Bill Scherr

The Jordan Burroughs problem

Quick. Name the best wrestler on the Olympic and international scene the United States has ever produced. The name most people would name -- if, that is, they could name even one name -- would be Dan Gable, who won Olympic gold in Munich in 1972 while not giving up even a single point. The Gable legend was, over the years, further enhanced by his incredible coaching career at the University of Iowa.

There are, of course, others. Just to name a few, and the proud history of American wrestling means a list like this runs the risk of omitting many others: Lee Kemp, Dave Schultz, Steve Fraser, Bruce Baumgartner, John Smith, Cael Sanderson, Rulon Gardner, Henry Cejudo.

A few days ago, 25-year-old Jordan Burroughs won the 74-kilo/163-pound freestyle class at wrestling's world championships in Budapest, Hungary. The victory ran Burroughs' unbeaten streak to 65. The man has not lost at the senior level since he started competing internationally.

US Olympic Athlete Medalists Visit USA House

The sport of wrestling, as is widely known, got itself back into the Summer Games in 2020 and 2024 via a vote earlier this month by the International Olympic Committee's full membership in Buenos Aires. That's a big win. But, to be blunt, there's still has a long way to go. Wrestling, to sum up, has a Jordan Burroughs problem.

It's not that Jordan Burroughs himself is a problem.

Far from it.

The problem is the other way around. Who knows about Jordan Burroughs?

Now that wrestling is back in, the same energy, enthusiasm and passion that got it there has to go toward building the brand. Right now, wrestling has a window of opportunity. Burroughs is without doubt its biggest current star, particularly in the United States.

So why isn't he on SportsCenter? Leno? Letterman? Conan? The Daily Show? The Colbert Report? Making the rounds of the early-morning TV shows as well? Being offered up for bit roles in movies? For that matter, why aren't people scrambling to make documentaries about him -- or making him the centerpiece of films such as The Great Wrestling Comeback of 2013?

Wrestling is huge in Russia. Wouldn't it score political points to bring Burroughs to Sochi to have him mingle with the IOC bigwigs and maybe even Russian President Vladimir Putin himself this coming February?

Attention, Billy Baldwin. You were front and center in the months up to the IOC vote. By all accounts, you played a significant role in rallying Hollywood and even Wall Street in fund-raising drives that helped lift wrestling's profile.

Now comes Phase Two.

"The Miami Heat," Burroughs said in a phone interview, "had a 27-game winning streak. It was all on SportsCenter. It got huge press. Here I am at 65 and no one even knows.

"This is important to help the sport," he emphasized. "It is not important to me personally. It is something I wish we could do more of. It is not, let me repeat, something to me to be a self-fulfilling guy."

Burroughs is the 2012 Olympic gold medalist; the 2011 world champ; and, now, the 2013 world champion, too. He is a two-time NCAA champion, in 2009 at 157 pounds and in 2011 at 165. In 2011, he won the Hodge Trophy, wrestling's equivalent of football's Heisman.

In the final in Budapest, Burroughs defeated Iran's Ezzatollah Akbarizarinkolaei, 4-0. The victory made him the first U.S. men's freestyle wrestler to win back-to-back world titles since Smith, in 1990 and 1991. Burroughs also became only the second U.S. men's freestyle wrestler to win three straight world or Olympic titles; Smith won six straight world or Olympic titles from 1987-92.

The victory in Budapest is all the more remarkable because, as Burroughs disclosed afterward, he suffered a broken ankle training Aug. 22 in Colorado Springs, Colo.; he had surgery the next day and at the worlds still had five screws in his left ankle for stability. He guessed he was perhaps at 75 to 80 percent when he arrived in Hungary.

Burroughs is thoughtful, well-spoken, an incredible role model. He is just about to get married. He is everything USA Wrestling -- indeed, the U.S. Olympic Committee -- would want.

Even so, Jordan Burroughs could walk down most streets in the United States of America and no one would know who he is.

On most blocks they know who LeBron James is. And Peyton Manning. Switching to Olympic sports -- Michael Phelps and Apolo Ohno, too.

But not Burroughs.

That is a big problem for a sport that is -- and make no mistake about it -- still going to be fighting for its Olympic life.

