When you think of a professional sports league, the first few organizations that likely pop into your head are the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and maybe the National Hockey League. (Yes, this is admittedly a very American perspective; just making a point here.) You probably don’t think about the WCBO (that’s the World Chess Boxing Organization) or about all those fierce competitors dedicated to the sport of Extreme Ironing. If so, well, you’re missing out. Many sports leagues have come and gone, and many lesser-known leagues are out there today. Some of them will amaze you, some of them will confuse you, and some might even disgust you.
What’s remarkable about all of these bizarre sports leagues — whether they have long since disappeared or whether they are enjoying a decades-long run and are still going strong — is that every one of them signifies not only the existence of a strange sport, but enough support and enthusiasm for it to create multiple teams who compete often. That is, if eating is competition. Read on to learn about some bizarre sports, some misguided spins on existing sporting activities, and perhaps to find your new favourite pastime.
15. The XFL – Pseudo-Football
If you were paying attention to the wide, wacky world of sports back around the recent turn of the century, then you probably remember the brief, ill-conceived XFL. Created by Vince McMahon, a fellow whose name is essentially synonymous with the over-the-top essence of “professional” wrestling, the Xtreme Football League was part theater (or… ridiculous soap opera) and part football sports league. Players were encouraged to trash talk and push each other around even outside of active play, and the cheerleaders were basically strippers. The result was second-rate football and a spectacle that was far from family-friendly. Or all that anyone friendly, really. It lasted for…one year.
14. The USLMRA – Blades of Steel
The United States Lawn Mower Racing Association might sound like a simply ridiculous entity at first, but think about it like this: the USLMRA has been around for a quarter of a century as of 2017, meaning it has outlasted the XFL by 24 years already. The reason this league has seen such success is the fact that it’s purely for fun. There is no cash involved, there is only the glory of winning a race atop a riding lawn mower. The mowers in the competitions are usually heavily altered for maximum speed (and minimum grass cutting), and most events are staged as much for spectator amusement as for actual competition.
13. The WCBO – KO or Checkmate?
The World Chess Boxing Organization was formed a few years after the sport of chess boxing itself was created by Dutch performance artist Iepe Rubingh. And at first, chess boxing really was more like art than sport, or in fact, it was more like a gimmick. In chess boxing, opponents play a three-minute round of chess, then fight a three-minute round in the ring. This alternates back and forth five times. A knockout (or TKO) or a checkmate wins the match immediately; in the event no definitive victory occurs, judges score based on points earned in the ring. It was meant essentially as a joke, but chess boxing is strangely alluring, thus the eventual formation of the WCBO.
12. The RHI – Bladin’ Along
Remember how rollerblades were totally awesome one day and then all of the sudden were pretty much the butt of the collective joke? It’s still unclear how and why roller blading hit the scene and then became the pariah so very quickly, but the short-lived popularity of inline skating came as more of a surprise to few than the organizer of the RHI. That’s the Roller Hockey International league, a group of sports franchises that thought competitive sports played atop inline skates were going to be huge. The league was formed in 1993 and rolled through five seasons (with one year off) before accepting what everyone else concluded in about 1995: rollerblading just wasn’t cool.
11. MLE – Feast In Victory
We all know about pie eating contests held at county fairs, or about hotdog eating contests held at…wherever those are held. But did you know that competitive eating goes way beyond the regional level? Indeed, this thing is global. Major League Eating pits competitors against one another (and against arterial health and basic decency) in challenges involving everything from hot dogs to hard boiled eggs to jalapeño peppers. Competitors are known to eat as many as five dozen hotdogs in a matter of ten minutes in their quest for gluttonous victory. “Players” must be a minimum of 18 years old.
10. USBSA – Bouncing Around
You know how people often get hurt in those huge wearable “bubble” things? The inflatable balls you can slide onto your torso and run around while wearing? Well, someone thought it would be a good idea to strap these bubbles — often known by the brand name Zorb — onto a bunch of people and put them in teams facing off on the soccer field. And, for the spectators, at least, it was a pretty good idea. The United States Bubble Soccer Association has teams in almost every state in the nation and there are even franchises in Canada and in South America. It’s ridiculous, yes, but a hellofalot of fun. Until you get hurt.
