Thursday, February 14, 2013

Grappling With Valentine's Day

Today is that greeting card holiday above all others, the day celebrated the world over by people doing things that embarrass the people they love, giving gifts likely to make their loved ones fat, dealing with desperate former lovers, or alienating anyone not currently in a loving relationship.

You could just call it Valentine's Day, like most people do.

While the commercialized holiday is a modern invention, very little is known about the historical figure of Saint Valentine. The legend is that he was a priest in Rome about 270 A.D., during a time when the Catholic church was under siege from the Roman government. Valentine supposedly helped marry couples in secret, in direct violation of the law, in order to keep alive the ancient tradition of marriage. For violating that law - among other reasons - Valentine was killed.

In general, our staff tends to be fans of marriage, and of love and tradition. Sadly, when two traditions collide, the result that often occurs is somewhat like that which Saint Valentine experienced: the more coarse and ugly tradition tends to whack the more honorable and respected one.

Something similar appears to have happened this week with the Olympics, to a tradition that goes back almost as far as marriage.

In case you missed it, on Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee - in an action filled with the kind of ugly politics normally reserved for "reality TV" -  voted to drop wrestling from the official roster of Olympic sports. It's a move that seems to defy both logic and the Games' own spirit of ancient challenges being reborn. Wrestling, after all, has been part of the Olympics since its beginnings in ancient Greece - and we don't mean the more recent restart led by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1896. Try 708 BCE.

While the official reason for dropping wrestling from the Olympics schedule appears to be that there is no longer enough interest, and that TV revenues from wrestling aren't what the IOC wants, those claims belie the facts on the mat.

Of all the sports up for potential elimination, none of them cost as much or appeal to as few people as modern pentathlon - the sport the IOC kept, when they dumped wrestling. Modern pentathlon is an event made up of pistol shooting, show jumping (an equestrian sport), a cross-country run, a freestyle swim, and fencing.

In short, it's a sport for rich people, who appear to have had both the opportunity and the lack of ethics to grease the palms of IOC members enough to keep their sport in the Games.

For now, like a jilted lover, wrestling supporters are going back to the IOC, in an attempt to get wrestling reinstated to the Olympics. Admittedly, they're facing an uphill climb.

Frankly, we're not so sure this isn't a great opportunity for wrestling as a sport to do what proud single men and women the world over can also do today: Change and refine themselves into the most irresistible new thing on the block. Change the rules of the game. Make it sexier. Get those TV contracts. Make the IOC beg to have wrestling back.

Then, when the Committee comes back begging? Ignore them and move on.

After all - if you know what you're truly worth, who needs some idiot begging you to come back? Be proud. Stand tall. And like U.S. Olympic Champion Rulon Gardner, leave it all on the mat.