Joey Chestnut lamented Nathan’s brief strangulation of a protester during the annual hot dog eating contest on Monday, and also explained his actions during a phone interview with USA TODAY Sports.
Chestnut, who stood at the center of an uplifted stage on July 4 in New York’s Coney Island, quickly resumed putting hot dogs in his mouth after the incident. A video of the moment went viral after Chestnut won his 15th title in 16 years.
“As soon as I grabbed the guy, I knew he was a kid,” Chestnut told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. “I got sick after that. I was just excited, just focused on getting back to eating.
“It’s just unfortunate. I wish this didn’t happen. It’s a bummer.”
According to the New York City Police Department (NYPD), the protester was 21-year-old Scott Gilbertson of Berkeley, California, who was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and harassment. He was one of three protesters, all animal rights activists working with the grassroots group. titled “Direct Action Everywhere”.
“I felt like it definitely wasn’t necessary,” Gilbertson told USA TODAY Sports of Chestnut’s reaction. “I was wearing a mask 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.”
Chestnut, 38, said the mask, which prevented Gilbertson from seeing, also caused Chestnut’s reaction.
“I was a little scared because he was wearing a mask,” Chestnut said. “I saw the mask and I think that’s when I realized he didn’t belong here.”
Gilbertson and two other protesters wore Star Wars and Darth Vader “stormtrooper” masks and displayed “Expose the Smithfield Death Star” posters.
“The Death Star reference compares the villainous Star Wars megaweapon to the largest factory pig farm in the country, Smithfield Foods’ Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah,” Direct Action Everywhere said in a press release.
Nathan’s is a Smithfield-licensed brand that Direct Action Everywhere claims compromises worker safety, public health, and animal welfare.
Matt Johnson, press coordinator for Direct Action Everywhere, said Chestnut’s response was “overly violent”.
“I think it was pretty easy to see,” Johnson said. I’ll loosen it up a little. You’re on fire, it’s really intense, he trained a lot for this, it means a lot to him. He’s not Public Enemy #1 or anything, but rather an overreaction to a peaceful protest.”
After watching the video, Chestnut compared his reaction to a dog displaying food aggression — in this case, the protester threatening to get between Chestnut and his hot dogs.
“That’s what it reminded me of,” he said.
“It looks over the top,” he added. his. If he hadn’t nudged me and stood in front of me, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But I also wish they didn’t go on stage.”
Gilbertson said his neck hurts from the chokehold, but he doesn’t think it’s anything serious.
“I really have nothing against Joey as a person,” he said. “I was just trying to get my message across and the message of my organization. I didn’t try to push him. I was wearing a mask and my peripheral vision was obstructed.
“I tried to get in front of him. I couldn’t see how close I was to him and I sort of pushed him. So I can understand, I think, why he could react so strongly. But I think the degree of his reaction was excessive.”
The entire clash lasted no more than five seconds, with host George Shea pulling a protester away from Chestnut while the eating champ resumed eating hot dogs and buns during the 10-minute contest.
According to the NYPD, two other protesters – Robert Yamada, 42, of Phoenix, and Joshua Marksen, 31, of Santa Clara, California – were charged with criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct at the time of the incident.
Chestnut said that people’s reaction to the way he treated the protester was mixed. He said his fiancée received a direct message on Instagram saying the incident was a red flag for abusive behavior and that she shouldn’t be with Chestnut.
“For the most part,” Chestnut said, “my family is happy that I didn’t let it bother me and was able to carry on.”
Chestnut said he believed the incident with the protester could have cost him three hot dogs. He ate 63, 20 more than runner-up Geoffrey Esper.
Shi, the contest’s longtime host, said he thought the protesters’ efforts had not been successful.
“The end result of that effort on their part was to turn Joey into an epic hero, if he wasn’t already, and he was,” Shea said. “The end result was to take him even higher in the world of epic heroes.”
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