Thoughts on Martin Luther King Day from USA Wrestling athletes and coaches

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Jan. 21, 2019, 6:42 p.m. (ET)

Cover Photo: Maya Nelson of the USA celebrates after winning the 2017 Junior World gold medal. Photo by Richard Immel.

We stopped by the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs today, to speak with some athletes and coaches from all three styles to ask their thoughts about Martin Luther King Day.

As a federal holiday, schools and many public activities are closed for the day. There was no day off today for our nation’s top wrestlers, many who are in training for upcoming major competition.

We asked for thoughts concerning the Martin Luther Day holiday, the legacy of Dr. King, and how it has impacted their lives.

Maya Nelson
Junior World champion
U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete
Originally from Denver, Colo.

“Dr. King was a great influencer and a man who overcame many adversities. I look up to that a lot. I feel what he had to overcome. I am proud to be a pioneer in wrestling, being an African-American and Mexican-American woman, a person of color. Growing up in a sport, which maybe I didn’t always have someone to look up to, I hope that I am a pioneer to younger girls. And when they see me, they see themselves.”

“I think we have made some leaps and bounds towards equality for all. I still feel like we have a lot more to do in society. The first step is to look within ourselves. We have knowledge at the tips of our fingers. You can just look it up on Google now. I feel that there is no excuse for anybody to be ignorant in this day and age. The information is out there and you just have to just go out and look for it. You can really look to yourself and be open to soak up all of the learning.”

Kevin Jackson
USA Wrestling Assistant National Freestyle Coach
1992 Olympic champion, two-time World champion
Originally from Lansing, Mich.

“I don’t know many people more deserving than Dr. King to be celebrated, for what he stood for from a non-violence standpoint, to equality for all men and women. I think that is why God put us on this planet, to love each other as we love ourselves. Dr. King stood for that. I do think we made great strides in that direction during Dr. King’s day, and I pray that those strides continue. We are in a certain time in our lives where it sometimes feels like what Dr. King was preaching might not be carrying over to our youth. What Dr. King meant to this country is second to none.”

“To have this as a National Holiday, which all Americans celebrate, and to have school off and work off is much deserved. He died for what he believed in. That is very powerful. I take pride that he is celebrated today, not only in the Black community, but also around the country and even around the world. To have a national holiday to celebrate Dr. King is a great tribute. We should all recognize and truly understand why we celebrate him on this day.

Kevin Radford
Greco-Roman National Team member
Originally from Fayetteville, N.C.

“It means a lot to American society. It brought together a lot of people who before weren’t allowed to be together. Having this day has helped a lot in sports. Back when there was discrimination, they wouldn’t let so-and-so play with so-and-so. Now we get the whole playing field even. It has allowed people to go as far as they have to go.

“It is the process of this country. We are learning and adapting. We have to expand and grow as a country, and to accept everyone for who they are. The acceptance of this as a national holiday really makes me happy to be around.”

Erin Golston
Women’s National Team member
U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete
Originally from Lake In The Hills, Ill.

“I hold this day dear in my heart. He’s the pioneer. He started it all. Some of my friendships, they wouldn’t even be friendships now if it was not for him. As a country, we still have way more to go, with some of the issues going on today. He definitely made the foundation for all of us to be cohesive.”