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.
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.
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.