As I’ve said before, I tend to think and write about sports quite a bit, but as my interests evolve, I tend to gravitate to sports in situations where they make you think more about life. I have always enjoyed the 30 for 30 series that ESPN has put out over the years, so when a new episode appeared on my DVR over the last week, I wanted to give it a look. As I read through the description, it sounded vaguely familiar, and then it hit me that it was a documentary covering the events that led to the movie Foxcatcher starring Steve Carrell.
I spent the hour watching this story unfold in complete awe. If you haven’t watched it yet, its highly recommended. The story follows a man by the name of John du Pont, of the famous du Pont family who founded the famous chemical company of the same name. He grew up in a wealthy family, but decided to dedicate his life to do everything he could to win a gold medal, as he saw this as the ultimate success. When he realized he wasn’t an olympic swimmer, after giving his all, he moved to steeplechase, and after a couple additional setbacks, he decided to take some of the family property and turn it into a world class amateur wrestling training facility in the 1980s.
It should be stated that at this time, US Olympians were absolutely forbidden from being any form a professional athlete, so they basically lived in poverty training for their one chance to have a medal put around their neck. When du Pont opened his training facility that he called Foxcatcher, due to the many fox hunts that used to take place on the land, it was like a gift from the heavens for olympic hopefuls to train there. It was no coincidence that after Team Foxcatcher was put together and had sufficient time and resources to train that the United States began to transform into a powerhouse in amateur wrestling. du Pont not only housed and fed many of the athletes that trained there, but also gave them a scholarship of sorts, paying them so they could have a family while training for hopeful olympic gold. What these athletes gradually began to see is the bizarre eccentricities from the man that had saved and is now funding their careers. DuPont was so paranoid that he thought the camp was under surveillance by Nazis. On multiple occasions, he drank too much, and crashed vehicles around the farm. He began carrying firearms on him at all time because he was convinced that someone on the team was an informant and out to get him.
The worst part was that the athletes basically had to look the other way, as du Pont literally was their meal ticket. They had to put up with his bizarre behavior or their olympic dream was gone, and even worse, they could be back on the streets. Unfortunately, du Pont’s mental illness hit a crescendo with the murder of olympic wrestler Dave Schultz.
After his conviction, du Pont spent the rest of his life in prison before his death in in 2010. The story hit a nerve with me as just how much a vulnerable person will put up with. It was almost as if these dedicated athletes were held hostage by this mentally deranged man that they had to come up with every excuse in the book in order to stick around. A tragic ending to an amazing film.