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Joey Chestnut says he regrets putting ‘kid’ protester in chokehold: ‘I was just amped up’

"As soon as I grabbed the guy, I realized he was a kid," Chestnut said. "I felt bad afterwards."

One of the world's most famous competitive eaters is now expressing his remorse after reflecting on a momentous —  if not chaotic — Independence Day.

Joey Chestnut, the 15-time champion of Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, shared his regrets after putting a protester in a chokehold mid-contest on Monday, July 4. Chestnut, who was positioned in the center of the stage, was in the midst of chowing down when activists approached.

The activists, reportedly from Direct Action Everywhere, were there to protest hot dog manufacturing methods. Wearing "Star Wars" themed masks, the three individuals held signs that said “Expose Smithfield’s Deathstar,” referring to Smithfield Foods’ Circle Four Farms, which supplies pork for Nathan’s products.

When one protester, a 21-year-old Berkeley-area activist named Scott Gilbertson, collided with contestants on stage, Chestnut grabbed him, put him in a chokehold, and after a brief struggle, Gilbertson fell to the ground.

Joey Chestnut
Joey Chestnut tackles a protester who interrupted the competition during the 2022 Nathan's Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest on Coney Island in New York. Yuki Iwamura / AFP - Getty Images

“I was freaked out a little bit because he had the mask on," Chestnut told USA Today Sports on Tuesday. “I saw the mask and I think that’s when I realized he doesn’t belong here.’’

In response to the Chestnut’s reaction, the activist expressed his astonishment at what went down — and who did it. 

“I felt like it was unnecessary for sure," Gilbertson told the outlet. “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."

According to the New York Police Department, Gilbertson and the other animal-rights activists involved in the brouhaha were charged with criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and harassment. Still, Chestnut expressed remorse for his response.

“As soon as I grabbed the guy, I realized he was a kid," Chestnut said. “I felt bad afterwards. I was just amped up, just focused on getting back to eating.”

Although Chestnut did win the contest this year in his 15th straight victory, he regrets the way things went down with the protesters and how it may have overshadowed the joyful intent of the festivities.

“It’s just unfortunate. I wish that it didn’t happen. It’s a bummer," he said.

This year, Chestnut ended up chomping down 63 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes at this year’s event, successfully defending his more-than-a-decade-long Nathan’s title. In addition to the fast-eating festivities, Nathan’s Famous, Inc. donated 100,000 of its beef hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City, which provides food to the hungry through over 1,800 charities.

In a yearly tradition, the winners of the men’s and women’s divisions take a victory lap on TODAY, so Chestnut and women’s division champ Miki Sudo stopped by the plaza on July 5.

“It’s not pretty,” said Chestnut live on TODAY of the techniques used to successfully devour dog after dog. Chestnut also warned Hoda Kotb and the gang not to get too close to him since he claimed he may smell "like meat."

“A marathon runner doesn’t feel too great after a marathon, it’ll take me about a day and a half to recover,” he said.