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  • Daniel Sherrell (bio)

In high school, there was learning and there was gettin’ stupid. From eight a.m. to three p.m., I did learning. I went to class, I said things, I walked between rooms at the sound of a bell. Then from three p.m. to six p.m., I got my head ground repeatedly into a wrestling mat. If I had learned anything in class, my thought was that it all got liquefied in my forehead and trickled out my nose by the time practice was over. Certainly, on most days, a lot of blood came out of my nose. Dameon and I would stop wrestling, and I would kneel down and wipe my nose-blood off the mat and then mop it up with antiseptic while our coach—I’ll call him Scott Giotti—told us both that we were “abunchafuckinpussies” and that I should “get that shit cauterized.” Then we would start grappling again. My friend Matt called it “gettin’ stupid” or, inexplicably, “gettin’ stupid trucked.” Matt and I were co-captains of the wrestling team.

Forget, for now, the four a.m. sweat jogs, and the mildewed unitards, and the fact that you often had to weigh-in naked, cupping your balls in front of some glowering athletics director in a freezing-cold locker room in Perth Amboy. The thing I really didn’t like about wrestling was that I could never bring a book to practice. I tried once. It was Life of Pi. In retrospect, literary magical realism was probably the wrong genre to start with. If it had been a Tom Clancy novel, or better yet, The World According to Garp, maybe Coach Giotti would have been more tolerant. (“Fuckin’ Sherrell—even when he’s not at wrestling practice he’s fuckin’ reading about wrestling practice!”) But instead it was “Sherrell, fuck is that?” Before I could tell him, as neutrally as possible, that this was a book about a boy and a tiger who get trapped on a boat together and gradually grow to understand and maybe even love each other, Giotti grabbed it out of my hands and answered his own question: “It’s a fuckin’ book, Sherrell! Lemme ask you somethin’: Are you in school or are you in wrestling?” It was a very good question. [End Page 90]

In February 2013, the International Olympic Committee voted to eliminate wrestling from the Olympic Games. Wrestlers everywhere were angry, but none more so than Donald Rumsfeld. The retired Secretary of Defense, former captain of the wrestling team at Princeton and one-time Olympic hopeful, wrote in to the Washington Post to vent. The title of the op-ed was “Donald Rumsfeld: Enough with the Kumbaya Olympics. Let’s Keep Wrestling.”

The article was a direct appeal to the ioc: repeal the decision and put wrestling back on the map. “Wrestling uniquely encapsulates the Olympic spirit,” Rumsfeld argued, “even though it harkens back to older and more martial virtues, rather than the arts festival and Kumbaya session that some may prefer the modern Games to be.” But the ioc hadn’t eliminated wrestling because of its half-concealed militarism; the sport was dropped because no one cared anymore. Wrestling was obsolete, shackled to its “older virtues,” and sometime between the first Games in Athens and the xxx 2012 Olympiad, people had stopped paying attention. There were no international stars, no high-octane replays. The sport was plodding and aggressive, the competitors simian-browed and hopelessly obscure. They emerged every four years from reclusive training camps to grimace and sweat on each other. And the perennial powerhouse countries—the United States, Iran, Cuba, the former Soviet Bloc—were all deeply unpopular. So people watched younger, friendlier sports: basketball, maybe, or dressage.

But after seven months of lobbying from the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles, wrestling was reinstated with brand new, viewer-friendly rules. Scoring was doubled, the outfits were modified, and the signature red mats got the ax (the networks claimed they looked bad on tv). But more than anything, the rules were changed so that wrestling would become at least a little more intelligible to the general...


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pp. 90-114
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