March 3, 2000
Jon Wolman, Associated Press, Managing Editor
50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020
Dear Mr. Wolman:
USA Wrestling strongly objects to an Associated Press article released on March 2nd, written by Denise Lavoie, entitled "8 Connecticut High School Wrestlers Charged with Brutal Attack on Teammate."
The lead paragraph of the original article is not only inaccurate but is also an opinion which has no place in a news article. USA Wrestling requests from the Associated Press a retraction of this statement and an apology to the wrestling community in the United States for its error.
The lead paragraph reads: "High school wrestling can be essentially a form of controlled hazing. The grueling practices, the struggle to meet a target body weight and the exhausting regimen of stair-climbing and weightlifting weed out the weak and the undisciplined."
We consider this an inaccurate condemnation of wrestling, written without fact or knowledge of wrestling, or even an understanding of sports in general. As presented, this is an editorial opinion, and is not based on facts or research.
Hazing is a societal problem, not only in sports but in other areas of life. To target one sport and infer that the nature of the sport is to haze its participants is dead wrong. This is an insult to the million-plus active wrestlers in the United States, and the millions of former wrestlers in all walks of American life.
This story went across the United States, and was used in this form in many publications. The March 3 issue of USA Today, with its millions of readers, carried this inaccurate paragraph. The Associated Press must have realized its error, because a later version of the story changed the first sentence to say "High school wrestling is often about pain and endurance."
However, the corrected version still carried the second sentence intact, which states that the physical challenges of wrestling training "weed out the weak and the undisciplined." Again, not only is this an inaccurate opinion, but it also is insulting to all sports activity in which the athletes are challenged to condition themselves in order to excel.
The sport of wrestling is growing and thriving in the United States, a fact which shows that wrestling is not "weeding out" participants. High School wrestling has grown for five consecutive years, both in number of participants and number of teams, according to National Federation statistics. In the 1994-1995 season, there were 8,559 wrestling teams with 216,453 male athletes. The growth continued through the 1998-99 season, which featured 9,022 teams with 235,973 male athletes.
Wrestling is one of the most popular sports for high school boys. That is what makes the story so damaging, especially during the height of the wrestling season. Wrestling ranks No. 6 in terms of participants and No. 9 in terms of school programs, according to the 1998-99 National Federation survey. Girls wrestling is one of the fastest growing youth sports programs. In 1990, there were just 112 girls competing on the high school level, according to National Federation statistics. Participation grew each year, reaching a record of 2,361 high school girl wrestlers in 1999.
There are many popular and successful sports which include demanding training as an important part of their culture. Does the Associated Press believe that sports such as marathon, triathlon, boxing, swimming, and so many others are designed to eliminate potential participants? The facts will show that demanding sports are growing in popularity and influence in the United States, not discouraging people from getting involved.
There is nothing wrong with athletes training hard to achieve high goals. The positive qualities that wrestling training brings each participant, such as discipline, dedication, goal-setting, physical health and mental toughness, impact and enrich their entire lives. Sports should not be condemned for developing positive, life-long traits in their participants.
Again, we wish to applaud the editor or editors which changed the first sentence of the original story. We do not challenge the facts in the rest of the article; however, the lead paragraph, by itself, makes the entire story misleading, inaccurate and wrong. We believe that a formal retraction and apology for allowing this inaccurate opinion to be published at all is the professional thing to do.
Jim Scherr Executive Director
cc: Tom Kent, Associated Press Deputy News Editor Terry Taylor, Associated Press Sports Editor