Two Ranty Things

The beauty of a blog is that we can dive headlong into subjectivity. I will do that now for two sumo-related topics. Feel free to not read this one if you don’t want to.

Rikishi Health

Today we got a 1-2 double punch of bad news. Both, coincidentally, occur during the period of rikishi physical exams. Maeta Masaru passed at the untimely age of 38 years young – while coaching sumo. He won the Makushita yusho in 2010 and peaked the next tournament in the Makushita joi at Ms3 West. He retired in 2018.

Next up, the retirement announcement of Kizakiumi, the brother of Churanoumi. Kizakiumi’s career started just about as Maeta’s was beginning. He was granted the privilege of starting in Sandanme based on his college success. We see him here as he welcomed Hoshoryu to a big-time Juryo bout. Hat-tip to Herouth for finding the video.

Unfortunately, his career has now ended due to chronic neck pain. He suffered a terrible fall earlier this year in a hatsubasho bout. I was particularly scandalized that he sat motionless for quite some time before coming to his senses and having to walk himself down the hanamichi. This is where I will get ranty. Any wrestler Any athlete Anyone who suffers a potential neck, or back injury should be assumed to have suffered a spinal injury and should be immobilized on the spot and taken to a hospital for diagnosis and treatment. Now that he is in retirement, he will pursue proper treatment at a hospital? That is a scandal.

Here is where this blog post may take a bit of a political turn so if you want to stop reading, fine. If you choose to read on and participate in the comments, let’s just keep it respectful, please. Too often discussion gets polarized and even my own mind is certainly no monopole. We can keep this relevant to sumo and that may help us keep it from deteriorating. If it goes rogue, I may delete the post but I don’t think I’ll have to go that far. I think we can do this.

Anyway, my frustration is that this is the healthcare we see our gladiators receive and yet the system which treated me this year is often dismissed and denigrated as unfit for the developed world.

There are no doubt improvements that need to be made. That can be said of any system. All of us, sumo wrestlers included, need quality care, we don’t want to go broke when bad things happen, and we want to be able to make it worth their while for the laborers and innovators who help us through. I would have assumed the price of admission to Kokugikan would cover a plus-sized neck collar and backboard plus the services of ringside paramedics. If not, I’d love to see what that would cost so we can get it done. And I want to see it done before a tragedy happens on the dohyo. Kizakiumi came uncomfortably close to being one.

Race

While I’m talking about this, I’m going to address an issue that came up while I was in the hospital and is clearly on the minds of my fellow sumo fans — and keep it sumo related.

My last day in the hospital happened to be the day that former rikishi Wakaichiro was driving through the area on his way up to start his new career. The following tweet had me shook, especially since most of the people who helped me in the hospital were women of color. The nurse who discharged me and took the PICC line out was a black man. The last doctor who came by to check on my breathing and oxygenation — a black man. It would not have occurred to me that they would face the fear that a misunderstanding or a bad day may take their freedom, or worse, end their life.

I had always thought the fear of police was just something that was for people who were up to something. Whenever I’d interacted with police (black or white) it had always been an enjoyable experience, usually laughing at my dumb butt for speeding. The first time I got caught, the officer was black. This was back when drivers’ licenses were basically laminated paper and I looked like a 12 year old, so he didn’t believe it and almost called my mom but let me off with a warning. From what I learned, that’s a far cry from Ichiro’s experience with an officer after an accident.

Anyway, this tweet made me realize that it is a bit bizarre how guys who look like me can carry an AR-15 and shout at people in a State Capitol building, or a young 17-year-old kid could open fire with a long rifle but not get a knee in the back of the neck, threatened, not get “choked out,” or shot. But men like my nurse’s son, her husband, or sumo’s first black rikishi, live with fear in their mind when they drive. Or when the gas meter reader is black and wearing a vest, he feels the need to call the police ahead of time, anticipating the 9-1-1 calls.

Racism is rough and it’s based in fears, misunderstanding, and ignorance. Even in the sumo world, I think some sumo fans are afraid they will not live to see another Japanese Yokozuna who can hold a candle to Hakuho or displace Mongolian dominance. It creates a lot of jingoism, negativity, and trolling. Bitterness may seem trivial but when we encounter each other with that baggage, it turns into something more. I’ve seen it first hand, and it’s ugly. Yes, the world is going through some challenging times but we’ll get through it. If a sport as staid and traditional as sumo could come as far as it has — instant replay, foreign yokozunas, whatever that BMI machine Kakuryu was sitting in — and yet preserve its root awesomeness, we will move forward, too.

That said, I do not think this is the end of times or this is a terrible place. It’s been an eye-opening year but we’ll get through it and be better for it, on the dohyo and off it.

32 thoughts on “Two Ranty Things

  1. Former Wakaichiro is scared of the police? Has he personally had bad experiences? Has he got a valid reason for fearing he’ll not “survive” a trip through the American South? Or is it an overreaction fuelled by hysterical media and/or trying to get likes for and attention to his tweets?
    I’ll leave it at that and will not return for a while. I enjoy sumo free of politics.

    • Yes. No overreaction. A personal experience which was shared on Twitter (not by him but by a relative). Given his lack of activity on Twitter, despite the freedom from the Kyokai SNS ban, I just have to laugh at that last question. Sounds good. Have a wonderful time and don’t be afraid to actually talk to people about their experiences. Our athletes are people who lead lives off the dohyo so the blog does discuss those relevant topics.

    • Ehhh? I don’t believe in feeding the trolls… but… there isn’t anything political about the statement or someone’s feelings. There wasn’t even any suggestion of it until this comment.

      I think sumo fandom is a place where people with lots of different backgrounds and belief systems are welcome – that much is evident of our readership! For me that is a cool thing – maybe we don’t all believe the same stuff or agree on everything, but there’s a community we can be a part of together.

      I have a lot of respect for Andy coming out and saying how putting himself in the position of others was an eye opening experience. Having empathy for others isn’t about any of the things you mentioned in my opinion, it’s just about putting yourself in their shoes and having respect for their feelings. I think it’s awfully cynical to suggest doing so may be a way to get likes for tweets, and I don’t want to speak for Wakaichiro, but I think anyone who knows the guy would say that’s the furthest thing possible from reality.

  2. I highly appreciate your discussing this topic. It’s a very charged topic that we have been avoiding for a long time. That’s probably why some people don’t even know why Ichiro is afraid to drive through unfamiliar territory. They don’t know what happens in the lives of people who don’t look or sounds like them. Videos taken on people’s phones are exposing just a small taste of what goes on in other people’s lives. Finally, some white people are beginning to get a small taste of what really goes on in the lives of people of color. I hope that people will begin to imagine themselves in other people’s shoes and to think about their own actions.

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