Friday, November 13, 2015

Foxcatcher by Mark Schultz with David Thomas

Why I Read It: I was an amateur wrestler.

Summary: The story of the rise to prominence of the Schultz brothers, Mark and Dave, and Dave's murder, all seen through the eyes of Mark.

My Thoughts: The year that Mark won his gold medal at the Olympics, I was an amateur wrestler. My career was brief, really just that one year as a Bulldog 157 at Rockland (MA) High School, but I still carry the highs and lows of that year with me wherever I go.

I wish I could say the Schultz brothers inspired me in some way, but I was too obsessed with other things happening in my life at that point, including my parents' divorce. In all honesty, my dad encouraged me to get involved with the sport, knowing I was a budding pro wrestling fan. He wanted me to see what wrestling, not "rasslin'," as he would say in an over-pronounced way, was all about. I loved the sport, the teamwork and the league championship that our varsity won that year. And I did more than hold my own against my opponents, some of whom I remember to this day, 31 years later.

It's always odd to me to consider where I was in my life when other events in other people's lives were playing out.

There's a strange wall that goes up when we consider our Olympic heroes. We tend to see them on stage, on TV, geared up with all the sponsored equipment from their chosen sports, and see dollar signs. The Schultz brothers story flips that imagery on its head. At least for the wrestlers, support was always minimal. Life was tough. As a non-revenue college sport (when compared to football, for instance), it never translated into big dollars after NCAA eligibility ended. While outstanding wrestlers could still compete on the national and world stages after college, the best jobs they could hope for in the sport were coaching gigs at the diminishing number of universities that hadn't canned their programs in the face of Title IX. A few of the bigger amateur wrestlers could go pro - Steve Williams, a teammate of Dave and Mark became "Dr. Death" to a generation of fans - but going "pro" in wrestling is not the same as going pro in football or baseball. In 2013, the IOC announced wrestling was done as an Olympic sport, only to reinstate it seven months later. It all had to do with its money-generating capabilities.

Faced with these financial barriers, Mark and Dave put up with a lot to follow their passion when they signed on with John du Pont's Team Foxcatcher. Du Pont's madness is a central theme of the book, and is somewhat parallel to the madness of King George. Du Pont's money and fame bought him any indiscretions he wanted, save for murder.

One of saddest aspects of this book, apart from the obvious one, is Mark's personal history of distrust for his fellow human beings. There were undoubtedly people in his past who had his best interests at heart, but whom he targeted as enemies. It worked for him; it fueled his fire and got him three world championships. But one wonders if he could have found his inner peace, the stability he craved so much, had he just let down his guard a little.

I hope he's found his peace.

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