The First in a Series of Athletic Soliloquies

For R.W.—If you say so.

Cael Sanderson makes me want to wrestle someone right now. Take a good long gander at that onesie-clad fellow and tell me you don’t feel at least a little bit the same. If you don’t, minimize the eight other tabs in your browser, mute the tv, and look again.

It could just be me.

Stand-out athletes, regardless of the sport, affect me in such a way that I will probably be kicked out of a game at some point (one of my kids’, I hope; that’d be totally gangsta). I’m that spaz miming from the stands, throwing checks, snapping my wrists and kicking my feet into people’s backs. Whatever, cover your beer and get over it.

I’m not a follower of man-grabbing, but I went to a few of my cousin’s meets when I was still young enough to be spared the sport’s inherent awkwardness. And don’t even try to argue with me on this one; I will moderate your comments into oblivion. Not that I can’t appreciate the athleticism of the sport (or the athleticism of the LGBT community, for that matter). I just also appreciate that these guys are two layers of lycra away from competitive foreplay.

Lower and a little to the left. No, MY LEFT. Damnit, Agador Spartacus, this is why we need to practice!

Persistent reflections on the dichotomous display of homo-eroticism and homophobia in sports aside, this guy can flat-out grapple. After finishing his high school career with 127 wins, 3 losses, and 4 state titles, Sanderson began what would be an undefeated run with the Iowa State Cyclones. Between 1999 and 2002, he racked up 159 wins. Which, while awesome, is also pretty boring. I wonder if anyone even bothered cheering by the time he ankle-picked his way to a fourth NCAA title, but this highlight reel set to Jay-Z’s “Show Me What You Got” makes me think he was too rockstar to care anyway.

One thing no one seems to remember is that Sanderson did lose in college— in his 97-98 redshirt season, to Hawkeye rival Paul Jenn. Granted, he did come back and beat Jenn the next three times they squared off, when it actually counted. But I can’t help but wonder if Jenn is in a bar somewhere talking to himself about how he “beat that son of a bitch once.” Call it good strategy, or good timing, or whatever you want. I’m not going to call it anything, because I don’t understand the point or process of redshirting enough to have an educated opinion about it (unlike my super-educated opinion on everything else in this post), and I don’t have the patience to read about the NCAA’s exasperating rules and regulations. That hasn’t changed since my freshman year on the rowing team when they shoved a bunch of indentured-servitudesque paperwork at me: I just signed it and was like yeah whatever, joke’s on you because I suck at rowing.


Maybe Sanderson got tired of winning, because he went on to pursue a stint in the Olympics and lost a whole bunch of matches in the process. Olympic wrestling differs from collegiate in style, with the former comprising Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, and the latter folkstyle. Being relatively unfamiliar with freestyle wrestling, Sanderson failed to make the 2000 Olympic team. Probably because he was kicking too much folkstyle ass at the time to really give a damn about freestyle’s different points-getting system and round structure. But by 2003 he’d graduated from Iowa State and worked his way up in the freestyle ranks, eventually securing a berth to the 2004 Games in Athens. Once there, the 184-lb slab of man defeated a South Korean to take the gold. He also won a bunch of other freestyle crap around that time, but that’s boring. More exciting: he made the Wheaties box.

Also more interesting: he has those parents who give all their kids names that start with the same letter. Cael’s brothers are Cody, Cole, and Cyler (although if Cyler is pronounced with a soft c, they did it wrong). And even more interesting, he’s a Mormon.

I’m not one of those humans who gets all wrapped up in who worships what and why. I have a teddy bear named Phil with whom I have had a profound, if not sacred, connection. But I’m just saying that if I were him and if I had kids— which he’s a Utah Mormon, so if I’m going to stereotype (and let’s face it– it’s faster), he has like 17 by now— I’d ankle pick those hooligans if they ever got fresh. You’re going to use that language with me, young lady? BAM. Ankle pick out of freaking nowhere. I guess that doesn’t have anything to do with him being a Mormon. I just wanted to bring that up because I really want to know if he wears the special undies underneath his singlet.

Sanderson now coaches at Penn State, where he likes to win national titles and carry his wrestlers off the mat, all sweaty and victorious and rock-hard.

Wait, what?



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