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‘Focused on getting back to eating’: Joey Chestnut on taking down protester

Chestnut said there’s a specific reason he went with a headlock rather than a push or shove: ‘If I pushed him, I would have dropped the hot dogs in my hands’

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Joey Chestnut and Miki Sudo pose with 63 and 40 hot dogs, respectively, after winning the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest in Coney Island on Monday, July 4, 2022, in New York.

Joey Chestnut and Miki Sudo pose with 63 and 40 hot dogs, respectively, after winning the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest in Coney Island on Monday, July 4, 2022, in New York.

Julia Nikhinson, Associated Press

Of all Joey Chestnut’s hot dog eating victories, this year’s was probably the most action-packed.

During the July 4 competition at New York’s Coney Island, Chestnut was downing his 18th hot dog when a protester wearing a Darth Vader mask stormed the stage and bumped into him, the Deseret News reported. Chestnut wrapped his arm around the protester’s neck and pulled him to the ground, and then continued eating his way to victory.


Joey Chestnut speaks out about protester incident

Now, Chestnut — who has won the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest 15 times — is opening up about the moment, which has gone viral with more than 10 million views on Twitter.

“As soon as I grabbed the guy, I realized he was a kid,’’ Chestnut told USA Today Sports. “I felt bad afterwards. I was just amped up, just focused on getting back to eating.

“It’s just unfortunate,” he continued. “I wish that it didn’t happen. It’s a bummer.’’ 

The protester was 21-year-old Scott Gilbertson, an animal rights activist affiliated with the group Direct Action Everywhere that views Smithfield Foods, Nathan’s pork supplier, to be “a company exposed for animal cruelty, worker abuse & pollution.” Specifically, the protesters — who were carrying “Expose Smithfield Deathstar” signs — were drawing attention to alleged mistreatment of pigs at Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah, the Deseret News reported.

Gilbertson — who was charged with criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and harassment — said he didn’t realize it was Chestnut who pulled him to the ground until he saw the video, USA Today Sports reported.

“I felt like it was unnecessary for sure,’’ Gilbertson told USA Today Sports. “I had the mask on so I couldn’t see who it was. I assumed it was a security guard. And then when I saw the video, it was Joey. I was surprised.’’

But Chestnut said it was the Darth Vader mask that really triggered his reaction — “I saw the mask and I think that’s when I realized he doesn’t belong here,” he said.

“It looks excessive,’’ he continued, per USA Today Sports. “But in my position, I don’t know, I had been waiting a long time for the contest and I wish (Gilbertson) had just stood by me and I never would have touched him. If he hadn’t elbowed me and got in front of me, it would have not been a problem. But I also wish they didn’t get on stage.”


What Direct Action Everywhere said about Joey Chestnut incident

Gilbertson and the other two protesters have been released from custody, KTVU Fox 2 reported.

Gilbertson said although he believes Chestnut overreacted, he doesn’t have negative feelings toward the competitive eater. Direction Action Everywhere, however, has called Chestnut’s response “excessively violent.”

“I think it was pretty plain to see,’’ Matt Johnson, the press coordinator for the group, said in a statement, per USA Today Sports. “I’ll cut him a little slack. You’re in the heat of the moment, this is really intense, he’s trained a lot for it, it means a lot to him. He’s not public enemy No. 1 or anything, but a pretty excessive response to a peaceful protest.’’

In the end, Chestnut said there’s a specific reason he went with a headlock rather than a push or shove: “If I pushed him, I would have dropped the hot dogs in my hands,” he told the New York Post.

Although it wasn’t his best showing, Chestnut consumed a total of 63 hotdogs — 15.5 hotdogs ahead of second place, the Deseret News reported.