Sumo Association Guilty of Negligence
I honestly don't know where to start. I flew to Japan on July 18th and wrote a rather lengthy blog entry on racism and how it plays a role in sumo on the plane. It was a first draft where I put down all of the thoughts in my noggin' on paper, so I could organize them later and produce a polished piece that was worthy of this website...can't have any crap posted on Sumotalk ya know. But the Nagoya basho was underway and took away that
free time I didn't have to begin with; then there was a hectic work schedule that included some travel; then the Olympics; then the Wakanoho thing; then the Mongolian jungyo; then more criticism from Yaku Mitsuru aimed at Asashoryu; Asashoryu's tell-all book; the Roho/Hakurozan mess; the official from the Ministry of Education calling for Kitanoumi's head; the commissioner's subsequent resignation; and now news of Wakanoho filing a civil lawsuit against the Sumo Association. There's been so much to say this past month, but each time I try to blog on something, a new twist arises seemingly the next day putting me back to square one. Now that the dust has begun to settle, I will lead off what I hope is a series of blog entries this month with the tragedy that has become of Wakanoho and how the Sumo Associaiton is squarely to blame.
My first reaction when I heard the news that Wakanoho was arrested for possession of marijuana was "what an idiot...way to throw away a six-figure income (when equated to US dollars) and the rest of your life," but after watching things play out, hearing Magaki-oyakata's confessions of his own shortcomings, and observing a penitent Wakanoho re-emerge and plead to be allowed back into the Association, I realized the real problem lies with the Association itself.
Follow me here. Wakanoho was brought over to Japan at the age of 16. He's a minor by law in Japan. He needs a legal guardian, which was either Magaki-oyakata himself or the Sumo Associaiton. By the age of 18, dude had been promoted to the Juryo ranks, which most importantly for the youngster meant he now received a paycheck. And we're not talking pocket change and jelly beans. We're talking a yearly income of at least $100K US. Think about when you were 16. What were you interested in? Lemme take a wild guess and say "experimenting"...with things like booze, drugs, and sex. Now fast forward to when you were 18 years old and just starting out at university. What were your interests? Booze, drugs, and sex although you could probably upgrade experimenting with booze to outright binge drinking.
Wakanoho is no different from anyone else in that respect. But he does differ greatly in one area...money. He was a paid professional as a minor with someone other than his parents acting as his legal guardian...a scenario completely different from parents sending a kid off to college. 18 months ago when Wakanoho was 18 1/2 years old, his stable master suffered a stroke leaving him largely debilitated, and as he admitted when Wakanoho's arrest first came to light, "I was unable to provide him proper supervision." At the same time the oyakata's health set-back occurred, Wakanoho was getting used to the Juryo life and the money that was pouring in. What did everyone think he was going to do in his spare time?
You cannot bring a kid over to your country, fill his pockets with caish, leave him exposed to every temptation the world has to offer, leave him largely unsupervised, and then kick him out of your sport due to a single transgression...committed when he was still a minor. That's like sending Amy Winehouse to rehab and then leaving lines of coke on the nightstand in her room and reminding her..."be a good girl now, Amy."
There is a serious moral issue here where you have an organization that took in a minor, failed to raise him properly, and now are kicking him out of everything he knows and leaving him with nary a pot to piss in. It's like those losers who troll for teenage girls online so they can arrange meetings for sex. They obviously don't understand the psychological scars they are going to inflict on their victim, and the Sumo Association likewise failed to take into consideration the long-term effect a lifetime banishment of Wakanoho will produce. If Wakanoho was an adult, it'd be a completely different story, but he's not, and so it changes the whole paradigm. There's a reason why laws are in place to limit the drinking age. In the US it's 21...in Japan it's 20. Why do countries establish such laws? It's the same with voting...it's the same with porn...and it's the same with tobacco. Such laws are in place because psychologically kids under the age are too stupid to make reasonable decisions that could have long-term effects on their lives. How many times have you ever thought about something you did from the age of say 18 - 22 that you now deeply regret? What does it tell you when Magaki-oyakata didn't even know his prodigy maintained a separate residence and was living there with a woman...all as a minor?
Wakanoho from the beginning has taken full responsibility for his actions. He hasn't lied to anyone including the police, and he hasn't blamed anyone else for his current predicament. He's been scared shitless just as any other kid would be, especially when suddenly faced with the reality of what his life without sumo would entail. The Sumo Associaiton has been dragged through the mud yet again with the Wakanoho scandal, but they brought it upon themselves and are now washing their hands of it by kicking Wakanoho out altogether and destroying a kid in the process. We are not talking about two pothead brothers who lied through their teeth and have been legal adults since before Wakanoho even entered sumo. We're talking about a kid who realizes his mistake, has bore no malice towards anyone from the beginning, and can truly be rehabilitated if given another chance.
The Sumo Association would make the right move by re-instating Wakanoho on the following conditions:
1) He is banned from fighting for a year. This would probably drop him down to the Sandanme ranks where he would be forced to work his way up without any money, without any tsukebito, and without all the perks that come with sekitori status.
2) He cannot maintain his own residence until he gets married.
3) He is tested monthly for marijuana and other illegal substances
4) He is banned for life if he breaks the law again no questions asked
Musashigawa Rijicho has been all talk since he assumed his new position, and this is his first order of real business...how do we handle the case of Wakanoho. Roho and Hakurozan don't deserve anything beyond the boot in the ass already delivered. But Wakanoho was just a minor...a minor that fell prey to the system established by the Association itself. If you're going to bring foreigners into the sport, you need to establish policies beforehand to protect them and your own organization. The fact that the Association conducted a drug test for marijuana without having a policy in place stipulating the punishment for some who tested positive shows you how inept the organization is.
Wakanoho has a legitimate civil case. His lawyer made the correct move by questioning the three Tokitsukaze-beya rikishi who were involved in Tokitaizan's death who have not been kicked out of the Association yet. Now he needs to add how the Sumo Association was negligent in their duties of seeing that a minor in their care was protected.
I fear the problem here has everything to do with race. List the following crimes from top to bottom in order of severity:
* possession of marijuana as a minor
* assault on a taxi driver
We know Wakanoho's crime, and he has been excommunicated for it. The other two crimes were committed by at least one adult Japanese rikishi...rikishi who are still part of the Association. The Sumo Association, the press, and the general public need to distinguish between Wakanoho's case and that of the brothers Ro and completely separate the two. If the Sumo Association can't correctly handle Wakanoho's situation, how is anything going to change in the future?
The sad thing is it won't.