Foley's Friday Mailbag: August 22, 2014

This week's protests in Ferguson almost certainly have nothing to do with the sport of wrestling. The shooting of an unarmed teenager, treatment of minorities, racism in general and the militarization of police are all leading discussions in the national media, and none of those have a lot to do with man's oldest sport.

I'm a man of strong opinions, but the only one I can muster is a growing disgust for the Twitter reporters who desire to make their name by inflating and over-analyzing mundane activities. These reporters are a professional journalist's nightmare -- an unholy mixture of star-obsessed half-wits who think in 140 characters, don't verify information use the cover of "press" badges to behave like spoiled teenagers defying a parent's request to turn off their bedroom light.

The ethical and moral acrobatics of live streaming hacks aside, the Ferguson fiasco did prompt, for me, some positive thoughts about the nature of wrestling and interpersonal communication.

During the Save Olympic Wrestling campaign one of the main points made in the press was that wrestling is the ultimate egalitarian sport. Muslim, Christian, Shinto; Black, White, Brown; Rich, Poor, Middle-Class: There is nothing between the sport of wrestling, an interested athlete and success. FILA has never attempted to promote inner-connectivity, but when compared to FIFA's desperate clamor at the 2014 World Cup to "end racism" the goodwill chants of Iranian fans for opposing wrestlers is all the more inspirational, if for nothing else than its organic origins.

Staying loyal to meritocracy, wrestling has produced, in many ways, the most harmonious mixture of individual athletes on the planet, without any contrived attempt to create that outcome. Wrestling teams are not appointed or chosen, they have become an example of multiculturalism based on the requirements of the sport.

One place you can see that very clearly are in the team photos for the U.S. men's freestyle, Greco-Roman and female wrestling teams.

For anyone to say they are blind to race is obnoxious, but most American wrestling fans would likely need to be reminded of the national team's interesting ethnic and racial composition.

Jordan Burroughs, Ed Ruth, Tony Ramos and Tervel Dlagnev all come from something other than the American majority ethnicity and yet we don't read articles about their transcendence of race, because wrestlers have to do what the world only attempts -- wrestlers value each other based on individual merit, ability and personality. There is no room for half-truths and impressions on a wrestling team. When you spend hours every day locked in the same room, bodies in contact and trust being formed ("Please don't drop me on my head") the concern for race is muted by the responsibility of cooperation. Wrestling is the most enlightened form of interpersonal communication because it produces the most desirable outcomes.

No doubt there is need for high-level discussions of race, and though the mailbag isn't that format, Americans should engage in meaningful dialogue. Still, if you're a wrestling fan, looking at our men's freestyle, Greco-Roman and female wrestling team you probably won't sit around pondering the race issues of America. You will just see the Stars and Stripes -- captivated by the Red, White, Blue ... and hopefully, Gold.

To your questions ...

Q: Aside from Logan Stieber, who do you see as the most likely returning NCAA champion to finish undefeated in 2014-15? Options: Jesse Delgado, Jason Tsirtsis, Alex Dieringer, J'den Cox or Nick Gwiazdowski.
-- Mike C.

Foley: For me the most impressive finalists last year were Nick Gwiazdowski and Alex Dieringer, but with heavyweight as competitive as it's ever been, it's only Dieringer up at 165 pounds who has the chance to make an undefeated run.

But I really don't like anyone to go undefeated outside of the aforementioned Stieber brother. The NCAA season is very long and with tightening talent gaps we can no longer expect years in which multiple wrestlers make it to the top of the podium sans blemish.

Q: Been thinking more about wrestling versus other team sports and it seems like we are adapting their models more. Any idea why the increased focus?
-- John F.

Foley: The outsized importance of team sports was put in focus this month by the New York Times. Though they don't implicate individual sports as much (likely because it's largely a meritocracy for starting spots) it's worth adding this article to the reading list of less is more in youth athletics.

The professionalization of tyke-sized sports has to be curbed. There is nothing more corrosive to the fabric of a balanced home than the 11-year-old who can't be scheduled into a family holiday for fearing of conflicting with a family vacation.

Take a look around the world and you will see that our wrestling community is the outlier. Other cultures simply don't professionalize their sports programs at such a young age. High-level, win you live, lose you die competitions are for many in Japan, Mongolia, Russia, China and Turkey a foreign (to say, USA) idea. Kids are supposed to be kids, and at the time when they are capable of becoming young adults, they spend more time in their craft.

