“Deflate-gate” is a word that sports fans can’t escape, as the saga of whether the New England Patriots intentionally let air out of footballs used in games to pounds-per-square-inch pressures below NFL requirements – with the idea of making the balls easier to catch — has dragged on since January. By contrast, some former college wrestlers seem to face the opposite problem: having their on-the-mat accomplishments “over-inflated” by sportswriters, sportscasters and others outside of wrestling, including mixed martial arts and professional wrestling organizations and websites as these former mat stars enter new arenas.
What are we talking about? In a nutshell, the “padding” of a wrestler’s resume, so to speak, by those outside the college wrestling world… much in the same way a job-seeker might make his or her work history and accomplishments sound somewhat better to a potential employer. Here’s an example: Perhaps a college wrestler who was in actuality an NCAA championships qualifier is portrayed in an article or press release as an “NCAA All-American”. (In the case of an NCAA Division I wrestler, that’s the difference between being “one of 33” in his weight class who qualified for the opportunity to step onto the mats at the national championships… and, as an All-American, being one of only eight who placed first through eighth at that weight.) Other examples: the NCAA All-American who is labeled as an NCAA champ by those outside of the wrestling community… or the athlete who was an Olympic alternate, suddenly elevated to being an Olympic wrestler, thanks to an incorrect media report.
There also seems to be some confusion in the non-wrestling world as to college sports divisions – for instance, not realizing that there are three NCAA Divisions – I, II, and III. Or not understanding that being an NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) champ or an NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) titlist isn’t quite the same as winning an NCAA crown, as, on occasion, junior college mat champs are sometimes incorrectly presented as NCAA champs.
In most cases, the over-inflation is incremental; the misstated accomplishment is just one step above what the wrestler actually achieved in college. What’s more, the over-inflation is likely accidental, not intentional, because someone outside of wrestling – a sportswriter who never covers the sport, or an MMA or pro wrestling organization far removed from the world of singlets and headgear – doesn’t grasp terminology such as “qualifier” or “All-American” — or the different levels of competition – or incorrectly assumes “it’s all the same.”
It’s very rare for a misstatement to be a complete fabrication – for example, the guy who never set foot in a college wrestling room, being portrayed as a collegiate champ. This writer is aware of situations in the distant past where this was the case – as a kid, watching pro wrestling and being told that one of the guys in the ring was a college or Olympic champ, only to learn otherwise much later. One of my favorite examples: years ago, I contacted a mid-Atlantic high school to learn more about an alum who had a storied career as an amateur wrestler and coach. After I had concluded my information-gathering about the mat legend I was writing about, I asked the current coach I was interviewing about a professional wrestler who had always been presented as being a multi-time state champ from that school. The coach gave out a long, hearty laugh… then set the record straight. The pro wrestling heartthrob never pulled on a singlet for that school nor any others in the area, and certainly never stood at the top of the podium at that state’s high school wrestling championships.
Total fabrications such as those are pretty much impossible to pull off these days, thanks to the internet. Type in the name of an MMA fighter or pro wrestler, past or present, into an online search engine, and you’ll find out more than you’d ever want to know about that guy or gal, including their amateur wrestling credentials… even if they are now widely known by another name in the ring or Octagon.
Conversely, I am aware of some examples of “deflation” in old-school pro wrestling where an athlete’s actual mat background wasn’t mentioned because it would get in the way of the character and his storyline. I grew up being aware of Baron von Raschke, who portrayed a German Nazi “heel” who used The Claw on opponents. Decades later, I learned he was actually Jim Raschke, a high school state wrestling champ from Omaha and NCAA All-American heavyweight at University of Nebraska. The Cornhusker State is a long way from deep, dark Nazi Germany… but that pro wrestling organization didn’t want to risk any confusion on the part of viewers.