Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Review: Dan Gable's A Wrestling Life 2

If you're a wrestling fan, you will enjoy this second installment in Dan Gable's autobiographical series. If you're not a wrestling fan or not involved in the sport (as a parent, student, coach, etc.), you should probably skip this book--it's heavy on details that would appeal only to people interested in American Olympic and collegiate wrestling. 

Before I share the most pertinent non-wrestling details below, I will confess I really like Coach Gable. In contrast to the Brands brothers ("If somebody loses a tooth or breaks a finger, it's not intentional [wink wink], but it happens. It's a tough sport."), Gable stands apart for his decency. This book burnishes his already glowing stature in several ways: 

1.  Coach Gable is a teetotaler. This fact garners special relevance when one discovers that Iowa's Tom and Terry Brands--both mentored by Coach Gable--were raised by an alcoholic father and, perhaps emulating Gable, do not touch liquor. 

2.  Gable is a fan of Mountain Dew. (Why Pepsi hasn't already recruited him, I don't know.) 

3.  He lifted award-winning writer John Irving's spirits at a time when Mr. Irving needed a morale boost, demonstrating Mr. Gable's capacity to inspire people of all stripes. 

4.  He plays by the rules: "I was the type of guy to take it to the limit, but not break the rules." Contrast Gable with the Brands brothers, currently the University of Iowa's wrestling coaches: "It's in their nature to be violent. Brutal, savage, ruthless is how they described themselves on T-shirts at Iowa..." (Sports Illustrated, June 3, 1996, Franz Lidz) 

Note: I attended the World Cup in Inglewood, California, where the U.S. lost to Iran. The Brands appear to have instructed Jordan Burroughs, a wrestler adored by Iranian fans in America and abroad, to stare down the audience during the finals. The audience was shocked by Burroughs' uncharacteristically unprofessional behavior. (At least one of the Brands has flipped the bird at a foreign audience during an international competition.) I'm not calling the Brands unwashed hillbillies, but if I did, I think they'd take it as a compliment. 

5.  In the most shocking bombshell in the book, Gable discusses how he was recruited by the Republican Party to run for office in Iowa, only to have Karl Rove put him off. Rove told Gable, "[Y]ou are done thinking... You do what we tell you now." Gable demurred. 

Coach Gable, a Republican, had somehow been registered as a Democrat and switched when it came time to contemplate a run. He states his political contacts "were all one-sided and have been so since Bush." 

Still, when it came time to take a stand, Coach Gable did so against his own party. He may someday regret openly disclosing working with President Trump's team, but his honesty on matters of importance is undisputed. Stories like these are part of the reason I'm a fan of Coach Gable--he has principles that transcend race, expediency, and politics. Most importantly, what you see is what you get. 
In Iowa City, Iowa. (April 2018)
6.  Above all, Coach Gable cares about his wrestlers. During the University of Iowa's title runs, he appears to have been thinking each second about maximizing every one of his wrestlers' potential. Whenever the University of Iowa's wrestling team failed, Gable expressly blames himself. This habit, this reflexive inclination towards perfection, is another reason so many people are fans of Coach Gable. 

7.  If you've made it this far, take a deep breath. We know Coach Gable always looked for ways to motivate his wrestlers, right? Now listen to this: "Watching Uetake [one of the most successful wrestlers in Japanese history] is where I learned the coaching technique of cracking your athlete across the face to get their [sic] attention or to get them ready." 

Before you become indignant, remember that with any other public figure, such words would be interpreted as malicious or not spoken publicly at all. With Gable, nothing is discounted as a tool to motivate his wrestlers, and like any good coach, he sought to interpret his wrestlers' individual temperaments to maximize performance. Coach Gable, like Coach Bobby Knight, is part of the same breed of old-school Americana: too damn honest to be politically correct, and unapologetic believers in their systems' ability to transform personal and athletic lives.
In the end, it's not just Coach Gable's success that attracts so many fans--he lost to Larry Owings, to Bobby Douglas, and in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1971--his popularity comes from his authenticity, a trait few public figures possess today. America could use more people like him, people who embody America's best traits: getting the job done, and being uncompromising on the issue of work ethic. 

Bonus, from Craig Sesker's Bobby Douglas (2011): "Bobby [Douglas] was way better than Gable." -- Coach Dave Bennett

"Some of the best moves I learned in wrestling, Bobby Douglas taught me." -- Dan Gable

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