Out on bail, El Wingador flaps gums, sees error of ways

El Wingador wipes his brow after the final round of WIP Wing Bowl 16 at the Wachovia Center on February 1, 2008. He lost to Joey Chestnut.
El Wingador wipes his brow after the final round of WIP Wing Bowl 16 at the Wachovia Center on February 1, 2008. He lost to Joey Chestnut. (David Maialetti / Philadelphia Daily News)
Posted: June 29, 2012

Bill Simmons, or El Wingador to Wing Bowl fans, wants it known he's a changed man since his release this week on bail for cocaine distribution charges.

"I let down my fans and my family," Simmons, 50, said in a statement released by his publicist. He says he made a "gigantic" mistake.

Simmons was arrested and charged with first-degree drug distribution June 15 when New Jersey State Police found $8,000 worth of cocaine and $4,000 in cash in his Kia Soul. Gloucester County detectives and the state police's drug-trafficking unit had been observing Simmons for some time for suspected dealing.

Simmons, a five-time champion of 94WIP's chicken-wing chowdown, was released on $100,000 bail late Monday night.

"First off, I want to thank my friends and family and fans for the overwhelming outpouring of support and kindness they have shown me," Simmons said. "This isn't me. This isn't my style. I messed up big time, and I give my sincerest apologies to anyone I have hurt by my actions."

Simmons says he also supports a measure in New Jersey that would sentence nonviolent, drug-dependent offenders who would benefit from treatment to a drug court program rather than prison. It would be phased in over five-years. Participation in drug court is currently voluntary.

The bill, approved last month by the state Senate, and by the Assembly this week, is now headed to Gov. Christie's desk. The governor has said it's time to empty prisons of inmates who are drug-dependent but not otherwise criminals.

Simmons says he has an appreciation for the legislation, and what he says is the toll that long, mandatory sentencing takes on nonviolent offenders. He calls his brief time in jail a "life changing" and "humbling" experience.

The Woodbury Heights resident has yet to be able to market his ability to gobble 143 wings in 30 minutes. He tried a sauce business that didn't work, and opened a restaurant in Philadelphia in 2007, but closed it months later. There is talk of a reality TV show about competitive eaters. But it's been the experience in jail that's changed him most, says the 6'5”, 330 pound former truck driver.

"I got to see firsthand the impact hard time for nonviolent offenders has on these young kids facing long sentences giving them no chance at rehabilitation or of ever leading normal, productive lives," Simmons said. "I was just in one jail but it struck me that there are thousands of kids in jails all around the country serving really stiff sentences for nonviolent offenses, and no one seems to care. We are talkin' teenagers who've barely had a chance at life and they are locked up indefinitely."

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