Takeru Kobayashi is a free man!
The former world hot-dog-eating champion, arrested in stunning fashion when he rushed the stage at the July 4 contest in Coney Island, had his case dismissed in court last week and walked out a hero.
“I am so happy,” he said, as dozens of reporters and photographers captured every move of this wisp of a man from Japan, who was facing jail for trespassing, obstruction of governmental operation and resisting arrest.
When asked if his legal triumph felt greater than his unprecedented run of six world championships at the Nathan’s contest, he said, “It was a more nervous victory.”
Officially, Judge Jackie Williams handed down an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal” that keeps the legendary eater free if he “stays out of trouble” and does not get arrested during the next six months.
Outside, his fans — well, at least the three who gathered outside the Schermerhorn Street courthouse — revelled in the victory.
“The whole arrest was unfair,” said Emi Watanabe, a Japan native wearing a “Free Kobi” T-shirt. “He just wanted to eat and show the world that he could win.”
But Kobayashi was not competing at the July 4 contest because of a contract dispute with Major League Eating, the governing body of all stomach-centric sports. At the end of the 10-minute frankfest, while champion Joey Chestnut was celebrating, Kobayashi rushed the stage, bowed to his fans, and then was arrested for trespassing.
Last week, he still claimed that the contract, which requires him to only compete in MLE-sanctioned eating contests, unfairly binds him to the league. He reiterated outside the courthouse that he will not sign the contract. Rather, he has negotiated a deal to compete at a non-sanctioned Aug. 21 contest in Canada, though his translator, Maggie James, provided no details except that the contest would be “against people, not animals.”
George Shea, the executive director of Major League Eating, would not comment on the ruling, saying only that he defers “entirely to the District Attorney, who understands these matters.”
But Shea did address the central issue: Kobayashi’s objection to the MLE contract, a “reserve clause,” if you will, that binds these top athletes to one league.
“I don’t understand his objection to this day,” Shea said. “If he doesn’t like the contract, then don’t enter our contests. If he does not want to be part of Major League Eating, he does not have to be.”
Shea said that the end of the legal saga was not a sad day for competitive eating because “this has nothing to do with competitive eating — it has to do with legal issues that come from bum-rushing the stage.”
“Competitive eating,” Shea added, “has never been more robust and more dynamic.”
In the end, Kobayashi, wearing a mismatched dark blue Commes de Garcons suit with a multi-colored, untucked striped and plaid shirt, said he was relieved to have the legal case against him concluded.
“I was so nervous that I didn’t eat, so now I want to get a steak,” he said.
When asked by this reporter how much steak he intended to eat, the world pan-seared cow-brain-eating expert paused for a second and said, “A normal steak.”