Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

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 natural weight.

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 wrestlers.

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 program.

Discussion Questions:

  • 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 be harmed?

Jessica Silliman was a 2006-07 Hackworth Fellow at The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

June 2007


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