Foley's Friday Mailbag: August 29, 2014

This week Josh Shaw, a standout collegiate football player for USC, was caught in a lie. The 22-year-old senior claimed he injured his ankles in the midst of rescuing his drowning nephew. A few days later Shaw admitted that there was no rescue and that he's injured himself in a separate incident. Just what type of incident has yet to be determined.

Not knowing what occurred hasn't slowed the investigation into Shaw's behavior. Newsweek, once a venerable national magazine, had respected journalist John Walters report an exclusive about how the young, unpaid college athlete went about casting his web of deceit.

Walters, a middle-aged man with absolutely zero known lies in his past, describes Shaw's dishonesty as "pathological" and uses a true-crime, minute-by-delicious-minute structure to take readers inside Shaw's actions:
It was now Monday afternoon. Students and others might soon be noticing one of the Trojans' star players traversing USC's sun-dappled campus in a motorized cart. The next practice was scheduled for Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. With the Trojans just four days away from their season-opener and Sarkisian's debut as head coach against Fresno State at home on Saturday, reporters would definitely notice Shaw's absence.

How else was USC supposed to explain Shaw's bizarre injury when the only version it knew of was Shaw's? There was no mention of Shaw in any criminal activity; no incident reports from the campus police.
Sensational reporting! What could the university with a multi-million dollar endowment and 100-plus athletic staff do to ward off reporters? They were left no choice ...

Maybe now it is best to note that USC had zero obligation to report the details of Shaw's injury. There are strict HIPAA laws in place to ensure that medical matters aren't shared with the media. Shaw's story, however, proved irresistible, and rather than just divert comments and allow speculation USC chose to run the story on the front page of their sight.

Enter "inveterate" USC sports information director Tim Tessalone.

The only reason that Shaw's story would go public is because Tessalone made a decision to run the story on Monday at 3:30 p.m. By his own admission Tessalone states in Walter's piece that, "We knew it was a feel-good story, but it was also going to be a news story."

Again: USC was under no obligation to release a story on Shaw's injury. The SID and AD Pat Haden chose to run the story because it could result in great PR. According to honest John Walters, the school "interrogated" Shaw for several hours in what amount to a vetting of his story for publication.

Shaw's deception, which until this point had been kept a university matter, was now blasted into the Twitterverse sparking a flood of doubters and eventually a myriad stories about Shaw's character and his supposed crimes of propaganda -- none more self-righteous and grandstanding than Walters'.

The real bad guys of this story are the USC administration and the reporter who clumsily laid out their CYA media campaign. The men, all of whom are paid for their work, pointed fingers at a scared 22-year-old kid with sprained ankles and called him a liar. They called him "pathological."

Honest John Walters and inveterate Tim Tessalone violated the ethical underpinnings of journalism and education in general. They lost sight of who deserves their care and protection and who deserves their scorn. Tessalone failed Shaw for publishing his story, and Walters failed in reporting on Shaw's lies rather than USC's breach of ethics.

But nobody will take Walters and SID Tessalone to task. They're incubated by their relative irrelevance and emboldened by their distance from the action. Walters might move on to dissect a new pathological manipulation of another underprivileged, scared kid who lied to get out of trouble, and then he'll beat his chest once more, raise his chin to the world and know for certain that he is above the fray, that he and Tessalone are the honest gentleman, the best of the best, the infallible, the just, the purveyors of indisputable truth. That Shaw and his ilk are the scorn-worthy, the breakables, the ones who deserve the full might of a national magazine to expose their character flaws for the deserving masses.

Or maybe Walters and the media who covered this episode with brazen disregard for who holds power, are just scandalmongers picking off the weakest in the crowd, fearful of the big story and who it might alienate. Maybe they've lost sight of the media's role in comforting the weak and powerless, to stick up for the little guy and the hard truths, rather than conduct exclusive stories with the powerful in hopes of covering their asses and moving copy.

To your questions ...

Q: What were the biggest contributing factors to reinstating Fresno State's wrestling program and what can we take away from their feat?
-- @RobbyBobbi

Foley: Dennis Deliddo. That man has not given up his fight to reinstate the Fresno State wrestling program. A fantastic coach who has an impressive lineage of athletes and coaches, Deliddo has been laser-focused on doing whatever he can to get wrestling back in the Valley. After more than eight years his hard work has paid off.

There are many, many others who have played an influential role, but from my understanding Deliddo's connections and leadership have always been at the forefront of the reinstatement campaign.

What a great moment for wrestling. I'm getting teary-eyed just thinking about the first time a Bulldog wrestler steps on the mat. Redemption is a powerful story and reading that President Castro was committed to the sport's reinstatement was an assurance that administrations can and do recognize the power and profitability of passion.

Q: I do have a question about high school wrestling. In general it seems to me that the more successful programs in the country come from pretty affluent communities. For a high school to be continually dominant must they be private with a great coach or if they are public must they come from an affluent area as well? I look at my home state of California and the top teams consistently come from really resourced areas ... Gilroy, Vacaville and Bakersfield being the exceptions. Nationally the high school programs tend to be very affluent and as result can limit opportunities for kids of color who may not be able to afford the same opportunity as say an East on, a Blair, or St. Paris Graham. So is money a key factor in the success of dominant programs?
-- Marcus R.

