Hot Dog Eating Champion Joey Chestnut Speaks Out After Putting Protestor In a Headlock: ‘I Felt Bad Afterwards’

by Patrick Norton

It certainly takes guts to be Joey Chestnut. Gobbling 63 hot dogs – with buns – in 10 minutes is repulsive to most. However, for Chestnut, it’s a down year. But the competitive eater’s disappointing performance doesn’t fall on his shoulders. Some might consider his dismantling of a trespassing protester the more athletic feat of the Independence Day competition.

When 21-year-old California native Scott Gilbertson jumped on stage at the Coney Island event, instincts kicked in for Chestnut. The 38-year-old snatched the trespasser, briefly holding Gilbertson in a headlock. But the competitor tells the Pat McAfee Show and USA TODAY Sports that he regrets his actions.

Because of the protestor’s Darth Vader mask, in the moment before Chestnut turned things up a notch, he didn’t realize the potential young age of Gilbertson. However, in reflection, Chestnut says, “As soon as I grabbed the guy, I realized he was a kid. I felt bad afterwards. I was just amped up, just focused on getting back to eating.”

Chestnut did just that – finishing the contest without much of a scare for his title defense. A total of 63 Nathan’s hot dogs trumped the runner-up by more than 15 wieners.

Chestnut’s Reaction: Excessive or Justified?

Gilbertson’s protesting of Smithfield Foods’ Circle Four Farms sparked various reactions. Nathan’s – the event’s host – is a licensed brand of Smithfield’s. Matt Johnson, the press coordinator for Direct Action Everywhere – an activism group specializing in animal rights – called Joey Chestnut’s actions “excessive”.

Johnson says, “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.”

Johnson’s quote calling the protest peaceful enters a territory of blurred lines. Just because nobody sustained injuries in the incident doesn’t automatically qualify the disruption as peaceful. Gilbertson shoved his way to the front of the event with a mask concealing his identity. But everybody’s safe and healthy today, and both parties have wildly interesting tales to share for the foreseeable future.