November 30, 2011 by David Gillaspie
by David Gillaspie
The recent news from Penn State and Syracuse deal with coaches from other sports. Assistants in football and basketball brought a dark cloud over teams they dedicated their lives to.
Could this happen in wrestling?
Look around the world of wrestling, around the wrestling fans in your town, the wrestlers in your room. Chances are good you notice a few guys who would like nothing more than ripping an arm off an abusive person and beating them with it. Abuse or not, they want to rip an arm off someone and give a beating.
You might be one of them yourself.
When you see images of old wrestlers do you see iconic figures, old men, or the sort of people you’d trust your kids with. Probably all three, but mostly you see the equal to anyone’s bodyguard. Any group inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame is chockfull of men capable of protecting the public good.
The acts you’ve heard about have nothing to do with sports, but they get reported that way. Just the same, wrestling is a safer sport than any ball sport by numbers alone. On top of that, the sort of athlete drawn to wrestling isn’t as needy, or whiney, or demanding attention. They might start out that way, but it gets beat out soon enough by teammates who have heard enough.
Most of the time, wrestlers just want to make it through the season in one piece, or make it through a tournament, or even practice.
You’ve heard of the buddy system? Tell others. It comes with a saying, “if you go, I go.” If you don’t let your buddy down, neither of you ends up with big problems. If your buddy seems to be going off the tracks, yank him back. If you can’t get him back on track, find someone who can.
It’s that easy, and that hard. For example:
During a cross country wrestling trip in campers, the Oregon team camped sometimes, stayed in motels others. During one of the camp stops on the way back from Oklahoma State things got out of hand with hazing. At least it seemed like hazing.
A bully sort of wrestler from another school got his pals and ganged up on a lighter wrestler for a pink belly and other painful noogies. No one stopped them. Boys being boys, right?
Like most camping sites, this one had a fire pit with a fire. A smaller wrestler from my school had seen the bully group catch another kid and make him cry. We all saw it and figured they were settling old scores, not looking for new victims.
But they decided to go after our little guy. Bad idea.
Three of them rushed him. He ran away from the fire, then back, jumping over the flames with a mid-air turn and landing to face his attackers. No one on our team had ever hazed him. After him now we were glad we didn’t try.
Our guy picked a flaming branch out of the fire and pointed it toward the three guys chasing him. One of them got closer, challenging our guy to use the flaming branch. It was an accident that he didn’t get a hot poker in the eye because our guy tried to make it happen.
He swung the branch. Flaming chunks flew at the three guys. When they threatened him to stop, he chased them. The wind kept the flame burning while he tried to run them down and peg them with his torch. They didn’t think he would hurt them. They were wrong.
Things quieted down until he came back alone. Should we have helped him? No, he didn’t need any help. Should we have warned the bullies? Why ruin a good night of camping among the wildlife.
Our guy came back, pulled off his sweaty shirt, and started circling the fire. Then he jumped over it. The rest of us joined in, jumping the fire and howling and growling the night away. Our guy came back with a new fierceness and it caught on. The adults came over to check it out and left. Boys being boys, right?
That night we found Caveman. He knew how to deal with abusive people; he did what no else would do and won the night.
I’m sharing this story for a few reasons.
1. If bullies try to work a defenseless guy, help out.
2. If bullies come after one of your teammates, help out.
3. If bullies come after a teammate you’ve been in scouts with, camped with, and who knows how to react to threats, sit back and learn.
4. If you’re a bully and you sight in on someone named Caveman, you’re going to get burned. You’ll need more help than you’ll get.
5. If someone named Caveman is your friend, he’ll be a friend for life. You might hitchhike halfway across America and back for a wrestling tournament. You might end up college roommates. You might be the best man at his wedding.
You might stand up at his funeral.
Stewart Abbe was our caveman. Who’s yours?