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The annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest took place Saturday with no crowd at an undisclosed location in Brooklyn.

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Joey Chestnut made history on Saturday, digesting a world-record 75 hot dogs in 10 minutes to further cement his legacy as the greatest competitive eater of all-time. His dominant Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest victory this year saw him beat out his foes by a 33-hot-dog-and-bun margin. 

Chestnut’s 13th Mustard Yellow Belt prompted ESPN to show the 36-year-old’s feat side-by-side with other athletes who have won the same competition or title over the course of their careers. That list included Rafael Nadal’s 12 French Open titles and Bill Russell’s 11 NBA championship rings. One CBS Sports tweet showed a photo of Michael Jordan and Tom Brady’s combined 12 championships being outdone by Chestnut’s 13 hot dog titles.

Yes, a man who gobbles down hot dogs at an annual event is being mentioned in the same stratosphere as arguably the greatest basketball and football players of all-time. 

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The seemingly sarcastic comparisons drew different reactions over social media. One user tweeted, “quite possibly the most dominant athlete ever” in reference to Chestnut’s accomplishments. Another user tweeted, “slightly offended that we’re comparing Joey Chestnut(‘s) career championships to Rafael Nadal and Bill Russell? Total joke.”

— FanSided (@FanSided) July 4, 2020

You can now call Joey Chestnut the GOAT of GOATs! pic.twitter.com/YJGJXSzmBZ

— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) July 4, 2020

The reaction does beg the question as to whether Chestnut’s competitive eating prowess should be taken seriously enough to compare it to the glory of some of the greatest athletes in sports history. What, exactly, should the barometer be? 

If it’s based on athletic ability, are NASCAR drivers disqualified as athletes? If it’s about obscurity, surely there are a plethora of Olympic sports we forget exist until the Games are aired for three weeks every two years. Is it about dedication or inner drive? Because competitive eaters train year-round and Chestnut has also eclipsed world records for Big Mac burgers and Hooters hot wings.

Some naysayers aren’t buying it. British author Colin McGinn told The Atlantic in 2014 that competitive eating is “almost a parody of a sport. Here is a person exercising some skill – I suppose in some sense – but at the same time, doing it in the service of something that’s just drawing attention to the organic body.” 

In ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, “The Good, the Bad, the Hungry,” Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest chairman and M.C. George Shea expressed his desire to turn competitive eating into a respected sport, on par with professional wrestling – hence how the annual “Mustard Yellow Belt” was created. Shea helped bolster the popularity of the hot dog contest by launching the Major League Eating federation – then the International Federation of Competitive Eating. 

So if there’s one measuring stick to consider, perhaps it’s popularity based on numbers of viewers and spectators. The thousands of people that usually flock to Coney Island had to watch from home this year, with the competition being held at a safe location to address coronavirus pandemic concerns; eaters were wearing masks to enter and were 6 feet apart, separated by plexiglass. But typically, it’s a major event that draws huge crowds of 40,000 (per Nathan’s Famous website) and has averaged around 2 million viewers for nearly two decades (per ESPN). The event draws more viewers than a typical Major League Soccer game. 

But is that just good marketing around an American holiday that’s synonymous with eating hot dogs? Shea said in a 2016 New Yorker interview that people are drawn to competitors like Chestnut and Japanese sensation Takeru Kobayashi because they’re “heroes.” 

Chestnut’s greatness in his own sport isn’t debatable. But deciphering whether his accomplishments are worthy of going up against sports legends is another debate that’s likely to be based on subjective viewpoints. Wherever opinions lie, it’s clear Independence Day is the one time each year Chestnut gets to be decorated and adorned as a sports hero.  

Sports video of the day

On this day in 1980, Björn Borg fended off John McEnroe in a famous five-set thriller to capture his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title. Borg survived a memorable 22-minute, 34-point, fourth-set tiebreak that goes down as one of the greatest moments in tennis history. 

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WORLD RECORD: Joey Chestnut eats 75 hot dogs to claim annual contest

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Follow reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson

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