While sports like baseball and softball unite to try and make their Olympic stand for 2020 inclusion, wrestling, which was ousted earlier this year in a surprising move by the IOC, is going Hollywood, sort of.
The original Olympic sport, in addition to garnering support from political and athletic officials and some big names on Wall Street, around the world, is getting a welcome boost from a host of Hollywood stars who have an interest or ties to the sport or some of its offshoots, like Mixed Martial Arts.
The effort is being spearheaded by of all people actor Billy Baldwin, who wrestled both in high school on Long Island and college at the University of Binghamton and has been a very active supporter of USA Wrestling on all levels throughout his rise to fame. Baldwin’s efforts have been so strong he has even been named to help lead a committee with a very Hollywood-like name CPOW (as in KA-POW from a Batman cartoon) which stands for The Committee to Preserve Olympic Wrestling. But why wrestling amongst the sports trying to get back into the Games, vs. say baseball, which is enjoying a nice Hollywood run of its own with the movie “42” this week?
“For those whom it (wrestling) is in their DNA and is part of their character and their makeup – it is it is life altering,” he said. “I equate it to having served in the armed services. It completely re-shapes you work ethic, your discipline, your mental toughness. Those new gifts you now possess will now transcend wrestling and will become the gifts that keep on giving throughout your life in your marriage, your role as a father or mother, in pursuit of your career, at all levels of competition. my father, a marine, always used to say… ‘you can take the boy out of the marines but you can’t take the marines out of the boy.’
It’s the same with wrestling… ‘’you can take the boy out of wrestling but you can’t take the wrestling out of the boy.’” Those who have felt the wrestling pull in Hollywood include Mario Lopez, Matthew Modine, Ashton Kutcher, Tom Arnold, and Kevin James, all among a growing section of stars who have either wrestled or have come to the sport and its stars through the work of the UFC and other companies invested in professional MMA, like Spike TV and Fox.
The sport will also get another chance to grab some bright lights later this year when the movie “Foxcatcher,” starring Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum, comes to the big screen. The duo portray Olympians Dave and Mark Schultz, two Philadelphia-area Olympic wrestlers in the real life story of the duPont murders. Mark was murdered by John duPont, and both actors became converts and supporters of wrestling through their training for the film, which was written and directed by award winner Bennett Miller.
In addition to all the support on the West Coast, a number of celebrities are expected to turn out in New York on May 15 for the annual “Beat The Streets” gala. The event, put together by Wall Street insider Mike Novogratz, raises huge amounts of money for inner-city wrestling programs and this year will be held inside Grand Central terminal and will feature teams from USA, Russia and Iran wrestling. It will be a focus to have New York based celebrities like Steve Buschemi and others turn out in a show of support for the paparazzi and the international community as well.
What will all the celebrities exactly be doing for the cause? A big effort will be placed on social media, and occasional appearances in PSA’s and other grassroots campaigns using billboard time donated in places like Times Square. Does Baldwin feel it will make a difference?
“The entertainment industry and media will be a role player,” he said. “They will not play a significant role in lobbying IOC voting members directly but they will play a significant role in keeping the story alive in the national and global media and well as helping to raise the funds required to have wrestling successfully re-instated as an Olympic sport.”
Whatever level of success is achieved through the deep pockets and bright lights of the entertainment community may serve as a template for the way global sports can engage with the Olympic leaders going forward. The chief criticism for baseball is that it has not, and will not, have MLB star power in its Olympic effort. Golf, to get into the 2016 Games, featured programs with global celebrities and Tiger Woods, who said he would participate in Rio if chosen. That type of star power, although not essential to being involved in the Games, can make a difference, and for a sport like wrestling, which has been a staple of every Olympics but may not have been viewed as relevant to a changing populous as other sports, could be a subtle but effective game changer.
Will it work? If it does KA-POW may be an appropriate phrase for the blow delivered with the help of some of entertainments biggest stars.