IOWA CITY, Iowa – For the sake of the Iowa wrestling program and its devoted fans, you hope that cooler heads ultimately would prevail in the Tony Ramos-Tom Brands controversy.
You hope all the years Ramos and Brands have spent building what to outsiders seemed like an unshakable bond thanks to the sport of wrestling won’t be erased by several minutes of raw emotion at a vulnerable time.
Ramos was crushed when he met with reporters after losing to another former Hawkeye, Daniel Dennis, in the finals of the Olympic Trials on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Ramos had invested his heart, soul, body and mind into trying to qualify for the Olympics, only to fall short in an arena where he used to be king.
A moment that could have been the high point in Ramos’ already spectacular wrestling career instead turned into a disaster on and off the mat.
To make a long story short, Ramos lost back-to-back matches against Dennis with a spot in the Olympics on the line. Ramos then unleashed his anger and frustration after the second match, telling reporters he felt that he been “lied to a couple times” and stabbed in the back by Iowa’s staff and its handling of the top two 125.5 pounders.
Ramos already was upset that Dennis had been allowed to return to the Iowa Wrestling Club after being away from the sport and living in California for two years. The situation reached a boil after Brands, Iowa’s head coach since 2006, chose to sit in a chair behind the officials’ bench during the two matches pitting Ramos against Dennis.
Iowa assistant coach Terry Brands, who is Tom’s twin brother, stood on Ramos’ side during the two matches. But that apparently wasn’t enough to satisfy Ramos, who won an NCAA title as a Hawkeye senior in 2014.
“I don’t think there was one person inside this program, other than Terry Brands, who wanted to see me win,” Ramos told reporters.
That was a provocative statement that was meant to send a powerful message.
Ramos felt betrayed and he apparently wanted the wrestling world to know about it. He also said during his outburst on Sunday that it was time to sever ties with the Iowa program.
Whether Ramos was right or wrong to lash out depends on whose side you sympathize with in this case.
As an outsider who hasn’t covered wrestling extensively, I wouldn’t begin to pick sides in this controversy because I certainly don’t have all the details and facts.
I didn’t realize the situation with Ramos and Dennis was even awkward until last Tuesday when they met with the media in the Iowa wrestling room to promote the Olympic Trials. They both stood just feet from each other while being interviewed, but it felt like they were worlds apart.
Instead of embracing the challenge of training against each other on a daily basis, Ramos and Dennis had gone out their way to avoid each other it seems.
All the awkwardness then came to a head on Sunday when they couldn’t avoid each other any longer.
You wonder if the controversy could’ve been avoided if Tom Brands and Terry Brands both had stayed neutral in terms of where they sat during the matches. Or would Ramos and Dennis had felt abandoned with that arrangement?
In fairness to Tom Brands, he was put in a delicate situation to say the least.
You can’t blame or criticize Tom Brands for allowing Dennis to make his comeback in a constructive environment and surrounded by people who care about him. You know, once a Hawkeye, always a Hawkeye.
It’s hard to judge Ramos without knowing what was and what wasn’t promised to him behind closed doors. Ramos said he was told that both of the Brands brothers would be in his corner.
Before Sunday’s outburst, Ramos had been a true ambassador for the Iowa wrestling program, one of the best spokespersons/performers the program has had in a while. His talent was matched only by his charisma and passion for the sport.
It would be a shame if Ramos is remembered more for what he said during one interview that occurred under the most difficult of circumstances than for his excellence on the mat.
It also would be a shame if Brands’s reputation suffers from this controversy because the only thing he seems guilty of is not recognizing a potentially combustible situation. Or maybe Brands did recognize it, but still chose to take a chance, only to have it backfire.
I just find it hard to believe that Tom Brands would favor one former Hawkeye wrestler over another with so much on the line.
"When you corner a guy, you’re not in his corner for his matches, you’re in his corner for his life,” Tom Brands said of his relationship with Ramos. “I’ve been in that guy’s corner since the day he walked on campus. Have been and always will be.”
Unfortunately, for Tom Brands, the fact that Ramos feels he was lied to and betrayed means the damage already is done.
It already is hard enough for Iowa to stay within striking distance of Penn State’s current dominance in wrestling without a distraction of this magnitude.
The Iowa wrestling team finished in fifth place at the 2016 NCAA Championships, while Penn State was crowned king for the fifth time in the last six years under head coach Cael Sanderson.
Tom Brands needs to focus all his energy on narrowing the gap with Penn State.
That’s why this controversy can’t be allowed to fester.