goffman, wrestling, and herpes gladiatorum
sad news today for the lad and my favorite high school sport. effective immediately, the minnesota state high school league suspended all wrestling for the next eight days due to an outbreak of an infectious skin disease called herpes gladiatorum. yeesh. gladiator herpes?
within minutes, the story was breathlessly reported on usa today, espn, and all the local teevee stations, sometimes with grotesque accompanying images. of course, simple cold sores and carbuncles look just as nasty when they're blown up on page 1.
though i wasn't so concerned about the 24 reported cases of the disease, i was a little worried that the negative public attention might affect the 7,500 wrestlers affected by the decision. in goffman's terms, physical deformities or "abominations of the body" can be profoundly stigmatizing. the periodic reports of such outbreaks render all wrestlers discreditable, while the rashes or lesions -- more commonly from ringworm or impetigo rather than herpes -- mark a few unfortunate wrestlers as discredited. adolescents have a tough enough time with body image, so widespread reports of skin diseases likely exacerbate their concerns. i'm sure that some wrestlers fail to self-disclose their skin problems for fear of embarrassment or lost opportunity.
i was a bit nervous when i first heard the reports, since the armchair epidemiologists identify patient zero as a heavyweight in a rochester tournament in which (i thought) my son had wrestled (see photo above). one can imagine how a skin disease could spread rapidly in the sport. such tournaments unite teams from around the country, who bang into each other with great force before moving on to wrestle a bunch of other teams in their hometowns. heavies are particularly vulnerable, since they get abrasions around their faces when locking up. fortunately, my lad is hyper-vigilant about skin care and there's been no sign of herpes on his team.
though i know that a few ex-wrestlers read the blog, i've tried to refrain from writing too much about the sport that i've really come to appreciate. but i've become a booster and will have to write something serious about it eventually. more personally, i've seen tor work harder than i could have imagined, rising at 5 for the day's first practice and battling to a 16-11 record as varsity heavyweight before his 16th birthday. if the season ended today, he can at least recall a wonderful match on friday: he entered with the score tied 30-30 in front of a boisterous home crowd. his first-round pin gave his team the victory and #1 seed in the section and he got a nice pic in the local shopper. it was the sort of beautiful sports fantasy that i hope he'll remember.
but he seemed to take news of the shutdown pretty well. when i got home tonight, i quickly discovered that the "no contact" rule does not extend to my household. my large lad took me down a half-dozen times, as is his custom. when i told him i didn't want to catch any skin diseases (okay, so i might have mentioned leprosy in passing), he countered with a wet willy and a particularly tough cradle. unless he finds another sparring partner, it could be a looooong eight days.