‘Foxcatcher’, A Review of the Book and Film

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by Eddie Goldman

Wrestling is arguably not only the most demanding sport, but also one of the least rewarding financially. That dilemma has led many wrestlers, including those who should be considered the sport’s superstars, to perform tasks for money solely to pay the bills. Most of us have had jobs we don’t particularly like simply for that reason, but it should not be the only choice available for the Derek Jeters, Michael Jordans, and Peyton Mannings of the world’s oldest sport.

When Mark Schultz — a 1984 Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion in freestyle wrestling for the U.S., a three-time NCAA Div. I wrestling champion at Oklahoma, and who was 1-0 in MMA — went to coach and wrestle under the auspices of Team Foxcatcher and the multimillionaire John du Pont, it was the dire financial prospects for even the most successful wrestlers that in essence forced him to take such a position.

As Mark wrote in his book Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold, “guys like me, with incredible skill and potential and drive and motivation, were having to stoop to rely on a lowlife like John du Pont to survive. ” (p. 224, paperback edition, Dutton, 2014)

Most likely you know the rest of this increasingly tragic tale. Eventually du Pont dismissed Mark and brought in his older brother, Dave Schultz, himself a fellow Olympic, world, and NCAA champion. On January 26, 1996, du Pont shot Dave three times, murdering him in cold blood. Du Pont was later found guilty of third degree murder and diagnosed as being mentally ill. He went to prison for this horrible crime, where he died on December 9, 2010, at age 72.

This story has been captured in both a book and a film which are coming out this week.

The dramatization of these events in the film Foxcatcher, which opens November 14 in the U.S., has received high praise from the film world. Director Bennett Miller, as well as actors Steve Carell (du Pont), Channing Tatum (Mark Schultz), and Mark Ruffalo (Dave Schultz) have all been prominently mentioned in the film media as serious Oscar contenders, as well as the film itself. Both film buffs and wrestling and combat sports aficionados will find that this is a film not to be missed.

Mark Schultz’s book will come out November 18. Written with sportswriter David Thomas, the book is a candid and revealing autobiographical account of Mark’s life. While the film is its own dramatic presentation, if you want to know all about what happened at Foxcatcher, get the book by Mark Schultz. It is a must-read, whether or not you know a lot about wrestling.

Yet when all the reviews roll in and the discussion inevitably follows on social media, in barrooms, and in wrestling rooms, consider this: What are the lessons of this tragedy? Is the main issue the undoubted madness of du Pont? Or is it the conditions which led wrestling notables like Mark and Dave Schultz to put themselves out to hire for such “a lowlife”? Sure, there may not be anyone just like du Pont in wrestling these days. But almost 19 years after the murder of Dave Schultz, how much has changed? How much has changed?

(Eddie Goldman is host and producer of the No Holds Barred podcast, at EddieGoldman.com.)

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