That's not to say that some tracking is bad. Germans use academic tracking to match students with their skill sets from an early age. However, the German school system takes a gradual approach. Series of tests taken early help the school select individualized curriculums that will help each student maximize its potential. Broad-ranging liberal arts educations aren't the norm, but replacing that cafeteria of options is not a single-serving of math from age six.

Q: Who do you see having a more successful wrestling career, Bo Jordan or Chance Marsteller?
-- Mike C.

Foley: It's tough to compare at this point, so every prediction is sheer conjecture. From first blush I think Chance Marsteller is the more talented wrestler, but their individual performances will be based on how they respond to the systems they enter.

Part of what made Marsteller such a well-known wrestler in 2014 was his unexpected de-commitment to Penn State and abrupt signing with Oklahoma State. There might be nothing more that some personal relationships at play. However, when you look back at wrestlers who have jumped programs for seemingly personal reasons, or had trouble sticking to one place, they have never fared well. Destin McCauley is of course the most recent example of this behavior.

Jordan comes from a long line of wrestling greats, which gives me some confidence that he will be supported both in the system and at home. He's young, but he has spent his life around the collegiate wrestling scene, and as much as a second-year college student can be he seems stable and focused. He also had an incredible redshirt season.

John Smith is sure to have a significant and dramatic impact on Chance's development, too. How much is yet to be seen, but that caliber coach and athlete often find hardware.


Not getting enough Ice Bucket Challenges on Facebook? AWESOME, here's some more!

Bill Gates

Oh, c'mon the guy is handsome ...

Can we get one of these for wrestling?

Q: I feel that it is going to take at least six All-Americans to win a team national title. What teams have six or more potential All-Americans?
-- @CodyOcho5

Foley: Penn State, Cornell, Ohio State, Minnesota, Iowa, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech.

How can I already be this excited for March?!

Q: What can we expect to see from Tony Ramos in his first World Championships? He seems pretty confident, but you need a heck of a lot more than confidence to be successful at that level. Can we expect anything from him?
-- Mike C.

Tony Ramos (Photo/John Sachs,
Foley: Tony Ramos has a lot of promise. He's unquestionably good enough to compete at the World Championships, but in 2014, with little freestyle training, he's still a few years from contending for a gold medal.

You must remember that most of Ramos' competition has been wrestling freestyle, and only freestyle, since they took up the sport of wrestling. The strategies and minor techniques that mat experience builds is a valuable asset at the World Championships.

Ramos will compete to win, and with the right draw could win some matches, but until he gets more experience under his headgear it will be difficult to predict tremendous success in his first trip to the World Championships.


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clark145 (2) about 3 and a half years ago
To say that wrestling transcends racial issues is pretty ignorant, in my opinion. I could see how it looks that way from your perspective, but I'd say it's all the same as any other sport. Just like how some fans painted their faces black at the World Cup vs Ghana this year, some wrestlers have made poor decisions that were more likely than not based on race ( Also, any time a black wrestler is good, he's always 'fast, strong and athletic', never just 'good.' Coming from Philly, we definitely do not have to go too far out of the city lines to experience the prejudice against inner city or minority wrestlers.
Dpms23 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
I'm not so sure that by saying a black wrestler is fast, strong, or athletic is being racist. Those are positive remarks.
Chingadiculous (1) about 3 and a half years ago
What clark145 is commenting on with regards to commenting on a black athlete being "fast" or "strong" instead of just saying good is what social scientists refer to as racial microaggressions, "brief and commonplace daily
verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether
intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, de-
rogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward
people of color. Perpetrators of microaggressions are often
unaware that they engage in such communications when
they interact with racial/ethnic minorities."
DannyClarke (1) about 3 and a half years ago
I think everyone has made some valid points. I don't think wrestling completely transcends racial issues (does anything?) but I do think it does a better job than most. It is definitely a merit based sport.

In regards to microaggressions - yes you often hear black athletes praised for their "athletecism" or being called a "freak athlete" - fast and strong.. but those are facets in what makes them a great wrestler. Jordan Burroughs and Jordan Oliver are FREAKY fast.. They're also extremely, extremly technical. They wouldn't be as good as they are without their technique and they wouldn't be that great without their athletecism. A great wrestler is the full package.

