October 13, 2009 by David Gillaspie
Rooting for a favorite team, or athlete, is a God given right in America, but not in countries that don’t believe in God, or have decent teams. Cheering shows you care. You clap. You yell. You stand up and boo the bad calls against your guys.
Cheering is not downing a half rack of PBR pounders and throwing one through the flat screen when Tony Romo does his Danny White impression of Dandy Don Meredith. Unless you’re a Cowboy fan.
Caring about a team means wearing the gear. A hat shows you understand the commitment. A jersey shows you are committed. A tattoo shows you should be committed. Short of peeling your skin off on a regular basis, team gear should be able to hang in a closet.
Caring about a sport is different from caring about a team. Now it’s about ‘The Season.’ A successful sport like college football is all about riding that wave of testosterone and attitude. You don’t have to be a great surfer. Basketball? Same wave, more attitude. Caring about those sports is fashionable. There’s the tradition, the history. There’s the modern facilities.
And there’s the money.
With money you get administrators and coaches. You get boosters and sponsors. And you get away from the sport; you get social. It’s not a bad thing, but once you get social you end up around people who don’t know the sport and don’t really care. If they didn’t pony up for the team of their choice, their money would still go somewhere, just somewhere else.
Without money, without boosters and sponsors, without administrators and a cadre of coaches teaching athletes how to tie their shoes and keep their socks up; without all that, a sport dies.
A good example, the best example, is college wrestling. The numbers don’t lie. The tanking economy chopped hundreds of athletic teams since the winter of 2007, Graham Watson reports at espn.com:
“When the NCAA’s annual Sports Participation Report is released in the fall, the association expects to report that more than 100 teams were dropped in the past year, bringing the two-year total of dropped teams since the economic crisis began in the winter of 2007 to more than 227 teams.”
Add to that number, though not all dropped teams were wrestling teams, the list of schools that have already dropped wrestling. The award-winning wrestling writer Jason Bryant created a telling list on The Bryant Blog. He noted schools that produced all-Americans, but no longer field teams. It’s ugly.
No less attractive is the April, 2009 NY Times story on the athletic team cuts at M.I.T., including wrestling and their pistol team. The gun team was called, “one of the institute’s most popular physical education classes.” Do we need to compare the physical education benefits between shooting a pistol and wrestling? Does the pre-eminent tech school in all the land need to play with firearms? It’s Boston; I think they have enough gun problems.
A dying sport, as wrestling is sometimes called, has the same needs as a dying human being. Both need a caregiver. Not a care-taker, or steward, but a caregiver. How ironic that the world’s toughest sport needs such tenderness. A Wrestling Caregiver isn’t all the sport needs, but it’s a start.
The Wrestling Caregiver, or WC, would assess the condition of the sport the same as they would the condition of a person. They would check vital signs and keep a log to chart stability. They would note the causes of any fluctuations in the condition.
Also, as with a patient or loved one, the WC would review all professional and therapeutic opinions before taking action. Is wrestling depressed? Delusional? Does wrestling know where it is? The day and month? Establishing a baseline is the WC’s first job, followed by a unique course of treatment.
It is wrestling, after all, so a unique approach is the only way.
Are current actions producing the desired results? If not, start a gentle change. A man with Parkinson’s feels like they are the only sick person in the world. They need to see a bigger picture, then find themselves in it. Imagine someone with Parkinson’s falling and becoming paralyzed.
Imagine the patience of Stephen Hawking’s struggle against a neuro muscular dystrophy that is related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease; so much to say and so difficult to say it. Imagine Franklin D. Roosevelt running the country through the Depression and WWII without being able to walk.
Now imagine wrestling in the same context. It’s down but not out; weak but still a fighter. It’s not basketball with all of the jawing and gesturing and Chris “Birdman” Andersen. It’s not baseball with an entire ‘era’ labeled for steroids. And it’s not football where even the third string extra point holders are so bad they scare themselves looking in a mirror.
Wrestling will ebb and flow with the times. Schools may cut teams, but they won’t stop guys from working technique on a garage mat. Other sports may survive on a Sugar Daddy’s whim, but see Foxcatcher for fair warning; there’s more than one nut job who’ll pay to pretend they are The Man.
How will school boy wrestlers make the jump to high school, then college, then the world mats? Henry Cejudo will answer your questions. If that’s not good enough, then know that any kid wrestler who competes through high school has been through more ups and downs in one match than any other athlete in any sport played an entire season.
They are all Wrestling Caregivers. And so are you.
Make Robin Reed happy.