As Serbia's Nenad Lalovic, the new president of FILA, the sport's international governing body, said in an interview in Buenos Aires, a couple days after the IOC vote, "This job is not finished. We are just starting."

Burroughs is a bigger star in Iran than he is in either New Jersey, where he grew up, or even Nebraska, where he went to college. This fall, Taylor Martinez, the Cornhuskers' starting quarterback, is a way bigger deal in Lincoln.

In Teheran? This past February, the U.S. team took part in a World Cup there. The just-released book "Saving Wrestling," by James V. Moffatt and Craig Sesker, is filled with inside nuggets on wrestling's path back to 2020. As the book recounts, in Teheran, after he won, Burroughs had to be pushed through the crowd by U.S. assistant coach Bill Zadick to get to the team bus.

Mind you, this was a crowd of bearded Iranian men seeking photos or an autograph from an American wrestler. The two countries' political leaders -- until President Obama's telephone call last week to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani -- have had no high-level contact since 1979.

Burroughs says in the book, "I received more attention there than I receive on my home soil. It was kind of like being Justin Bieber with all the attention that I was getting. It was nuts."

The competition in Iran took place just days after the IOC's policy-making executive board move to boot wrestling out of the Games.

As the saying goes, sometimes a crisis presents unexpected opportunity.

In wrestling's sake, the sport effected in seven months the sorts of changes -- political, governance, rules -- that would otherwise have taken 15 or 20 years. Or maybe longer.

"This is the best thing that ever happened to wrestling," said Jim Scherr, the former USOC chief executive who played a key role in presenting FILA's winning case to the IOC.

Among the changes were the development of women's and athletes' commissions. FILA didn't have such boards. So simple. One of the members of the new athletes' commission is American Jake Herbert, a 2012 Olympian. He called it a "step in the right direction," adding, "They are getting there."

This is the thing, though -- they are not there yet.

The sport essentially faces two big-picture challenges, all of which is clear from reading the IOC materials that led to the executive board action in the first instance:

One, it needs to do a much better job of promoting itself at the high end, meaning the creation and promotion of a brand and image for the sport and its athletes.

Two, at the grass-roots and club levels it needs to attract way more kids and young people -- boys and, in particular, girls -- and make the sport more friendly to them and their parents.

Bill Scherr is Jim's twin brother. Bill is chairman of what was called the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling, and said, "All sports federations have their problems and issues. 2024 is 11 years away." Referring to FILA, he added immediately, "We face elimination again. I would think they would be motivated to make the changes necessary."

This all leads back to Jordan Burroughs.

It's not complicated. All sports thrive on stars.

When he gets back from his honeymoon, you'd like to think there would be some really smart people waiting to talk to him. With real money for a PR campaign, or two, for the sport, built around this All-American guy.

"What wrestling has done," Burroughs said, "is put itself back in the spotlight." In Rio de Janeiro, at the 2016 Games, "We are going to be one of the 'it' sports -- people are going to be watching, asking, 'Let's see why this sport deserves to be in the Olympic Games.' People are going to be paying attention.

"I think," he said, "we have all the tools."

Chicago 2016 - can a loss be a win?

CHICAGO -- Destyne Butler Jr. is a young boxer. As the intriguing new movie chronicling Chicago's unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Summer Games opens, the camera catches Destyne banging away in the gym and then saying, "It's all going to pay off in the long run, and I know I can make it." Maybe, in its way, that's the Chicago 2024 motto, too. Or Chicago 2028. Or Chicago 2032.

Not that anything like that, and for sure not a most unlikely 2020 bid, is the main point of the film.

It nonetheless remains an unavoidable subtext, and the documentary's recap of the 2016 race can't help but look ahead to what might be someday, with new takes from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and bid chief Pat Ryan, along with some logical thinking from U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun.

Indeed, Ryan says at one point, "I believe Chicago should bid again."

But, again, that's not the central point. Instead, it's this: Can a loss nonetheless be a win?

No one likes losing, and losing was particularly difficult in the case of Chicago 2016 because it was indisputably the most complete Olympic bid ever put forward by the United States. It featured a great technical plan based along the city's lakefront enhanced by unprecedented business and political support.

