You know, there’s only so long you can be a good sport without beginning to get mad. When I saw that the subject of one of my favorite comedies was going to be wrestling, I dared to hope. Not that my sport would be mentioned, but that it would be ignored. I hoped the victim of the lampooning would be wrestling of the professional variety. Perhaps, I thought, they won’t get around to making amateur wrestling look stupid once again. That’s what I get for hoping.
The plot did indeed feature the boys going to a WWE show, getting fired up, then seeking out the school’s wrestling coach the next day. The boys show up for class dressed out in singlets and headgear. In real life kids wear t-shirts and shorts. The coach is also dressed in such a way as to make him look ridiculous. I guess that was the point, though I’ve never seen anyone coach practice dressed in a low cut freestyle singlet, and I’ve been around a long time. When the coach tries to show his new students the fundamentals of referee’s position, they recoil as though they were being molested. “Dude, this is gay!” they protest, and flee the scene. To add insult to injury, the coach is later portrayed as a pedophile with gay porn on his IPod.
Now I don’t have such a stick up my butt that I can’t laugh along with an audience who might find the finer points of wrestling amusing, but where, I ask you, are the positive images of amateur wrestling? Whether it’s South Park or The Pacifier, amateur wrestling is always portrayed at best as ludicrous, at worst, aberrant. I even remember a TV series from the early 90’s (I’ll Fly Away) where the two protagonists are presented their wrestling uniforms in a bizarre naked ritual that would make any parent wonder about a sport where such things are countenanced. Well, mom and dad, they aren’t.
In fact, I can remember only one example when wrestling was made to look cool. Wrestlers all know what I’m talking about. VisionQuest. While the 1985 Matthew Modine vehicle now looks dated (complete with mullets, jeri curls, and a young Madonna bogeying in the background) it’s still the only time cinema has shown the wrestling experience with a nod to realism and accuracy in its positive portrayal.
In real life few kids are dumb enough to expect a boxing ring at practice, and they are always intrigued and interested in what they do find. What tends to attract new recruits is the idea of single combat, and once they see the older boys hitting double legs, hip throws, and cradles, they usually can’t wait to see more. The stuff they see on TV is flashy and exciting, but real wrestling works. When they actually learn how to take someone down and pin them, they can’t get enough. And while I’ve had many self conscious boys express reluctance to put on the spandex singlet, I’ve never once in all my years had someone yell, “Dude, this is gay!” and run out of the joint.
I did, however, once encounter a group of boys who thought they might be joining a professional troupe. One year five Hispanic students of mine did show up the first day of practice rather colorfully attired. All five wore genuine leather Mexican luchadore masks along with their purple and gold Lumpkin County t-shits. One even had his headgear bucked over the mask. As Homer Simpson once confided, “Down there, it’s a real sport!” They were an immediate hit. The other boys thought it was the coolest thing ever. When they found out different, no one quit. Four out of the five stuck with the team, and one even became a state champion.
As for those immature souls who think the sport is gay, they usually take care of themselves. Those who can’t handle being touched don’t last long, and those who can’t handle being physically dominated by another person soon weed themselves out. Those that remain are in for an experience like no other sport in the world. Most parents become intense fans. I even had one mother exclaim, “This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen!” I just wish all the Hollywood screenwriters who see wrestling as a source of cheap laughs were made to go even one period with the coaches they portray so negatively. Then we might be the ones laughing.