Monday, March 10, 2008

Baseball and Sumo Wrestling

While America’s pastime, baseball, is under much scrutiny domestically for alleged steroid abuse, an incident involving Japan’s national sport has raised cause for questioning into the methods employed to train prospective sumo wrestlers. While the questioning into this training is keyed towards abuse of the trainees and not performance enhancing drugs, there seem to be several similarities between the questions involving abuses in both sports.

One of the key issues which appears present in each sport’s investigation is alleged compliance by those in charge. In the case of the ongoing steroid investigation into baseball, there have been several allegations from the Mitchell Report and in the Senate Investigation that others in the clubhouse, including players, trainers and some coaches, were aware of the use of steroids by athletes. Some even claim that the commissioner of Major League Baseball had turned a blind eye to the problem. Not until Jose Canseco came forth with his controversial publication and Barry Bonds approached the all time homerun record did such investigation appear to become a seriously investigated matter.

In the sumo wrestling incident, the Japan Sumo Association, run by the masters of the training schools, quickly announced the death to be a cause of heart failure when the body had marks and bruises from an apparent beating. Had the student’s father not stepped in, the body most likely would have been cremated and each school would have continued as it had been run before this death. Without a third party coming in and demanding further investigation, a true answer would not have been found.

The apparent reason driving such compliance in each sport appears to be money. In baseball, the league was garnering much attention from Barry Bond’s homerun race. Both Commissioner Bud Selig and former record holder Hank Aaron distanced themselves from the chase by not being present when the record was broken; at the same time, Major League Baseball benefited from the publicity, negative and positive, by bringing in more viewers to the sport. In Japan, the masters at each school receive payments based on the number of students they train. When a student, such as the one described in the article, attempts to leave, it is not uncommon for the master to turn to abusive practices to stop any such plans.

Also in both cases, the investigations have led to broader research on how widespread the practices are. In the case of baseball, the U.S. government is in the process of investigating steroid abuse in football, basketball, hockey and even professional wrestling. The research in Japan is even more encompassing. Not only did research turn up the fact that more than 90% of the 53 stables in Japan have used such abusive processes, but also discovered the fact that such abuse, more psychological than physical, is prevalent in education and business in Japan. Before World War II, the Japanese military had a very strong influence in the everyday lives of the citizens. During this time, many of the citizens were beaten by the military. Such abuse apparently remains throughout Japan, rarely to the point of death as in the case of the sumo wrestler, but most certainly with effects that will be longstanding in the Japanese community and way of life.

While the issues in the case of steroid abuse in baseball are primarily applicable to issues in other sports and with other athletes, the result of the investigation of the death of the sumo wrestler has wide ranging implications for those living and working in Japan. Both sports have obvious issues that must be corrected in order to end any further controversy and send messages to those who aspire to become athletes in the respective sport. Like baseball, with the seemingly neverending investigation, the changes required in Japan, assuming such changes are possible and/or desired, are not something that will happen overnight. While changes are pending in each sport in each country, it is unfortunate that such practices will most likely continue to the detriment of the athletes, the sports, and the people.

For the full article from the Washington Post, click here.

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