They took one of the “toughest” actions in world history. In July 1776, 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence. They were merchants, farmers, lawyers and doctors. One was a minister. Seventeen fought in the Revolutionary war and five were captured by the British. Eleven had their property destroyed and two gave their entire fortunes to fund the war. These were tough guys – and when they needed a military leader – they called upon a wrestler.
At age 18 George Washington won a county-wide championship in the “collar-and-elbow” style of wrestling that was popular at the time. At another time, Washington witnessed a wrestling-match. The champion of the day challenged him, in sport, to wrestle. Washington did not stop to take off his coat, but grasped the "strong man of Virginia.'' It was all over in a moment, for, said the wrestler, "In Washington's lionlike grasp I became powerless, and was hurled to the ground with a force that seemed to jar the very marrow in my bones.'' At age 47, while commander of the Continental Armies, Washington consecutively defeated seven challengers from the Massachusetts Volunteers.
Throughout history – from Milo of Croton, to Abraham Lincoln, to Dr. Norman Borlaug – when toughness was needed – a wrestler stepped up. Knowing that, it is hard to understand why American intercollegiate wrestling continues to be assaulted by outside forces. It is short-sighted thinking.
We need “tough” scientists who can solve the alarming number of environmental challenges facing the world. We need “tough” business people who can lead us to economic recovery. We need “tough” educators to stop the American slide into mediocrity. Yet – when I peruse college catalogs, I never see “Toughness 101” listed. It’s our college wrestling coaches who teach that course.
Since the time of Socrates, athletic competition – especially wrestling – has been considered an integral part of educating the whole person. There are things learned on the mat that just simply can’t be taught elsewhere. Thousands of today’s college wrestlers are going to go on to teach our kids, start new businesses, heal our sick and lead our communities. Don’t we want them to be fully prepared?
Our Founding Fathers were far from perfect. When Jefferson wrote, “all men are created equal” he actually meant “all white, male property owners are created equal”. It would take a wrestler to free African-Americans from the horrors of slavery 87 years later.
Hundreds of years of second-class status for women is another dark part of American history. Unfortunately, American wrestling still treats girls and women as an afterthought. The first World Championships in women’s freestyle wrestling were held in 1987. It became an Olympic sport in 2004 and 85 countries have Olympic qualifying competitions.
A year ago America’s only three women’s freestyle Olympic medallists, Patricia Miranda, Sara McMann and Randi Miller filed a grievance with USA Wrestling and The US Olympic Committee alleging that USAW violated the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act by not providing “equitable support and encouragement for participation by women”.
On January 29th of this year USA Wrestling and the three complainants issued a joint statement that the grievance had been successfully resolved. This seems to indicate that progress is being made at the upper levels of the sport. But what about elsewhere – with our kids programs, interscholastic and collegiate athletes? Are we providing enough opportunities? Are we encouraging young girls to try the sport?
In 46 states we still place a major roadblock in front of high school girls who want to wrestle – we make them wrestle almost exclusively against boys. How many other sports do this? When I discuss this dilemma with girl’s sports advocates or wrestling leaders, I get a Catch 22 argument – we need grass roots interest to expand girl’s high school wrestling, but we need more girl’s high school wrestling opportunities to grow grass roots interest. So – what’s the answer? Like so many things in this sport, someone has to step up and take a leadership role – at the local level, at the state level and nationally. Where are those people?
Slowly, intercollegiate wrestling opportunities for women are expanding. Another encouraging sign is that more women are becoming college head coaches. I frequently read online comments that suggest we should continue to expand women’s college wrestling as a tool to fight Title IX attrition. That argument misses the mark.
If we truly value what wrestling teaches – why deny those lessons to half of the population? If your daughter grows up to be an attorney why shouldn’t she be equipped with a toughness learned on the mat? If your sister becomes the CEO of a troubled corporation shouldn’t she know the resiliency taught by wrestling? When the woman researcher is trying to find the cure for your cancer wouldn’t you want her to have the perseverance Dr. Borlaug attributed to his wrestling experience?
We will always need “Toughness 101” in our colleges – but let’s be sure its available for everyone.