Joey Chestnut regrets putting protester in chokehold at Hot Dog Eating Contest: ‘I wish that it didn’t happen’

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Joey Chestnut’s latest victory in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4 may very well have been his most convoluted yet. The famed competitive eater managed to win the contest for the 15th time despite being on crutches — and despite being interrupted in the middle of the event by a protest.

During the hot dog eating contest, Chestnut’s performance was briefly disturbed when an animal rights protester in a Darth Vader mask stormed the stage, holding up an “Expose Smithfield’s Deathstar” sign before being put in a chokehold and taken down by Chestnut himself.

Although the moment quickly went viral, Chestnut expressed in an interview with USA Today on Tuesday that he regretted his actions and felt he may have overreacted.

“As soon as a I grabbed the guy, I realized he was a kid,” Chestnut told USA Today. “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.”

Reviewing the video of his takedown, Chestnut likened his reaction to the protester storming the stage and making bodily contact with him to a dog exhibiting food aggression. Chestnut also believes that the protester’s mask triggered a reaction that he may not have otherwise had.

“In my position, I don’t know, I had been waiting a long time for the contest and I wish (the protester) had just stood by me and I never would have touched him,” Chestnut said. “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.”

The protester represented the group Direct Action Everywhere, which protested Smithfield Foods’ Circle Four Farms, the largest factory pig farm in the country. The group alleges that Smithfield — of which Nathan’s is a licensed brand — compromises worker safety, public health and animal welfare.

The protester, 21-year-old Scott Gilbertson of California, was arrested and charged with criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and harassment. Two other protesters were also arrested on similar charges.

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