Friday, May 23, 2008

Regional popularity of wrestling

One of the things that I asked Gene LeBell about in my recent interview was the reason for the regional popularity of judo and wrestling. Judo is far more popular in Europe than in the U.S.A., and amateur wrestling is only popular in some regions of the U.S., like the midwest, while being almost completely unknown in other regions, like the south. Why is this? Gene attributed it to lack of publicity and I'm sure that's part of it, but the topic comes up in a book that I'm reading, Four Days to Glory, by Mark Kreidler. Kreidler writes...

Wrestling long ago became a surrogate for many Iowans' perceptions of themselves, particularly those that spent days working the land. It was basic and it was predicated on strength of body and strength of mind; and just about anybody could learn to do it. Iowa got better at it than anybody else. And over time that became a calling card in itself, something that did distinguish the state. It became a thing to be cherished and appreciated and bragged upon...
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...Iowans cling to it more fiercely than ever. It is, for lack of a more benign way of putting it, their heritage... It goes back to the roots, goes back to the rural...
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...the sport succeeded in the small towns, in the way that schoolboy football did in Texas and basketball in Indiana. It wasn't that nobody else did it; it was that Iowans decided to adopt it. They gave wrestling a place of importance that it would not be granted in very many parts of the country, and in turn, Iowa became known as a place that not only loved the sport, but produced its finest competitors...

I thought this was an interesting description of the type of regional phenomenon I was talking about. I will have some further posts related to this interesting book. If you enjoy wrestling or sports writing or reading about the competitive ethos in rural America, I'd recommend the book. If you want a copy, please pick one up at my Amazon bookstore:


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