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Klingman: How does wrestling reach ‘regular’ sports fans?
By WIN columnist Kyle Klingman
Mirror mirror on the wall, what’s the greatest sport of them all?
Wrestling, of course. Why? Because we said so.
It’s too bad we haven’t let others in our on secret. Somewhere along the line we forgot to let everyone else know how great wrestling is. We’ve gotten good at telling ourselves how great we are, but the recent International Olympic Committee recommendation — and I stress recommendation — to drop wrestling from the 2020 Olympics tells a different tale.
I don’t need to explain the virtues of wrestling to anyone on the inside. This is a remarkable sport that possesses every tool for success. And, if applied correctly, it can be a spring board to distinction beyond the sport.
We want others to understand what we know as a universal truth: Wrestlers are a special group with special skills. Wrestling, however, faces a perception problem.
The worldwide response to the IOC’s recommendation to drop wrestling was encouraging. World leaders, famous athletes and members of the media jumped all over the news by showing support. This setback could lead to an unprecedented opportunity for wrestling. But, this is just an opportunity. What we do with the opportunity is what will ultimately define our sport for years to come.
I stayed with a friend during this year’s NCAA wrestling tournament in Des Moines. Upon my return to his house after the finals, I was still buzzing from what I had just seen. Oklahoma State gave Penn State a run for the title, Logan Stieber and Tony Ramos had a shootout and Kyle Dake won his fourth NCAA title with a classic match over defending NCAA champion David Taylor.
My friend, who watched the championship finals on television, overheard one of his daughter’s friends say, “Wrestlers are gross.” It was no surprise when he told me the story. No one should take a comment like that too seriously … especially from someone that age.
Nonetheless, it made me think. I have never heard someone say that basketball or soccer or baseball is gross. Nobody criticizes football or volleyball for having a scoring system that is impossible to understand (where international wrestling rules change by the hour).
So, how do “regular” people really view our sport?
Wrestling people: Cauliflower ears are a badge of honor.
Regular people: Cauliflower ears are a bit strange and they look funny.
Wrestling people: Singlets are what wrestlers wear for competition.
Regular people: Singlets are a little revealing and they might deter kids from going out for wrestling.
Wrestling people: Wrestling is the toughest sport, bar none.
Regular people: Don’t care that wrestling is the toughest sport, bar none.
Wrestling people: Wrestling is artistic.
Regular people: Wrestling is just a couple of guys (or gals) rolling around on a mat.
Our sport has a tendency to pat itself on the back. We trumpet ourselves as the “oldest and greatest sport in the world.” Yes, wrestling really is harder. Yes, wrestling really does develop a person in unique ways. Yes, wrestling demands unthinkable effort.
But, guess what? Other sports are hard too. Life skills are learned through other sports too. Athletes in other sports make sacrifices too.
And, not every wrestler applies the skills he or she has learned through the sport in the best possible way, much to everyone’s chagrin. Unfortunately, the mainstream media usually picks up on those stories and exploits our flaws.
The wrestling community’s job is to show the world that wrestling has merit and — this is the key — entertainment value. The argument that wrestling was a sport in the original Olympic Games is no longer valid. Our sport needs to reinvent itself. We need to bring out something that we didn’t know we possessed. We need a fresh perspective.
Wrestling is still the greatest sport world, but greatness needs to be tested. If you can live up to the test, that is where greatness is truly found.
Wrestling is facing its biggest test right now.
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