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!
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?
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, Tech-Fall.com)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.