Joey Chestnut expressed regret Tuesday for putting a protestor in a chokehold during the July 4 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Monday.
Chestnut spoke to Josh Peter of USA Today about the incident, noting that he wished he hadn't gotten physical with 21-year-old Scott Gilbertson: "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. It's just unfortunate. I wish that it didn't happen. It's a bummer."
Gilbertson ended up right next to Chestnut during the competition and bumped into him, prompting Chestnut to subdue him before others pulled the protestor away:
Despite the interruption, Chestnut won his seventh consecutive Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest and 15th in 16 years by eating 63 hot dogs, which was 20 more than second-place finisher Geoffrey Esper.
Gilbertson was protesting on behalf of Direct Action Everywhere, which is an animal rights group that has taken aim at Smithfield—the company that licenses the Nathan's brand.
Along with two other protestors, Gilbertson held up a sign that read, "Expose Smithfield’s Deathstar," in reference to Smithfield's Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah. Gilbertson wore a Darth Vader mask, while the other two protestors wore Stormtrooper masks.
Gilbertson was also reached for comment and expressed his belief that Chestnut was overly aggressive, saying: "I felt like it was unnecessary for sure. 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 suggested that Gilbertson bumping into him is what caused him to react in the manner he did, noting:
"It looks excessive. ... 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."
Gilbertson did express some understanding for why Chestnut reacted the way he did, but still felt the eating champion went overboard:
"I don't really have anything against Joey as a person. I was just trying to get my message out there and my organization's message out there. I wasn't trying to nudge him. I had the mask on and my peripheral vision was hindered.
"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 may have overreacted. But I think the extent to which he reacted was unnecessary."
The 2022 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest was a landmark one in that it marked the return to Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, after two years away.
The 2020 event was held indoors with no fans in attendance because of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the 2021 competition was held at nearby Maimonides Park because of capacity restrictions related to COVID-19.
In addition to overcoming the scuffle with Gilbertson, Chestnut battled through a leg injury that required crutches and a walking boot to win his 15th Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.