President Obama made a personal appeal as part of Chicago's presentation to the International Olympic Committee last Oct. 2 in Copenhagen. Yet Chicago got bounced in the first round, with only 18 votes, Rio de Janeiro winning in a landslide. "Shocked. I really was. Never anticipated it," Ryan says of the first-round exit.

It would be easy, of course, to make a documentary about a winning Olympic bid. The 44-minute Chicago film, produced by Mark Mitten, written and directed by Mitten and Jim Schmidt and due to air Saturday on Chicago's NBC affiliate, the one-year anniversary of the 2016 vote, is believed to be one of the very few on a losing campaign. It might even be a first -- insiders from losing bids generally not eager to re-visit that sort of thing on film. (Disclosure: I was among those interviewed for the movie. No idea if I made the final cut.)

The documentary -- here's a clip -- skirts the many controversies involving the IOC's complex relationship with the USOC that are widely believed to have played a key role in sinking Chicago's aspirations.

It's not that Mitten and Schmidt don't know about the controversies. Mitten was the bid's chief brand officer; he and Schmidt, a principal at Downtown Partners Chicago, worked on all the bid's campaign films. Some critics may thus declare the film, entitled Making Big Plans: The Story of Chicago's Olympic Dream, guilty of omission.

At the same time, it's not clear that much -- if anything -- would be gained by rehashing those conflicts, in particular the USOC's plan to launch its own television network. The USOC made that announcement in the summer of 2009 over ferocious IOC objections; ultimately, the USOC abandoned the project.

Besides, the film's focus is elsewhere:

"Chicago didn’t lose," Ryan says. "Rio won.  But Chicago won in so many ways."

If some will be tempted to say that's self-serving or just so much rationalization, consider:

The Chicago bid generated undeniable civic spirit; it positioned Chicago on the world stage; it also produced significant partnerships and real-world job and other benefits.

One example: The 2016 Fund for Chicago Neighborhoods, for example, used $2 million left over from the bid to attract $18 million in federal matching funds for job-training programs in South Side neighborhoods. Some 2,200 people stand to benefit.

Another: The bid branded Chicago, previously known around the world perhaps for Al Capone or Michael Jordan, in ways that arguably nothing else could. "We put Chicago on the global map, with all the publicity and all the competition -- it was worth it," Daley says.

If one day there is another Chicago bid, it will be under the direction of another mayor. Daley recently announced plans to leave office.

Ryan has made clear, too, that while he would be happy to advise and support another bid, someone else will be in charge.

As things stand now, there are only three cities in the United States that can legitimately aim to mount and then win a Summer Games bid: Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The USOC has made it abundantly plain that no American bid will even be considered until a longstanding dispute with the IOC over the USOC's shares of broadcasting and marketing revenues is resolved.

There's no timetable for getting that done. So any bid talk  has to be considered hypothetical.

"If and when we do want to reconsider a bid, we are definitely going to want to be in a dialogue with the people of Chicago – a combination of the great leadership that they were able to put together, the great plan," Blackmun, who has been chief executive since January and played no part in the 2009 campaign, says in the movie, adding, "I think we definitely want to revisit that with Chicago at some point in the future."

Again, and for emphasis: Blackmun was not endorsing Chicago and he was not slyly suggesting the Americans are up to something for 2020. He was speaking in the hypothetical.

The film does, however, give voice to the obvious question:

"Should we bid again?" asks Scott Myers, the executive director of World Sport Chicago, another legacy of the bid, its youth sport-oriented organization.

"I think we should bid again," Bill Scherr, World Sport Chicago's president, answers.

"Chicago should bid again," Phil Enquist, an architect and key 2016 Games planner, says.

Lori Healey, the Chicago 2016 president, says, "Never say never, right?"

Ryan says the bid team "put our bid plan in a time capsule and it's there to be taken out by a future mayor and business community and community leaders. And it will be very timely because what was great about our bid was the physical beauty and lakefront and parks of the city, and that’s not going away.

"So when there is another bid, it will cost far less than our bid cost. And it could be eight years, 12 years, 16 years."

He also says, "The Olympic bid -- it was a great, great thing for Chicago," adding, "Some day Chicago will host the Olympics."

