Island.  Kobayashi won the contest for six straight years (2001 - 2006) and is clearly one of the top two competitive eaters in the world today (the other being the reigning Nathan's champion, Joey Chestnut).  Although Kobayashi no longer holds the world record for hot dogs, he is the current world record holder for lobster rolls, for rice balls, and for cow brains. 

But, as reported yesterday in the Times, Kobayashi will not compete in the premier event in the world of competitive eating because of a contract dispute.  Major League Eating (the M.L.E.) organizes and sanctions competitive eating events including the annual Fourth of July Nathans hot-dog-eating contest.  They are requiring contestants to sign exclusivity contracts.  In other words, if Kobayashi wants to compete at Nathans, he has to agree not to participate in any contest which is organized by one of M.L.E.'s competitors.

Xenophobes undoubtedly are pleased to know that American Joey Chestnut will not have to face Kobayashi this year.  But true fans of the sport will miss the opportunity to watch these two titans squaring off against one another one more time.  Once again, sport is held hostage by big business.

The Nathan's event will be telecast live on ESPN.  It's not summer until someone barfs during the annual hot-dog-eating contest.  Will you be watching?

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