Long before they became politicians, these men were young Americans testing their skills and toughening up the men around them with their wrestling skills. So often in the world of males, the cream does rise to the top. And while wrestling prowess doesn't always translate into being the top dog in your chosen profession, the values, the tactics, and the toughness that you learn through wrestling certainly doesn't hurt.
More than a quarter of our presidents have been known to be wrestlers. John Adams, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, William Taft, and Calvin Coolidge are all among this roster of presidential wrestlers. Not surprisingly, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower were wrestlers as well. In fact, Teddy, the leader of the Rough Riders, was a combat sport enthusiast being a wrestler, boxer, and learning jiu-jitsu from a Japanese friend.
Gerald Ford was a boxer in his youth and then coached boxing in the U. S. Navy. The former Michigan football hero was a tough, but affable man his entire life who appreciated combat sports and passed that passion on to others.
Jimmy Carter often speaks about wrestling the neighborhood boys in his youth. He was also famous for, and criticized for, his love of professional wrestling having shared that passion with his mother, Miss Lillian. In fact, Carter was personal friends with pro wrestling luminaries such as Mr. Wrestling II, Kevin Sullivan, and powerful NWA promoter, Jim Barnett. Like Carter, Richard Nixon was known to love watching professional wrestling as well. His aides knew to leave him alone on Saturday afternoons in the White House while he was watching his favorite wrestlers.
Donald Trump, of course, has a long association with the WWE and the McMahon family. Which kind of goes hand in hand with the WWE's image as cartoonish and fake (which it is). I never cared for the WWE's habit of humiliating their own talent by putting famous people into their wrestling shows and making the talent look bad. Of course, it helped to sell a lot of tickets so WCW did the same thing. NWA/WCW fans were used to a grittier, more real sense of one man wanting to fight another. Arguably that move helped lead to its downfall.
However, there are two American presidents that stand out as wrestlers above all of the others. Perhaps our two most famous and most consequential presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Even in grade school when I studied Lincoln I learned of the Great Emancipator's wrestling background. But I had no idea the Illinois frontiersman turned lawyer/politician was flat out a bad ass among bad asses.
From a 2013 SI article by Bryan Armen Graham:
What a scene that must have been! The men witnessing these masculine tests of manliness would be prone to fight after watching a wrestling match. In true hero style, Lincoln was man enough to whip almost any man that he faced. But the one time he lost he was also man enough to accept his defeat.
However, George Washington, the father of our nation, proved he was also The Daddy of every American male. From Eveyln Aharonian's 2014 article for jiujitsutimes.com:
By the 18 century wrestling became a recognized spectator sport, even though it was thought of as extremely rough. Do you know who was able to defeat seven challengers from the Massachusetts Volunteers at the age of 47? George Washington. What a boss to be able to do that at that age. He was actually known for his wrestling championship in Virginia in what is known as the collar-and-elbow style.
Seven men from the Massachusetts Volunteers? It would be difficult enough to defeat one of those guys at age 47 much less seven!
I'd like to think that the stuff that men like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were made of runs through the veins of all American males whether we as individuals tap into it or not. Our wrestling heritage is reason for all Americans to be proud.
For more reading on the subject, check out The Wrestling Presidents: From Pins to Patriots by William S. Worley and Gary M. Gray.