The annual Beat the Streets Funtime Jamboree takes place this Thursday at Pier 17 in New York City (South Street Seaport for those of us familiar with the area). They’re actually calling this year’s festivities “Rumble on the River”, which makes sense in its own right. For one thing, you’ve got the East River involved. Just can’t miss the synergy. Secondly, the Beat the Streets people love the word “rumble”, having used it for a previous event (2010’s “Rumble on the Rails”).
Back to this year. It’s a great card in 2018. Jordan Burroughs versus Frank Chamizo serves as the headliner on a night when Kyle Dake, Kyle Snyder, and the country’s second-best freestyler named Jordan (Oliver) are also competing. Regardless of whichever style of wrestling you prefer and spend the most time watching, you can’t deny the starpower that will be present Thursday evening.
But about that whole “whichever style” thing — for the second year in a row, there are no Greco-Roman athletes scheduled to be showcased. In total, there have been seven Greco matches contested at Beat the Streets events. Ever. As in, over the course of its (now) nine years in existence, only seven times have Greco athletes competed against one another on a balmy May evening in the heart of Manhattan. Seven. Learn that number. I wrote about this topic two years ago following fan-favorite Andy Bisek’s battle with World and Olympic champ Kim Hyeon-woo (77 kg, KOR) and any time a reader points out that article, the number seven tends to be their main takeaway.
When 2018’s Beat the Streets card was taking form and it became obvious that Greco was once again not going to be included (aside from Robby Smith emceeing for the third consecutive year), immediately folks started chirping. Immediately. Now of course, by folks, I mean Greco competitors and their friends and families. It’s not like the casual American wrestling fan gets all up in arms if Greco is given the shaft. Then again, the same thing can be said for much of the wrestling leadership in this country, and by extension, the organizers of this here event. But still, there they were, the USA Greco community, chiming in about how the style is being ignored, slighted, and pushed to the side in favor of parading out a bunch of talented yet overexposed wrestlers who enjoy the luxury of a spotlight that never dims.
That isn’t to say the likes of Burroughs, Snyder, Dake, and J’Den Cox don’t deserve to be trumpeted to the high heavens and celebrated for who they are and what they’ve accomplished. They do. And it is Beat the Streets’ prerogative to include them in their yearly extravaganza if they see fit. Or not. Whatever. This whole thing is their decision, and you know what? It’s an easy one to make. The US men’s freestyle program is riding a hot streak of epic proportions currently. They won the team title at the Worlds in Paris, rang up another championship of sorts at the World Cup last month, and now have their Final X Series to use as a pre-emptive victory lap before they collect what will likely be another team World title in Budapest this coming fall.
As of today, the aforementioned Bisek is the last United States Senior Greco-Roman athlete to have earned a World medal (2015). Thassit. Sure, in 2017 Kamal Bey (77 kg, Sunkist) won the Junior Worlds and Cohlton Schultz (120 kg, NYAC) reigned supreme on the Cadet level, but the Senior program has come up empty since that unforgettable September day two and a half years ago in Las Vegas when Bisek outpointed Saeid Abdevali (IRI, and who has his own problems to deal with at the moment).
This matters. Why?
Because medal performances from Senior athletes isn’t just tied to funding and sponsorships, but also, competitive opportunities like the one we’re talking about. If it is indeed a secret, then it is a badly kept one, that the BTS organizers and in particular, the non-profit’s chairman Mike Novogratz, are reluctant (if not downright opposed) to featuring Greco matches due to the lack of success our dedicated Seniors have experienced as of late. These are the conversations we all have but don’t make it to the public consciousness, yet everyone is well aware of how the story goes. As one athlete put it recently, “We were told if we want matches (at Beat the Streets), then we better get medals.” It should be noted that over the past couple of years, numerous wrestlers have painted a very similar picture related to this understanding.
Does this, in a word, suck? Sure. Is it “building the sport”, as so many influencers and media types in and around wrestling claim to be oh-so-concerned with? Of course not. But the biggest question that needs to be considered, at least in my mind, is kind of a catch-all — is it fair? And to be honest, yes. Yes it is.
Don’t misunderstand — in a perfect world, or in this case, country, the garden variety movers-and-shakers who have deep pockets, deeper connections, and a desire to actually promote the sport of wrestling in its totality would constantly do whatever possible to ensure that Greco is part of their plans. Alas, tis not that way, is it? No, it’s not. But this should, by now, elicit a very familiar feeling. Greco-Roman, long referred to as the redheaded stepchild (I used to take offense to this given my hair color, but I’ve persevered thanks to the fact I am reasonably attractive), is left sitting on the porch while all of the other kids play outside. Boo. Hoo.
If you want comfort, if you want to move on in a positive direction, it is wise to accept the following words and hold them close to your heart — NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE UNITED STATES GRECO-ROMAN WRESTLING.
Not Beat the Streets. Not Mike Novogratz. That’s not their job.
Instead of vilifying donors and non-profit organizations who are not all that interested in contributing to Greco-Roman wrestling’s ability to thrive domestically and abroad, the much more productive measure would be to think about what it is you can do to alter the disjointed perception of those on the outside. For starters, have you donated to Beat the Streets? Because if you haven’t, you really should. The program provides countless inner-city youths with a fruitful and supportive environment to pursue this sport, which so many of us were able to do ourselves but somehow took for granted, just going by some of the comments I’ve noticed as of late. Plus, hey, if you want Greco to make an appearance at the 2019 BTS event, donating some money to the cause with a note requesting its inclusion couldn’t possibly hurt, could it?
More than anything else, spreading your knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm for Greco and supporting the athletes is what will help take us all over the top. Conversely, complaining and screaming at the sky over perceived slights will keep Greco on the bench whenever marquee opportunities manage to pop up. If we’re going to talk about Greco-Roman as something we’re all a part of, as if it’s a club or social construct of which there are members, then we need to grow the base. And the only way to do that is by showing everyone else what they’re missing out on while projecting a much more welcoming attitude than the one being showed to us.