Joey Chestnut points finger at Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest organizers in first interview since ban

In this photograph taken by AP Images for Pepto Bismol, George Shea, left, announces World eating champion Joey Chestnut, before competing in a taco eating contest sponsored by Pepto-Bismol at the San Francisco Street Food Festival on Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010 in San Francisco. (Tony Avelar / AP Images for Pepto-Bismol)
George Shea (left) is one of the brothers quietly involved in Joey Chestnut's ban from the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. (Tony Avelar / AP Images for Pepto-Bismol)

Joey Chestnut will not compete in the 2024 Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest on Thursday, to the disappointment of fans, casual viewers and the man himself.

The 16-time champion broke his silence about his ban, which stems from an endorsement deal he has with Impossible Foods, and provided his side of the story in an interview with Sports Illustrated's Emma Baccallieri published Tuesday.

Chestnut alleged that the organizers of the Nathan's contest, Major League Eating, changed the terms of his agreement around endorsing other products, which they have done in the past. He claimed this was simply a case of them doing it too late to change anything:

"Everything with Impossible was perfectly fine by all my previous agreements. They changed terms and conditions [around] exclusivity. And it’s not the first time they’ve changed some things, but it’s the first time they’ve really changed things after the fact, and I had to say, ’Hey, it’s too late, I’ve already started working with this brand.’ This was never an issue in the past. And they tried to dance around it — they changed a lot of terms, and then they escalated things to a degree they didn’t imagine when they started leaking information and telling people I was banned and that I turned vegan, which clearly isn’t the case."

The two men running this dispute from the other side are George and Richard Shea, two brothers who run MLE. Chestnut claimed they both messaged him after the ban saying "pretty much, that they’re sorry it got ugly."

Of course, this isn't the first time it's gotten ugly. The history of competitive eaters who have seen their careers go publicly dormant over contract disputes with MLE is not insignificant. Chestnut mentioned Takeru Kobayashi and Matt Stonie, the only two men to ever beat him on the Fourth of July, who both had fallings-out with the Nathan's organizers.

In Chestnut's case, he didn't rule out a return to the Nathan's contest, though you would imagine something would have to change with at least one of his contracts with Impossible or MLE:

"I don’t think the Shea brothers are bad people. I’m not burning any bridges. And I love it — I love the Fourth of July and that contest. I’m always willing to try. I don’t hold grudges. So nothing is out of the question."

With Nathan's not an option, Chestnut has a couple irons in the fire for this year. He will hold an event on Thursday at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, where he will compete against a group of soldiers in a five-minute contest.

Then comes Labor Day, when Chestnut will face his old rival Kobayashi in "Chestnut vs. Kobayashi: Unfinished Beef" live on Netflix. So if you're a big Joey Chestnut fan, you can still watch him eat a lot of hot dogs this year.