Joey Chestnut expressed regret for briefly putting a protester in a headache Monday at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest – and he also explained his actions in a phone interview with USA TODAY Sports.
Chestnut, standing center stage on July 4 on Coney Island in New York City, quickly resumed shoving hot dogs into his mouth after the incident. The video of the moment went viral after Chestnut won his 15th title in 16 years.
“As soon as I grabbed the guy, I realized he was a kid,” Chestnut told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. “I felt bad afterwards. I was just amplified, just focused on getting back to eating.
“It’s just a pity. I wish that didn’t happen. It’s a disappointment.”
The protester was Scott Gilbertson, 21, of Berkley, Calif., who has been charged with criminal trespassing, disorderly conduct and harassment, according to the New York Police Department (NYPD). He was one of three protesters, all animal rights activists working with a grassroots group called Direct Action Everywhere.
“I felt like it was pointless for sure,” Gilbertson told USA TODAY Sports of Chestnut’s reaction. “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.”
Chestnut, 38, said the mask that obstructed Gilbertson’s vision also triggered Chestnut’s reaction.
“I was a little freaked out because he was wearing the mask,” Chestnut said. “I saw the mask and I think that’s when I realized it didn’t belong here.”
Gilbertson and two other protesters wore masks of Star Wars and Darth Vader “stormtroopers” and carried signs reading “Expose Smithfield’s Deathstar.”
“The ‘Deathstar’ reference compares the evil megaweapon from the Star Wars film series to the nation’s largest factory hog farm, Smithfield Foods’ Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah,” Direct Action Everywhere wrote in a statement. hurry.
Nathan’s is a licensed brand of Smithfield, which Direct Action Everywhere says compromises worker safety, public health and animal welfare.
Matt Johnson, the press coordinator for Direct Action Everywhere, said Chestnut’s reaction was “exceedingly violent”.
“I think it was pretty straightforward to see,” Johnson said. “I’m going to give him some slack. You’re in the heat of the action, it’s really intense, he trained a lot for it, it means a lot to him. He’s not public enemy #1 or anything, but a pretty excessive response to a peaceful protest.
After watching the video, Chestnut compared his reaction to a dog exhibiting food aggression — in this case, a protester threatening to come between Chestnut and his hot dogs.
“That’s what it reminded me of,” he said.
“That seems excessive,” he added. him. If he hadn’t nudged me and moved in front of me, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But I also wish they hadn’t been on stage.”
Gilbertson said his neck hurt from the strangulation, but he doesn’t think it’s serious.
“I really have nothing against Joey as a person,” he said. “I was just trying to get my message and that of my organization across. I wasn’t trying to push him. I had the mask on and my peripheral vision was hampered.
“I was trying to get in front of him. I couldn’t see how close I was to him and I kind of nudged him. So I can understand I guess why he maybe overreacted, but I think the extent to which he overreacted was unnecessary.
The entire encounter lasted no more than five seconds, with emcee George Shea shoving the protester away from Chestnut as the competitive food champion resumed devouring hot dogs and buns during the 10-minute contest.
The other two protesters — Robert Yamada, 42, of Phoenix and Joshua Marxen, 31, of Santa Clara, Calif. — have been charged with criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct during the incident, according to the NYPD.
Chestnut said 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, they’re happy that I didn’t let it bother me and I was able to carry on.”
Chestnut said he thinks the incident with the protester may have cost him three hot dogs. He ate 63, 20 ahead of second-placed Geoffrey Esper.
Longtime contest host Shea said he believed the protesters’ efforts had failed.
“The end result of this effort on their part was to make Joey an epic hero if he wasn’t already one, which he was,” Shea said. “To elevate him further into the world of epic heroes was the end result.”