Foley: Access to resources is a huge factor in the future success of athletes. More money often means better coaching and a travel schedule that allows for increased competitiveness. However, that's a soft line since the majority of successful wrestlers in America come low to middle/low income households.

Blair and St. Ed's are private schools with enrollments not limited by geography. They are magnet schools for wrestling talent and have a coaching infrastructure and booster program that supports the development of their athletes from a young age.

The other restriction for minority athletes from disadvantaged upbringings is early attention to their talent and proper relationship building by coaches to find the extra resources necessary to move them along to the next level. Ed Ruth was once a Susquehanna-only wrestler, but was able to create a relationship with Blair that landed him in State College, and on the U.S. World Team.

The part-time coaching structure of the public school system is not the most efficient means for developing young wrestlers. That system is even more complicated in areas of restricted resources and who battle larger issues that develop is socio-economic disadvantaged communities.

Wrestling can grow in these communities. It will take time, but we can already see that the Beat The Streets model is creating some college athletes. There hasn't been an Ed Ruth yet, but given time, exposure and expertise the NYC and affiliated programs around the country will create someone of his caliber and talent.

Q: Having been a Division I coach and recruiter yourself, how much emphasis is put on getting to know a wrestler on a personal level before committing scholarship money to that student-athlete? There are many accomplished wrestlers coming into college, but not all of them pan out and achieve at a high level. Some even fizzle out and quit wrestling within a year or two. Can coaches pick up on how motivated a kid is during the recruiting process?
-- Mike C.

Foley: The character of a young student-athlete is very important, though often it's difficult to suss out the truth before they arrive on campus. I was fortunate to help Brendan Buckley recruit a lot of quality kids to his program at Columbia. Some were excellent wrestlers, but all were smart and engaging. Not all of them made it through four years of college wrestling, but often that had to do a with a variety of difficult-to-predict factors.

College kids are trying out different personalities all the time. If done well, very few 22-year-old college graduates are the same person they were at 18. They are wiser, and have made hundreds of decisions, and often difficult decisions.

Good coaches try to find kids with whom they can communicate with on a personal level. Things will go wrong. There will be disappointments and lies told, but in the end if there is communication and trust a coach can help their athlete grow on and off the mat, the latter part of which is more important.


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Q: Why does Illinois dominate in high school freestyle, but can't touch Pennsylvania in All-Americans at NCAAs? They just like summer?
-- @alliseeis_

Foley: Maybe they just like freestyle.

Pennsylvania youth wrestlers have dozens of Division I programs in state, which means more are making starting lineups and earning opportunities to become All-American wrestlers. Illinois has four Division programs, SIU-Edwardsville, Northern Illinois, Northwestern and Illinois. (Northwestern has a very limited roster.)

Pennsylvania also attracts plenty of recruiting attention because of past results and population density. The majority of Division I wrestling programs are on the East Coast and therefore more coaches see the athletes and recruit them to their schools. The competitiveness within the state allows for mid-range kids with huge potential to find their way onto a program.

Illinois has a spectacular set of youth programs and their top, top guys tend to be close to on par with many in Pennsylvania. When summertime tournaments come along the margin that appears later in their development hasn't yet taken shape, giving the Illinois kids opportunities to excel.

Q: When is women's college folkstyle going to happen?
-- @koatig

Foley: Never.

American folkstyle has very little history with women. There were no barnstorming leagues, or mega-attraction matches in the 1940's. When female wrestling was promoted by the NWCA it was done so as freestyle precisely because there was no established traditional form of the sport in America.

Q: In the past few years we have seen some foreign wrestlers make an impact in Division I. Ganbayar Sanjaa was a two-time All-American at American University. Ugi was an All-American for the Citadel, as was Turtogtokh. Any foreign wrestlers we need to keep an eye on in Division I?
-- Mike C.

Foley: You should always keep an eye out for more Mongolians making an appearance in Charleston. Once the pipeline is opened and process known it's easier for coach and athlete to meet the enrollment standards and compete for the university. No confirmation on if they have more coming, but it's always a possibility.

Prior to The Citadel was Steve Lampe's Colby Community College program that would find foreign athletes and bring them to the states. Though if my notes are correct, much of that was also by chance.

There are plenty of foreign wrestlers looking for new opportunities. The problem has always been getting them at an early enough age where they can still train in their home country but also work on English and pass the TOEFFL entry exams. If today's Division I college coaches are able to entice foreign athletes into following a program that prepares them for college, then we might see an influx. However, it's much more likely that we will see older athletes come to JUCO before making brief appearances at the NCAA level, a la Ganbayar.