I think it only becomes racist when you neglect to mention their technique and attribute they're success to being athletic and attribute them being athletic to being black.. I'm sure there are a handful of people out there that are the exception but I'm pretty sure MOST of the wrestling community recognizes JB for all of athletic abilities, technique and work ethic. He didn't win an olympic gold medal because he's black. He won because he is the best wrestler.
vulture (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Your not being racist. Your just being honest.
Yankeefan33 (2) about 3 and a half years ago
I agree with Dpms23. Also, I've described quite a few white wrestlers as "fast, strong, and athletic", including, but not limited to, Bo Jordan, Logan Stieber, Jake Varner, Cael, Dylan Ness, Dieringer, and pretty much EVERYONE ELSE WRESTLING AT D1
Duhawk45 (2) about 3 and a half years ago
Surprised to see the events in Ferguson being referenced in this article, but what the heck, I'll weigh in as well.

I make it a point to give the benefit of the doubt to people of any and all ethnic backgrounds. Do I have stray tendencies to stereotype certain groups of people. Yes. It's human nature. Why? Because it's easier that way. Why take the time and effort to see people for who they really are rather than just give in to the pre conceptions of them? You already have too much to think about through out your day, right?
You can't think like that. That's ignorance.
Throughout my life, I've experienced the ugly side of people from all racial backgrounds, but just when I'm ready to write them off, I encounter other people of that racial background that will give the shirts off their back for you.

Benefit of the doubt works both ways. Ignorance can just as easily happen to people who wrongfully make themselves out to be the victims of stereotypes and racism. Just because someone calls an African American "fast, strong and athletic" doesn't mean they are implying anything of racial belittlement.
I'm a minority. Grew up in rural Iowa with 99.9% whites. If I would take even a little bit of judgment passed my way growing up and take it as a slight due to my ethnicity, I'd be a very lonely, resentful, and angry adult today. Did I get a sense that they had some doubts about me from time to time due to my racial make up? Yes. But that doubt would quickly go away once I they would see that I hold similar values as they do (hard work, honesty, integrity, helping others).

With that all said, of all the sports community or any community groups I know of, the wrestling community is the most respectful, humble, and down to earth group of people I know.
dbabbitts (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Regarding the six AA' mean Oklahoma State, not Oklahoma. OSU has Klimara, Kindig, Dieringer, Rogers, Marsden, with Heil coming off redshirt, Marstellar and so on. Who are the 6 Sooners?
rmiro (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Race was never an issue when I wrestled because our coach never saw black or white. Carl Adams said this to me this past Spring as we were reminiscing about our HS wrestling program and the years we spent together. That has stayed with me to this day as I look back upon the athletes I befriended along the way. I guess it depends on your experiences and what you have been taught and what you have been exposed to.
denger (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Thanks, Foley, for reminding us of how our global tradition transcends race. However, intra-country, or intra-regional racism (in the case of smaller countries), is a little different than international racism. I'm sure you know this given your extensive travels.
When the relationship is on the edge of tangible, not my home/street/neighborhood/town/etc., where we feel with all of our senses that "they" are different than "us", we get a little scared a little too close to home. It always takes an act of actual touch to break that tension - like "breaking bread" in our metaphorical text.
I saw racism as a rural youth wrestler on an all white team from the parents, coaches, and kids alike when we faced urban opponents. It didn't matter on the mat, though - not at all. It was wrestler vs. wrestler for those few minutes. It was the same feeling in a dual, team vs. team, not black vs white. The rhetoric leading up to and leaving the event was tarnished, but not the competition, it was as respectful and real as we kids had ever experienced.
As for twitter: abstract rhetoric often exposes our fears, while the most tangible acts of humanity (more often than not) expose our strengths. Put a layer of abstraction in between, though (weapon vs. handshake), and our defenses heighten, and we become capable of behaving in newsworthy ways.
Sport is a close second to supper, and we could do better to follow up our events with the inclusive breaking of bread.
tom_v31 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
I'd have to agree. My partners in wrestling were often black. They were like my brothers. It has not been that way ever since or in any other sport that I did. To bad.
Walkietalkie (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Great article!

The great thing about Wrestling is that it mirrors American values from a conservative point of view; it provides equal opportunity, NOT equal outcome!
ColoradoHawkeye (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Come on Foley, you known as well as any one the rules in freestyle have favored lack of offense the last several years. Anyone trained in the Gable way not only lost their advantage they were at a disadvantage. Ramos might have a bad day at worlds we all have bad days, but to say that he is not ready or good enough to be considered a gold medal contender is insane. Its is the same with Metcalf. Ever since Metcalf joined the Sr. tour guys have been avoiding him on the mat. Now they have no where to run. We are entering a time more reminiscent of our glory days freestyle the way i remember training for! With few exception these guys will not be able to hang on for six min with these two.