Wrestling, Weight Loss and Exposing a Flawed System
By Jessica Silliman
Gary Karter was an avid sports fan throughout college who
landed the perfect job-a sports writing position at a major
metropolitan newspaper. After three years writing for the sports
section of The Santa Clara, Gary felt sports had to be a part
of his future. The job had all the perks he had hoped for-he
got to meet professional players, develop relationships with
coaches and scouts and, best of all, got to see plenty of games-all
while getting paid.
Though he mostly followed the professional circuit, in the
winter of one year, Gary's editor asked him to report on local
high school wrestlers. The editor put Gary on this special assignment
because there was new scrutiny of the high school programs-while
they once were top in the state, new regulations had the possibility
of damaging their reign. After suspicion of foul play in the
weight classes in the last year, the local school district had
implemented a new weight-management testing program to curb
past problems with rapid weight loss among wrestlers. Some wrestlers
believe that by dropping weight while maintaining strength,
they can gain an edge on competitors who are wrestling at their
There had been detailed accounts of the agony many high school
wrestlers were enduring to make the elite squads -and their
methods were far from legal. Many were forced to wrestle at
weights much below their "healthy" weight, forcing
them to lose weight fast by any means possible, whether it be
by starvation, forced vomiting or laxatives. This behavior had
the possibility of causing irreversible internal damage to the
Gary was asked to look into the effectiveness of the new testing
program. The new test measured body fat and hydration levels
of each wrestler before each match. Every wrestler was forced
to submit a urine sample to measure his body's hydration level.
If hydration levels and body fat were significantly different
from those from the beginning of the wrestling season, they
were forced to sit out the meet.
But after interviewing countless athletes, Gary found out that
they could cheat. Athletes who had cheated the test even told
him how it could be done.
This caused a dilemma. Gary feared that if he put information
in the story about how to exploit the loopholes of the testing
program, it would lead other athletes to experiment, causing
the whole program to be useless. His story would not only show
that athletes during the season had cheated, but it would show
how they did it. With this information public, the district
would have to revamp the entire process. But Gary felt that
publishing the story was in its entirety necessary. After he
learned of the many health problems facing wrestlers who were
dropping weight, he knew that a better weight management system
needed to be put in place.
After much thought, Gary included a full report of the testing
program-including information about its drawbacks and anecdotes
about how some athletes, who remained nameless, were able to
cheat the system. If he hadn't included this information, he
felt that he would be covering for the district and making a
flawed system appear sound. His article was meant to investigate
the system and, even though the outcome wasn' t what the district
preferred, Gary's actions encouraged a reevaluation of the district's
- How would you describe the values in conflict for Gary as
he considers whether to go ahead with the story or not?
- Do you think Gary was correct in his reasoning for going
ahead to publish the story?
- Who would benefit by Gary publishing the story? Who would
Jessica Silliman was a 2006-07 Hackworth Fellow at The Markkula
Center for Applied Ethics.