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flintmichigan (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Got a comment. I came from one of the worst neighborhood in America. The North side of Flint Michigan. I grew up wanting to be like Taya Hill. John Fisher laid the ground work for Taya Hill. Our whole neighborhood wrestled. Some of you people will remember the Flint All Stars. When that group got to high school they dominated. Won a state title. We had good coaches back then and a great support system.
Konquest (1) about 3 and a half years ago
OPRF is a predominantly black public school team. The kids are from inner ring Chicago neighborhoods that are not quite "inner city", but certainly not wealthy or suburban either. It can be done, but it takes a lot more work.
PapaBearSLIM (1) about 3 and a half years ago
12 of 14 starters last season were Black or Hispanic and not born with silver spoons. Dedicated and caring coaches are more instrumental in their success than money.
BadgerBoy (1) about 3 and a half years ago
In the 1960s when I wrestled in high school in Wisconsin, there was a single division. I recall several relatively small schools (i.e., Stoughton) dominating the State tournament. While I am sure $ drives success, tradition, genetics, and devoted & skillful coaching does also.
denger (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Community is key in any successful thing - getting everyone involved to invest in a common outcome. Organizing 9-5ers is very different than everything else. The further you go from a regular schedule, the more difficult it is to get the community on board. Which makes it less a matter of resources and more a matter of dependable system. The Fargo testimonials told me that any kid coming through the system would get support, but getting the local system established is the first challenge.
I'd like to hear more about the Flint All Stars. Who all were involved in their support system? How did that system overcome some of the stereotypical challenges, like parents working sporadic schedules? I googled 2x state champ, Taya Hill, but what were some other success stories? How long was that program awesome? Has it stopped for any particular reason?
flintmichigan (1) about 3 and a half years ago
The club was a very successful club from the mid 80s to the 2000s. They're were a few wrestlers from that club that wrestle div. 1. Claudell and Darnell Ruffin, Ahmed Sanders, Vernon Hill, Taya Hill, Charlie Sagemen and many more. I remember wrestlers coming from all over to get a workout at one of these very low income schools. They're were a few Cadets and Junior All Americans also.
Hope most of you know the story on Flint Michigan. Big corporations build a city then leave the people to create jobs for themselves. Michigan has struggle as a state. You can tell through our wrestling success in that area. The Flint area in Michigan was a great area for high school and youth wrestling. Metcalf, Reader, Donahoe, and Kish are all from the Flint area. Wrestling in Flint Michigan area was tough.
Well now, we have kids raising kids.They have very little funds to invest in their kids. It's not a black or white thing,it's rich and poor. In Flint you will see some of these people moving back to the city of Flint because they can't find a full time job. Schools are closing due to lack of enrollment. Flint Northern that won states in 1996 is closed. All black kids and a few white kids moved in to be part of that team. Well back then we did have both parents in the household, who supported us. Now times is different.
flintmichigan (1) about 3 and a half years ago
It's a coach in Highland Park Michigan who change a lot kids lives. Where Jarod Trice and Anthony Jones come from. Nobody gives them credit. They were stereotyped. They saved a lot kids lives and became positive people in there community. They were cast as thugs. They were good kids and coaches who help they're community. Most of the wrestlers from Flint All Stars turned out to be successful. Mentoring kids is the key to inner city. Wrestling community should be proud of these inner city clubs. Embrace them. Wrestling saved a lot kids lives I know personally. Taught them about life.
lesman67 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
The men, all of whom are paid for their work, pointed fingers at a scared 22-year-old kid with sprained ankles and called him a liar.

Ummm...didn't he lie? And are you not getting paid for writing this article. Should people in glass houses not.... Let's not act like because people get paid and some people come from poorer areas that we should somehow feel badly that we make money. You don't know the whole story, no one does except Shaw and he's not talking.
CoachC (1) about 3 and a half years ago
First,the USC thing is pathetic. In the real world, his actions would have him fired from a job for lying and causing negativity to his employer. The best, or worst, part of this is Pat Haden is on the FCS committee. I watched College Game Day Saturday and heard over and over about honor, honesty and integrity regarding the committee members. If these are the decisions he makes for USC, heaven help college football. Oh, and darn right he is not talking. My guess is Pat Haden said don't talk. Second, I teach in a poor area and have had some of the poorest kids, all colors, who have nothing at home. But they hit the mat for the first time and take to it like ducks to water. Shoes and head gear are cheap compared to what other sports "require". I have spent thousands buying shoes and stuff the last 20 yrs. Find the right coach for the kids and everything takes care of itself. Hard knock kids need the hard knocks of wrestling. You get nothing without hard work and discipline. One last note is that Blair, St. E's, etc.. are just allowing kids the college experience early. Get recruited and have your schooling paid for.
Duffnuts (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Pennsylvania is basically the opposite of what Marcus R. wrote - basically the weakest region in the state is the suburban Philadelphia area (aka, the wealthiest area). In this state, the historical steel mill and coal mining towns are typically the best for wrestling, both traditionally and today. I think the same is true in the Pittsburgh area, the schools in the wealthiest areas just outside of Pittsburgh aren't usually as good as the ones 30 minutes or more from the city, where the average income starts dropping off.
rd149 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
The St. in St. Paris doesn't mean its parochial. It is a small farming community in the middle of nowhere Ohio. Kids come from all over just to wrestle for the Coach...but normal Champaign County homegrown Graham kids are not what you would call affluent