SI Vault
 
A Man of the Ash
Kenny Moore
March 09, 1992
ARIZONA STATE AND OLYMPIC COACH BOBBY DOUGLAS SEES WRESTLING AS HIS CONNECTION TO HIS FOREBEARS
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 09, 1992

A Man Of The Ash

ARIZONA STATE AND OLYMPIC COACH BOBBY DOUGLAS SEES WRESTLING AS HIS CONNECTION TO HIS FOREBEARS

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5

Seeing this delicate control of human aggression, one thinks of its profane opposite, professional wrestling. "The pro circuit is a by-product of carnivals," says Douglas. "A type of violent showmanship. Olympic style is a product of education, of mankind's desire for fair competition and improvement. It is at heart spiritual, so what has happened with pro wrestling is really blasphemy."

Douglas makes it home, usually late, to Jackie, who is warmly, endlessly patient. (Their silver anniversary was last August. They found a night to celebrate it in November.) Shogun, their young rottweiler, wants to jump on you and lick you but has been Douglas trained not to, so he sits and trembles and seems to internally hemorrhage instead.

The house is open and high, which is vital, because it is a display case. Douglas has been on the U.S. team staff at 12 Olympics, World Championships or Pan American Games. The physical evidence is Czech crystal, Korean lacquer boxes, Persian rugs, Indian pots, Mexican chess sets. A set of Russian dolls came from a Soviet coach.

Although he will be facing a fragmented team from the former Soviet Union, his Olympic disappointment of 1968 fires him still. "Iran and Turkey will be tougher," he says. "And Germany's united now."

All these diverse wrestling cultures, Douglas believes, participate in fundamentally the same rite. "In Turkey," he says, "back in the Ottoman Empire, they had a ceremony they performed before a big match. They cut the throats of two sheep, and while they chanted with a drum, each wrestler was touched on his forehead with a bloody finger. You knew this was what they had done a thousand years ago before they went into battle. They always have a drum. They always dance."

Douglas senses that it is a good season for this vast brotherhood of wrestlers. "The time of healing is here," he says. "The 21st-century world will be more interdependent. Wrestlers will open the door back into Iran. We can break down more barriers in Cuba than the Marines."

He is in rhythm again, finding words that expand to encompass the whole of the Games. "The spirit that's in us when we gather is not that of winning or losing. It's affirming civilization. It's the meaning of the ash. You do wrestle for the life of the tribe."

1 2 3 4 5