Maybe. It's like Destyne Butler Jr. also says: "I want to make history."

'Beyond Sport,' and the right thing to do

CHICAGO -- Far too often it is said overseas that the primary interest -- indeed, perhaps the only interest -- in the United States in the Olympic movement is money. That is, making as much money as possible off the Olympics.

The rest? The Olympic spirit and all that? Commitment to the values that underpin the Olympic ideal? Attention to the idea that sport can cut across social and political differences and move the world forward, bit by bit?

Those who would hold fast to the idea that it's only a dash for cash here in the States ought to have been part of the crowd Wednesday at the opening of what was called the 2010 "Beyond Sport" summit.

"Fellow agents of positive social change," Jordan's Prince Feisal Al Hussein, an International Olympic Committee member and the founder of an initiative called "Generations for Peace," said in beginning a speech that focused on "how we can get sport to effect great and lasting social change."

It's not treacly and it's not saccharine to say such things.  Just the opposite. Talking about such values and such goals -- and then doing something about it -- is what makes it all real.

That said, the point here Wednesday was not that world peace suddenly broke out. Of course not.

The point is that there are efforts underway to recognize the distinct role that sport, and the Olympic movement in particular, can play in effecting change.

"This is what the 'Beyond Sport' summit is all about -- getting the world to listen," the prince said from the lectern.

World Sport Chicago, the group created to promote the legacy of Chicago's unsuccessful 2016 bid, played a key role in organizing the event here, which runs through Thursday.

Again: Chicago is not now in the bid game. If Chicago ever again launches an Olympic bid, it will be many years down the line. Yet here were World Sport Chicago and the United States Olympic Committee, stepping up -- with no expectation of immediate pay-off from the IOC, maybe no bid-related pay-off ever.

It was just the right thing to do.

"We think it's important for Chicago, and for the United States, to host these international sports conferences and events," Bill Scherr, the president of World Sport Chicago, said in an interview, adding, "We think it connects us."

Scott Blackmun, the chief executive of the USOC, took part in the very first panel discussion on the agenda, an examination of "legacy delivery."

"Yes, we're doing a lot. No, we're not doing enough," Caryl Stern, the president and chief executive of UNICEF USA, said as part of that panel.

Added Tim Leiweke, the chief executive of AEG Worldwide, "We have to do more," noting that sports and music are "the only two entities that break through."

"A generation ago, this conference wouldn't happen," Blackmun said, noting the power of the stories of Olympic athletes to inspire not just young people but influence-makers on Capitol Hill.

Just last Saturday, at the conclusion of the USOC's annual assembly in Colorado Springs, Colo., Blackmun, asked about the way he and USOC board chairman Larry Probst have this year quietly but pointedly emphasized a commitment to relationship-building with international sports officials, said, "I think the 90-degree right turn is for us to be more engaged and become more active participants.

"That," he said, "means showing up."

Like at events such as Beyond Sport.

Among other provocative discussions on the schedule here:

What good can sports celebrities do -- what's possible and what's not?

How can sport provide opportunities for girls' and women's education?

Can sports programs help reduce youth violence? How?

"There could be no greater legacy to Chicago's Olympic bid than to commit to Chicago's young people… [and to explore] how sport can play a crucial role in the urban environment," Nick Keller, the founder of Beyond Sport, said Wednesday from the lectern.

Again, the point is not that answers were fully divined in the great ballroom of the Palmer House in Chicago's Loop.

It's the pursuit of those answers.

That is, the affirmation of some of the key values that animate the Olympic spirit between editions of the Games, among them "courage, boldness, tenacity, humanity," Keller said in asserting, "We want you to be moved … to forge the next set of connections … to use sport to address the next set of the world's great challenges."

"We all believe sport can bring youth away from and into very important things, away from crime, away from violence, and into academics, into sport, into character development," Pat Ryan, the head of the Chicago 2016 bid and chairman of World Sport Chicago, said in his address.

"Archimedes once said, 'Give me a place to stand, and I will move the earth,' " Prince Feisal said a moment or two later.

It was the "prerogative" of those in the room to do so, he said, then paused and corrected himself: "No, it's our duty."