Free Joey Chestnut: A petty corporate decision is depriving America of its beloved hot dog king

Empires fall. Castles crumble.

If you can’t beat him, banish him.

Joey Chestnut has been dethroned, not because another mortal could best him in one of America’s great marketing and capitalistic enterprises, but because he dared to defy one of America’s great marketing and capitalistic enterprises by partaking in his own American marketing and capitalistic enterprise.

Chestnut, the 16-time champion — including the last eight consecutive — of the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest has been barred from this year’s competition.

The 40-year-old Californian, who has proven more efficient at eating 100% all-beef hot dogs than any human to ever walk the Earth, has an endorsement deal with Impossible Foods, which happens to produce a 0%-beef hot dog.

That was too much for the sensitive souls that sanction the Nathan's competition. They are apparently terrified of soy leghemoglobin and cultured celery powder. Brooklyn has gone soft.

The champ is out. The king of kings, the man-child among us, the legend that was born when, as an engineering student at San Jose State, he won a deep-fried asparagus eating championship, has been taken down by bureaucrats not bloated bellies.

"We are devastated to learn that Joey Chestnut has chosen to represent a rival brand that sells plant-based hot dogs rather than competing in the 2024 Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest," Major League Eating said in a statement.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 04:   Defending Champion Joey Chestnut competes during the 2021 Nathans Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island on July 04, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)
Joey Chestnut has won the last eight Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contests, but he won't be able to defend his title this year. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)

Yes, it’s absurd that there is a thing called “Major League Eating” alone, yet it is so drunk on self-importance that it's issuing a statement on anything. This is an organization, after all, that recognizes a world record in Boysenberry pie consumption (owned by Chestnut, of course, who devoured a 14.5-pound monstrosity in just eight minutes back in 2016).

And yet it has the power to alter history.

Babe Ruth at the plate. Michael Jordan in the air. Neil Armstrong on the moon.

Nothing compared to Chestnut staring down a plate of all-beef wieners inside a Coney Island minor league baseball stadium each Independence Day.

Nothing could be more American. This is why Paul Revere rode to Lexington, George Washington crossed the Delaware and Evel Knievel jumped the Snake River. Why do you think Ric Flair, John Wayne and Dale Earnhardt Sr. each made sure to get born here? This is ’Merica, baby.

Except now the man who once ate 47 grilled cheese sandwiches in 10 minutes, 82 carnitas tacos in eight minutes and 257 Hostess Donettes in six minutes, thus redefining what humans are capable of accomplishing, is no longer welcome at the competition he lorded over.

Chestnut is now free to spend his Fourth at his own cookout, apparently eating a combination of water, wheat gluten, sunflower oil, coconut oil, natural flavors, salt, methylcellulose, spices, cultured dextrose, yeast extract and a bunch of other stuff pushed into a casing and served on a bun.

Maybe he’ll dunk it in water before consumption. Maybe he won’t. Either way he’ll have to claim it tastes better than Nathan’s.

We are all lesser Americans for this.

The origins of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest dates back to July 4, 1916, when, according to legend, four immigrants decided to see who could eat more hot dogs to settle a debate over who was the most patriotic, as is the proper metric to judge such a thing.

They are considered the original “Four Horsemen of the Esophagus.”

Of course, the story was about as pure and true as the contents of some hot dogs, but then again, how much integrity did you expect from a hot dog cart next to an amusement park?

No one wants a purity test for what is inside an actual hot dog — Nathan’s claims a “secret spice recipe” — but now there is a corporate endorsement purity test for the competitors? Nathan’s can make a buck, but not Joey? Even the NCAA is appalled.

This is a testament to hurt feelings trumping stomach aches; Big Hot Dog running scared. If Nathan’s had any confidence in its product, it wouldn’t fear some plant-based creation and its new spokesman.

It would rise up and accept the challenge, such as when Chestnut took on Takeru Kobayashi and proved the superior sportsman, thus turning competitive eating into Earth’s greatest athletic pursuit — replacing the Olympic decathlon, the WWE Intercontinental Championship and the NFL Draft Combine three-cone drill.

Nathan’s can sulk about non-meat dogs hitting the market. It can hide behind Major League Eating — the suits always protect the suits. It can hold its Chestnut-less contest and try to claim it as legitimate.

None of it will wash away the memories of Joey triumphs past, including the epic 76 hot dogs and buns he downed back in 2021, topping the 1980 Winter Olympic “Miracle on Ice” as America’s most thrilling sports moment.

Pass the mustard. Long live the King.