I wrote the first Foley's Friday Mailbag nine years ago on April 13, 2012. I had graduated from journalism school in 2009 and had spent a majority of the next two years traveling to traditional wrestling events and writing for outlets like ESPN and FIGHT! Magazine. The money was terrible, and I wasn't writing often enough to feel like I was staying sharp.
The mailbag was a suggestion from a journalism professor who thought if I could find an outlet willing to host me each week I could work on the writing and grow an audience. The money still was not great, but the idea that I would have a platform to work on ideas was compelling. I needed forward momentum and the mailbag was at least a chance to create something for myself.
Almost a decade later I have submitted more than 400 mailbags and written more than 600,000-plus words. Some sharp, others dull, but all committed to creating a conversation.
But, as tends to happen, things need to change and so today will be my last column.
The wrestling community is unique. We greet each other with underhooks, make fun of each other's weight gain, and show off our cauliflower ears as badges of honor. All communities have their quirks, but at their core they are a collection of stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and the experiences, controversies, and key moments we choose to commemorate. In starting the mailbag I'd hoped to sharpen my skills, but quickly realized that I was given the opportunity to be the first editor on the story of our community.
The weekly platform is the perfect length to both live inside a moment but be given enough time to consider its impact. A tweet about a wrestling match can feel as disposable as a book about the top champions of the sport can feel distant. But a weekly review of meaningful topics is well-positioned to strike a balance between the passion of immediacy and the benefit of hindsight. I hope the mailbag juggled those charges well.
I also benefited from having a platform where I could write clearly about topics that bothered me and the community. After wrestling was unceremoniously booted from the Olympic program, I fired off a few thousand words on why the IOC had made an error in judgement. We all felt that same anger, but I had the platform, and felt it was my responsibility to share with anyone who could read the article. That article got me recognized by someone trying to improve the wrestling's visibility internationally and it was read and shared widely on the internet. To this day it is by far my most-read article or column.
And there were a lot of columns, which taught me a lot of discipline as a writer. To gather questions, answer them, and to formulate an opening is always challenging. What was more difficult was doing the mailbag while holding down a full-time job that had me traveling 150-plus days a year. I have sent mailbags from an airport lounge in Tehran, from the back of a taxi in Tunis, and on vacations with family and friends. I have never not taken my computer with me on a trip. Not once.
Still, for me writing and submitting the mailbag was like making weight -- you just do it. In nine years I never forgot to write a mailbag, but a few times the attachments would not send, or I'd accidently place them in my drafts folder. On those occasions, my editor Andrew Hipps and I would get early morning emails from readers asking if I was OK. That made me smile and I think it's something I'll miss.
Less smile-inducing was the comments section. While I avoided reading too many of the notes, plenty of friends would screenshot the best insults from members of the community. The vitriol and conspiracy-minded outlook about the broader world remains my biggest criticism of our community. When I called out a famous club coach for being a Sandy Hook denier, I thought it would be something like a breaking news story and was stunned to find out his conspiracy posts were widely accepted. I was disappointed then, but I have seen now that our community has grown colder and more combative, with a sharp bend towards autocratic leadership, crass language, and a general tone of anger.
Despite the blowback and the pleading of a few readers, I didn't avoid the political side of sport, in part because they weren't separable. The decision of a state legislature to not sanction women's wrestling is one that deserves comment. A prominent wrestling team posing with a presidential candidate known for saying dangerous things about Muslims, women, and immigrants is not something we should ignore -- this is a community. Speaking out against those negative ideas and challenging the norms probably cost me readers, but the ideas discussed in the column were always intended to be more inclusive, and to help inspire a sport that aimed to grow, rather than contract. Sometimes I came up short in explaining my thoughts in a way that would welcome more people to my side of the argument, which was a missed opportunity.
With a column you can't have a favorite moment. There are too many questions and takes, and even those that felt satisfying at the time tend to stale over time. Like advocating for women's wrestling or an out-of-bounds rule for college wrestling. Both sparked furious responses from readers, but now that former seems to be a settled issue, while the latter is quickly following suit. That said, my favorite topics to write about were rule changes and the history of the sport. I always thought knowing more about those topics could really help the sport to grow and improve. Again, it's tough to know the impact but I'm hopeful my words helped.
In choosing to shut down the column I know I'm giving up my platform, but it's been a long nine years. When I started this column, I was single and lived with a college teammate in small Chicago apartment. Since then, I've been to 70-plus countries, moved twice, met and married my wife, bought an apartment, and best of all met my beautiful daughter. During those changes the thing that remained unchanged was the mailbag and so it's a little nerve-wracking to give up this habit of sharing my thoughts weekly. The column is something that I really enjoy composing and I'll miss the conversations with readers (here's looking at you, Mike C.). But I also have to look at what I'm gaining. My Thursdays will now be available for me to research how to install in-wall dehumidifiers, or maybe help my daughter build a Frozen-inspired castle out of Magna-Tiles. Thursday is my oyster.
Next week (April 1), my friend and colleague Willie Saylor will be taking over at InterMat, assisted by Earl Smith as its editor. They are passionate and knowledgeable about wrestling and will do a wonderful job in taking this site to the next level. My choosing to end the mailbag has nothing to do with them as people or editors. I really just think nine years is a long time and they have earned the right to make this site be whatever they desire.
While I'm no longer writing this column, I am still covering of the sport. My team at United World Wrestling is busy preparing for Olympic Qualifiers, Continental Championships, and the ultimate prize -- the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo. We have some cool documentaries in the works and our on-site coverage is always robust and informative.
Finally, thank you. Thanks to everyone for your readership and kind words over the last decade. I'm grateful to have had this opportunity and feel humbled that so many of you were interested in this column and my ideas. I'm excited for the future of our sport and proud to be a member of our community.
See you soon and stay in touch.