Joey Chestnut isn’t pleased with the way he handled a surprising incident at this year’s Nathan’s Famous Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Chestnut — who earned his 15th mustard belt on Monday at the long-running competition — says he “felt bad” for putting a protester who rushed the stage mid-competition into a chokehold.
“As soon as I grabbed the guy, I realized he was a kid,’’ Chestnut said in an interview with USA Today Sports’ Josh Peter. “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,” he added.
During Chestnut’s latest championship performance, three protesters from animal rights activist group Direct Action Everywhere stormed the stage as the titan competitor was scarfing down his 18th hot dog.
While wearing “Star Wars” masks and holding up signs that read “Expose Smithfield’s Deathstar,” the activists crashed the event to protest Smithfield Foods — the pork supplier for Nathan’s Famous.
One of the protesters sporting a Darth Vader mask nudged Chestnut out of his position before flashing his sign to the crowd.
Chestnut, who was already injured and using crutches due to a ruptured tendon in his leg when he arrived at the function that day, then reacted by putting the protester in a chokehold and wrestling him to the ground.
As though nothing happened, Chestnut immediately continued eating his frankfurters after taking down the concealed disruptor. The trio of protesters were removed by security.
The protester whom Chestnut grabbed was identified as 21-year-old Scott Gilbertson of Berkeley, California. He has since been charged with criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and harassment, according to the USA Today.
The outlet also spoke to Gilbertson, who said he didn’t realize in the moment that Chestnut administered the chokehold, which he called “unnecessary.”
“I assumed it was a security guard,” he said. “And then when I saw the video, it was Joey. I was surprised.’’
Gilbertson said he “nudged” Chestnut and understood why he might have had reacted that way.
Chestnut told USA Today that although the altercation looked “excessive,” he reacted the way he did because the protester was masked.
“I was freaked out a little bit because he had the mask on,’’ Chestnut said. “I saw the mask and I think that’s when I realized he doesn’t belong here.’’
“It looks excessive,’’ he added. “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.”
The two other protesters involved — Robert Yamada of Phoenix and Joshua Marxen of Santa Clara, California — were also charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct, according to authorities.
The New York-born fast food chain previously came under fire from Direct Action Everywhere over alleged worker safety, public health and animal welfare issues.
As for the award-winning hot dog enthusiast, Chestnut said the incident prevented him from guzzling down about three more hot dogs in the competition.
Nevertheless, he was crowned champion after rapidly chowing down on 63 hot dogs and buns, just 15 and a half more than the second-place winner Geoffrey Esper.
The highly-anticipated Nathan’s Famous Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest takes place every year on July Fourth in Coney Island, New York.