9. The NBL – Rollin’ Like A Pro
Who knew that bowling could be such an exciting spectator sport? Apparently not many people, even though a number of folks thought it might be back in the early 1960s. That’s when the short-lived National Bowling League was formed. Teams of bowlers from around America competed with an eye toward a spot in the annual World Series of Bowling championship game. Or at least it would have been annual, had the league not folded after less than one year. Maybe it was the fact that not one of the specially built arenas never once filled up with their complement of around 3,000 fans, or the fact that the NBL never got television rights, so no one else was watching, either.
8. The NDL – Bombardment!
Depending on how large you were and how well you could throw and/or catch a ball when in middle school, you likely love or hate dodgeball; most people have a strong opinion one way or the other, as opposed to feeling rather neutral about the subject. Those who fall into the “love” category might want to consider joining the National Dodgeball League, an association comprised of more than two dozen teams and complete with much more rigorously established and enforced rules than you dealt with while having the 7th grade bully knock your glasses off your head with the ball he’d been hiding behind his back.
7. The WETF – Eggcellent…
At the risk of over-editorializing, the WETF should probably drop the E and just go with WTF. (Yes, that joke is low-hanging fruit. Whatever.) Why? Well, WETF stands for World Egg Throwing Federation. What does the game play consist of? Like you might have guessed, it consists of players throwing eggs back and forth across ever greater distances and with the goal of the thrown egg not breaking. There are also relay races, target throwing, and more. The WETF championship event is held each year in Swaton, England, a town that you probably want to avoid for a few weeks after the games have wrapped up, especially if the weather is warm.
6. PIPA SPT – Rich People On Ice!
PIPA stands for the Polo Instructors and Players Association. That’s right, enough people still play polo, the game where you ride around on horseback and hit a ball on the ground, to necessitate the existence of a league. But it gets better/worse (the perspective is your choice): there is an extension of PIPA that is the Snow Polo Tours. When playing polo on grass is not exclusive enough, you can play it on the snow. Snow Polo is what it sounds like, it’s polo played on snow. Which, you are correct in thinking, sounds ridiculous. But it’s out there.
5. EIB – Press It
The Extreme Ironing Bureau touts the sport of Extreme Ironing as: “The latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.” And hey, who doesn’t like both, really? Extreme Ironing events take on many different forms. Competitors might iron while atop a stand-up paddle board, while doing a handstand on a specially-rigged ironing board, or while atop a jagged mountain peak. At the end of each event, though, a competitor had better have pressed the clothing well, extenuating circumstances be damned.
4. Buzkashi – Not for the Feint of Heart
To many observers, the sport of America Football looks rather savage and unrefined. To others, boxing and MMA seem brutal and uncivil. It’s really all a matter of perspective and cultural relativism. Keep that in mind here. Buzkashi is the national sport of Afghanistan and is popular across much of Central Asia, and there are leagues and organizations in several countries, including Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The sport involves mounted players attempting to snatch up a headless goat carcass and carry it across a goal line, often while being whipped and kicked by opposing players. Yep.
3. NAWCC – A Couples Sport
The sport of wife carrying originated in Finland, and it is in that Scandinavian nation that the annual international championships are still held, as they have been since the early 1990s. But wife carrying has gone global, and has in fact become quite popular right here in America. The North American Wife Carrying Championships might not be as big as the annual Finnish competition, but each year hundreds of competitors and thousands of spectators flock to watch men carry women (often their wives, but not necessarily so) through an obstacle course as fast as possible. The American event takes place in Maine over the Columbus Day weekend.
2. WAFL – Women on the Gridiron
For about two years, people thought that an all-female full contact football league might be a good idea. That ideal only lasted about two years because the maniacs actually went ahead and created it, so we could all learn IRL that full contact football is really not a great sport for women. (It’s not that great for men, either, if you like having your joints and brain work past age 50.) The WAFL was initiated in 2001 and lasted until 2003. Strange enough, this league was neither the first nor the last attempt at creating a female football league.
1. NCBL – AKA Negro League
It’s unfortunately not hard to believe that the so-called Negro Leagues existed if you have even a passing understanding of American history. But it’s still hard to understand it when thought of through a modern sensibility. Here’s the skinny: “Hey, you’re really great at playing baseball, aren’t you? Want to play professionally? Oops, looks like you made the mistake of being born black. Well, why don’t you join this separate league instead?” That’s flippant, sure, but hardly inaccurate. The Negro Leagues were formally called the National Colored Baseball League, and were around until the early 1930s.
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