Teeth are White, Blood is Red, Stats are Blind & So Am I

 Posted: 8-Oct-2020   |    Author: Gardner Wheeler
 Keywords:  Wrestling Stats Do More With Stats Time For Change

Here's a personal look at how I am trying to be more "actively anti-racist". The heading comes from a phrase my dad would frequently tell me when I was a teenager and the work that I now do related to statistics in wrestling.

A Dentists View of the World

Growing up with a father who is a dentist, gives you a certain perspective on things that others may not have.

Typical dinner conversation often mentioned peoples bicuspids and molars. Watching celebrities in movies often revolved not around their latest role or their acting skills, but rather what type of a jaw structure they had - overbite, underbite, etc.

We were also famous for giving out toothbrushes at Halloween. We also gave out candy, so we were only semi weird (I guess).

A Dentist's View on Race

How does a dentist view Race. I can't answer that, but my father often brought race relations back to dentistry. I remember him saying:

What I've learned about race is >>> teeth are white and blood is red, no matter what color skin you have

From what I saw, my father tried to live his life according to that credo. At the end of the day --- we are all humans and we should all be treated justly, fairly, with respect and humanity.

In addition to stories about bicuspids, he often told stories about his patients' interesting lives. Their struggles and triumphs, what he learned from them, etc. Nothing in particular about their health or other personal details, just their interesting stories.

And, what else did I learn through this >>> people of all races were interesting to him. If I ever met a patient I wouldn't know anything about their race before-hand, just about their stories. He had black dental specialists who built the crowns for his patients and worked with other black craftsman to maintain his office. My father ministered to and visited black brothers and sisters in our congregation just like we ministered to and visited white brothers and sisters. My father didn't seem to change his approach when the people's skin color changed and that made me glad.

How it Impacted Me

First off, there may be a possible confession in this story. While I'd like to think it was a news event that prompted my father to mention his credo about race, it could have been something insensitive I said as a teenager. Either way, it was meant to remind me to be careful how I think. Do not think of others as less than you. Humans are interesting, powerful, and precious people and you should get to know them. Whatever prompted him to say it, I am grateful he said it and have tried to live up to that standard in my personal dealings.

Stats are Blind

One thing that I love about Stats is the concrete things they tell us about wrestler performance (assuming they are captured, calculated, and interpreted correctly of course). Assuming you have a decent set of stats in front of you, they don't differentiate between the color of the wrestler's skin who produced those stats. Stats are stats and that is that. And, reviewing stats gets you excited about the sublime performance of the athlete and you start to celebrate his or her abilities not caring or even knowing the race, gender or background of the wrestler.

But I Have Also been Blind - and Not in a Good Way

What I have definitely realized with the protests in 2020 is that I have been blind to the problems facing my friends of color. I have tried to follow my father's example and get to know people and their powerfulness as humans, regardless of race or culture. I've done this on a religious level and made good friends. I've done this in the workplace and made good friends. I've done this overseas and made good friends. If you get to know people, they generally impress you. Any differences make them all the more interesting and give you even more reasons to appreciate them.

But, what I haven't seen, or which I turned a blind eye towards, is the pain my friends of color in this country have suffered. It's been right in front of my eyes, and I didn't look. I walked on the other side of the road so to say, and did not tend to the wounds or strive to stop the harm being done to them.

Actively Anti-Racist

I listened to Nate Jackson talk about race on the Mat Awareness podcast. Many things really hit home as he described how he has been impacted by race. I especially appreciated his call for folks to be "actively anti-racist." I hope I can do this. I plan to do this. I am striving to do this and plan to continue doing this. Part of that striving is this article. Part of it, is my approach to social media. Part of it is listening more deeply. But, there is definitely more I can do.

Aim Higher

Here's some good resources I've found:

  • If you like binge watching, 13th on Netflix feels like it was ripped from the 2020 headlines even though it was made in 2016.
  • If you're a book person, I recommend Malcom Gladwell's book Talking to Strangers.
  • If your a social media person, I recommend following folks like Nate Jackson & Lee Kemp, who consistently point to larger injustices that are all around us. They also post some sweet wrestling content!
  • If your a USA Wrestling fan, Taylor Miller hosted a great video call with senior level USA Wrestling black male athletes. They provide some great perspective on some of the unique challenges they face.
  • Lee Kemp also wrote a great article for Team USA, entitled How Wrestling Can Be a Platform for Social Justice, which includes this great quote:

It's interesting that when I was in the wrestling room and having success, it was an equal playing field," said Kemp. "I was just another guy on a team, even though I was black and the others were white, we were considered equal. When people look into sport, there is no racism. But that's not how life is. Walk outside the wrestling room, and it all changes.

For the Heros I've Known

Here are some of the heros I've been blessed to know over the years:

  • My grade school music teacher >>> whose songs and love of music I still carry with me to this day (despite my antics in class, she still taught me, sternly at times, but that was appropriate and much needed)
  • My Sunday School teacher >>> who loved me enough to discipline me for my lack of respect
  • My wrestling teammates >>> who were rock solid wrestlers & humans and who helped mold me into the person I am today
  • One of My friends in IT >>> who helped show me the ropes in business, who was also insanely healthy and fit in his late 40s even though there was no Instagram at the time to show it off to the world
  • My friend from Nigeria (and Germany) >>> who I met in Germany and who has a heart of gold and a faith that has moved mountains
  • My colleague in Alaska with whom I was working as an earthquake hit in Anchorage >>> it shook our building (in the grand scheme it wasn't bad, but we hung on to each other like we were best friends for a few moments and I was glad we had a good respect for each other before that moment and a lifelong memory thereafter)
  • My Assistant Pastor at our congregation now >>> who has a love and faith beyond measure and who is solid when the earth is in turmoil, and whose wife has helped our daughter have a well-decorated wedding at a time when we needed her help and skills

This is but a small list with a few examples, but I can't imagine my life without these people and the others I haven't mentioned. And, I can't imagine a system designed to harm these friends of mine, people I've been blessed to know and who have enriched my life and formed my soul.


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