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This Article is from Wrestling USA Magazine at on July 23, 1999

Point of View

By Ira Fleckman


Cover It Up

When are the members of the wrestling community going to stop acting in ways that reflect poorly on the image of the sport? Coaches, wrestlers and referees need to remember that they are the public relations agents for the sport of wrestling.

At a recent national level tournament, an outstanding coach yelled out to his wrestler to, ''Cover it up!" At the time of the coach's shouted instructions, the wrestler was pulling the lower arm of his opponent into a twisting hammerlock. The instructions were clearly an attempt for the wrestler to conceal an illegal hold. The concept that only wrestling people attend wrestling events and that everyone knows and understands that sometimes questionable techniques are employed is no excuse for calling on a competitor to hide an illegal action. This behavior by the coach is unacceptable.

There are many techniques that appear to be legal but that are not. The famous "cement job" appears to be a legal front headlock applied with only one arm, so that the referee fails to notice the biceps and forearm of the offensive wrestler forming a vice like hold which is designed to constrict the carotid arteries on either side of the neck and cut off the blood supply to the brain which will reduce resistance appreciatively. Holds which are illegal shouldn't be taught, encouraged, or tolerated by any coach or official. The action that was in progress when the coach in question called out is illegal but all too often used. The top wrestler breaks down the opponent, the defensive wrestler's arm is placed in a hammerlock grip, the top wrestler then covers the hammerlock with his own body and reaches across to hook the far arm. It appears that the top wrestler is turning the defensive man by pulling the far arm, when, in fact, it is the hammerlock being turned into a twisting hammerlock by pulling it away from the body of the defensive wrestler which exerts the pressure to encourage the defensive wrestler to turn towards his own back. The fact that one wrestler was attempting to cheat and the fact that the coach of the wrestler attempting to use an illegal hold by calling out to his wrestler to, "Cover it up!" isn't mitigated by the fact that the referee caught the wrestler and blew the whistle. Anyone in the arena would be forced to form a bad impression of wrestling because the coach was himself encouraging an illegal act on by ordering his wrestler to hide it.

This author later spoke directly to the coach about the incident described. When asked why the coach had yelled out for his wrestler to cover up the illegal hold the coach answered honestly and without hesitation, "The wrestler will remember it!" No doubt the coach was making reference to the teachable moment and the fact that the wrestler had forgotten to hide the illegal action. When I reminded the coach that the hold being applied was illegal the coach responded by stating that no hold is illegal until the referee says it is illegal. This point is understood but it was also clear that the intention was to apply a hold that was clearly against the rules and hide it from view. In any case, I pointed out that a coach yelling out for his wrestler to conceal an illegal action would hurt wrestling's image, the coach rolled his eyes around the venue as if to imply that everyone knows and understands what is going on. There is something very wrong with this picture! The coach is an excellent coach but his actions are not good for the sport. Why would a coach teach techniques that violate the rules? Why would a coach yell out, calling attention to the illegal action, in an effort to have his wrestler conceal the wrong doing?

The leadership of the wrestling community must act to eliminate the conditions which produce an atmosphere where a coach yells out with total impunity for his wrestler to hide an illegal action. If rules are not necessary, they should be eliminated completely. Bad rules may be the cause of bad behavior by participants. Rules designed to protect the safety of the wrestler must be based on scientific studies and not opinions. Rules for the wrestler's safety, the promotion of action and spectator interest must be enacted. Rules which interrupt the action or cause confusion must be eliminated. A standard of professionalism must be established. No coach should ever encourage or teach questionable tactics. Never should a coach feel free to shout out instructions which are designed to encourage a competitor to hide an illegal action. In a sports competition, rules are established and followed so that the competition will be fair. Anything less is unsportsmanlike. Wrestlers work too hard in their sport for shortcuts to be allowed. Any deliberate violation of the rules must be punished. Any coach who would teach or encourage illegal tactics should be held responsible for unsportsmanlike behavior. There must be no private club, good old boy type atmosphere allowed to pervade the sport. The idea that others use questionable tactics must not be allowed to cause any coach to stoop to use these same tactics. There can be no tolerance allowed for those who would teach or encourage illegal tactics.

It is true that during the heat of a fiercely contested bout that athletes, coaches, and officials sometimes lose control and say and do things that are at best, difficult to explain. These acts of outrageous behavior due to loss of control in the heat of battle are not excusable but are at least explainable. However, deliberate actions designed to employ illegal tactics cannot ever be explained away or excused. Such acts especially when encouraged by a coach bring shame on the sport of wrestling. In the most simple terms, every coach, wrestler, and referee must be aware that their words and actions are what make up the public image of the sport of wrestling. We are responsible and we can't cover it up.