A chunk of my childhood was in black and white. Or, to be more accurate, my recollection of the outside world as-it-was when I was young, my memory of historical events, is in black and white because television was in black and white, and that was the conduit to the outside world. The Vietnam War, the Brady Bunch, Richard Nixon, the funeral of Martin Luther King, and even cartoons. Saturday nights when I was a pre-teen belonged to black-and-white UHF stations, to Big Time Wrestling.
One of the stars from those days was Pat Patterson, whose obituary in the New York Timesthis week caught my eye. He was Canadian; he was gay; he was a legend. But all of the wrestlers loomed larger than life. It was the nature of their business to loom.
Big Time Wrestling
Wrestling, like so many forms of circuses in our world of bread and circuses, has evolved multiple times over the centuries. My grandparents probably saw it as a sideshow in a circus or attached to vaudeville acts before the invention of TV and mass media. It did not spring forth in whole cloth as it is today, in pay-per-view, with lasers flashing, tens of thousands of fans, and heavy metal music blaring. The version I saw was on that tiny (9-inch) TV screen on grainy channel 40 in a musty half-filled Sacramento auditorium. But it was essentially the same.
Baseball is back, and it’s already making headlines. Basketball is in the Bubble and the Wubble, about to (re)start exhibition play. Soccer’s been on for a while, although on a pay channel, which is either a missed opportunity or where it belongs, depending on how much you like soccer.
That’s Spectacular from the Latin word “speculum” meaning something to watch, especially something lavish, eye-raising, or amazing. It can be used negatively, as in “making a spectacle of yourself” or as in trying to divert attention. Right now, we need some diversion, without a summer blockbuster movie or new singing competitions. We’ve always had spectacle, even though the spectacles of yesteryear were different. Verdi’s massive opera Aida, premiered in Cairo in 1871 with hundreds of extras; sometimes it’s even been staged with elephants. I wouldn’t mind seeing some elephants right now, would you?
Sports Fan, the Word of the Day is avarice. That seems to cover it well at least for fans, network executives, owners, and players. Some owners and some players anyway, as how professional sports purveyors are planning to address opening of their sport in our Covid-soaked world varies dramatically by sport. If, like me, you are desperately greedy to watch some games besides a 13-2 baseball donnybrook from 2015 or the Doritos Cornhole Championships, then let me give you a rundown of plans for some of the national sports leagues. How those leagues differ in approach reveals a lot about their industry.
Let’s also agree that we don’t want anyone playing who might risk getting Covid-19. I’m not in the camp that thinks we can achieve herd immunity by letting the disease burns its way through or that only weenies wear masks. Any of these players and leagues could decide as they move forward–as they did on March 12th–that it’s too dangerous to risk the health of players, coaches, and surrounding support workers. We don’t yet know if any sport is safe enough. What is true is that this disease won’t discriminate between a linebacker and a knuckleball set-up pitcher.
Punk rockers. Primal screamers. Saber fencers are the cool cats of the Olympics, carrying themselves with deadly grace but ready to strike to the death at the first Engarde!
America’s greatest fencer is a good Catholic girl until she puts on the mask. Then, she is All Ninja.
Like ninjas, no one knows she’s even there. If you query who is the greatest American fencer, her name doesn’t even come up, until Touché! And, since ninjas never lose their skill and training, Mariel Zagunis, the one you don’t see until it is too late haha!, is going to Tokyo once more.
Maybe They Should Dress Like Luke Skywalker
Fencing is such a cool sport to watch that it’s hard to understand why Americans don’t follow it. Especially when we do follow it in movies, right? We love a good swordfight. Robin Hood, Zorro, Conan, D’Artagnan, the Man in Black! My name is Inigo Montoya…prepare to die. If you give kids a pair of sticks, the first thing they do is start poking each other.
As Saori Yoshida, thirteen-time world champion and triple gold medalist in women’s wrestling, walks towards the microphones to announce to the press that she is retiring, her shadow looms large. Larger than she is, the shadow seems a perfect metaphor, a thing that will always tower over her, no matter what she achieves.
Yoshida was the face of women’s wrestling—Japanese wrestling, Japanese SPORT—a bona fide celebrity in every possible way. Daughter of a national champion who startled wrestling at age three. A national Japanese hero who, in Brazil on August 2016, was expected to tie the existing Olympic record of four consecutive gold medals for the same event. A drone winning-machine who could be relied on to add to the Japanese medal tally. A national disgrace when she was upset in the finals by the unheralded Helen Maroulis of Rockville, Maryland.
With 40 seconds left, Yoshida dives in like an eel in a way that she has not, all day long… but Maroulis dances to the side…They are waltzing in a weird kind of circle. Until the buzzer sounds. Time seems to stand still; there is a pause, a silence across the arena… Maroulis sinks on her knees and clasps her hands together one last time in prayer, in benediction, in emotion, in whatever her body can think of to do…
From my story, “Rulon with Cornrows” about the Yoshida-Maroulis match.
Yoshida hadn’t lost a match in four years. The last time the two had met, Maroulis ended with a broken arm.
What’s it like to stop being a legend? When the failure to win, when your achievement of a silver medal isn’t even mentioned in your achievements? You’re not a four-time medalist, but a three-time winner who lost. Your story is no longer your record of being undefeated for 119 matches; your story is how you were beaten.