Yesterday, the Fourth of July festivities at the 2010 Nathan’s Hot Dog Competition on Coney Island turned ugly when shortly after Joey Chestnut won the competition, competitive eating legend Takeru Kobayashi was arrested by the NYPD. In the words of the New York Daily News, Kobayashi had “gone berserk” and “stormed the stage” following Chestnut’s victory.
Major League Eating, or MLE, has tried to brush Takeru Kobayashi’s outburst and subsequent arrest as a grandstanding Kanye interrupt-type moment. “It’s unprofessional and unsavory and, frankly, rather frustrating,” organizer Richard Shea told the Daily News. Kobayashi’s arrest is conspicuously absent from the set of news releases MLE posted on their website. But the reality, while not entirely favorable towards Kobayashi, bespeaks the unlikely tensions and profit-urges in the world of competitive eating:
Kobayashi, who had initially planned on participating in the competition, had refused to sign MLE’s contract, which, among other stipulations, called for his exclusive participation in MLE competitions and barred him from participating in other eating contests. On his blog, Kobayashi claims that he had tried to amend this contract, but that negotiations broke down.
According to comments on the selfsame blog post, some sporting news outlets have accused Kobayashi of using all of the moral outrage over openness as a smokescreen: In fact, they claim, Kobayashi was gunning for more money from MLE, didn’t get it, vowed to skip the contest, and then had second thoughts.
For what it’s worth, though, Kobayashi is arguably one of the guys who put MLE on the map. The International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) was founded in 1997; four years later, Kobayashi made his first appearance at the 2001 hot dog-eating competition and shattered the previous hot dog-eating record by eating 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes — the previous record had been 25. Thereafter, in 2002, Major League Eating got a big break in the form of a televised competition on FOX. Today, IFOCE’s website boasts that “MLE promotions generate more than a billion consumer impressions worldwide each year” — a somewhat cryptic and meaningless figure that, however one unriddles it, probably derives a good chunk of those “consumer impressions” back to Kobayashi.
Whether Kobayashi’s initial beef with MLE traces back to creative freedom or money disputes or some mix of the two, it seems fair to say that his prearrest outburst served another, additional purpose: Sticking it to Joey Chestnut. There’s been bad blood between the two since Chestnut stole the hot dog eating record from Kobayashi in 2007, whereupon Kobayashi promptly minimized his rival’s accomplishment and claimed a jaw injury. And it’s reciprocated: According to The Independent, today’s altercation was preceded by Joey Chestnut saying that Kobayashi would have competed “if he was a real man,” so it’s not as though Chestnut is himself the innocent victim of a grandstander. Money disputes, rivalries, and above all, big egos: Sounds like competitive eating is just like every mainstream sport we know.
Below, AP video of Kobayashi’s arrest: