Iowa Wrestlers at a Trump Rally: What it Says About Wrestling

Normally when I complain about Iowa wrestling it’s because of their stalling and being exhibit A as to why college wrestling needs a shot clock.  I’m not a complete “Iowa hater” despite not being a fan of their style.  You have to respect the enthusiasm of Iowa fans and the attendance the program gets.


Several Iowa Hawkeye wrestlers in the background at a Donald Trump rally in Iowa

As a fan of college wrestling and huge supporter of the sport I was utterly appalled by several Iowa wrestlers appearing With Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. This occurrence doesn’t only speak to a lack of political judgment,  which is understandable and what freedom is about,  it speaks to why we can’t grow the sport of wrestling in America. 

Recently an article circulated in Missouri wrestling circles about the decline in participation levels in the sport.  Now, there are a number of factors involved in this decline including specialization and cultural shifts, however race definitely plays a role.  To put it blunt wrestling in America is too white. Wrestling thrives in rural America and exurbia.  In the inner-city,  working-class suburbia,  and communities of color the sport is fringe if it exists as all. I see no reason for this. Wrestling should exist in communities of all races and socioeconomic statuses.

In case people in wrestling aren’t paying attention America is becoming more diverse and less white. This means if wrestling in America is to have a healthy future the sport must become more diverse.  The sport can’t just be strong in a depopulated and deindustrialized rust belt.  These are areas that are losing population as factories close along with family farms.
Within the segment of white America where wrestling is popular Donald Trump also happens to be popular.  Rural and small-town Iowa,  Oklahoma and Pennsylvania and white-flight exurbia like St.  Charles County,  Missouri. To a very large percentage of the rest of America Trump is a truly reprehensible figure.

Donald Trump is a man who began his campaign by slandering hard-working Mexican- Americans. Iowa is a state with a growing Latino population.  It would be great to get some of these Latino youth involved in wrestling.  You know what won’t help that effort?  Hawkeye wrestlers on stage with a bigot who has demonized their families. 

The Latino segment of the American population is growing and in the future this nation will be one-third Latino. Isaiah Martinez,  Jesse Delgado,  Henry Cejudo, and others are just recent high-profile examples of the potential that is out there if we don’t alienate that segment of the population. 

Donald Trump is also a man who has gained popularity by his fear-mongering towards Muslims and his outright Islamophobia. Iowa happens to be the home of the “Mother Mosque” which is the oldest existing mosque in America.  The Muslim population in Iowa is also growing fueled by universities,  the low cost of living,  and a wave of mostly Somali refugees.

I have been trying to sell wrestling to the American-Muslim community for years. Wrestling is a tradition of Prophet Muhammad and his companions. While attending the World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas I prayed with Russian,  Turkish,  and Egyptian wrestlers.  I’d say Muslim wrestlers took home about half of the medals in Las Vegas and some of the best wrestlers in the world,  including Abdulrashid Sadulaev and Dennis  Tsargush,  are very devout Muslims. 

I’d like to see Muslim kids in Iowa wrestling.  You know what will hurt this effort?  Seeing Hawkeye wrestlers on stage with an anti-Muslim bigot. 

When you take a political stance you have to be willing to take the heat for that stance. When that stance is celebrated because of the celebrity attached to Hawkeye wrestling then prepare to be called out for the damage you’ve done to the image of the sport we all love.


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