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Top recruit David Carr could have gone to other schools, but his family's legacy at ISU and the chance to build something bigger than himself led him to Ames. Des Moines Register

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AMES, Ia. — Over the last week, David Carr stood at the Iowa State Capitol and on the streets in Minneapolis. He wore a black mask to shield himself from a global pandemic and held up a sign in the hopes of curing a different kind of illness.

“I got a few friends together and we went to protest in Des Moines,” said Carr, the star sophomore on the Iowa State wrestling team. “It was a very peaceful protest. I was surprised at how many people were there.

“I had talked to (Minnesota heavyweight) Gable Steveson, and he was telling me how crazy it was in Minneapolis. I really wanted to check it out and see what it was like, and it was an amazing experience. Being around that changed me a lot.”

The widespread protests and ongoing conversation spurred by the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor reached the sport of wrestling this month. USA Wrestling has publicly shown extensive support for its Black athletes, and many have entered the national dialogue themselves.

Carr hopes to continue that conversation here in Iowa and in the Iowa State community. He opened up about the protests as well as his own experiences as a Black man in a wide-ranging interview with the Des Moines Register.

“I want to influence people and make a difference,” said Carr, a 2019 Junior men’s freestyle world champ who earned the 3-seed at the 2020 NCAA Championships, which were canceled by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“I have this platform, but what can I do with that?”

The 21-year-old watched a video of the Floyd killing shortly after it had gone viral. Floyd was killed after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Chauvin is being charged with second-degree murder. Floyd was 46.

“It was hard for me to watch the whole video,” Carr said. “It took me a little bit.”

Protests erupted in all 50 states, including here in Iowa. On Friday, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law bipartisan legislation banning most police chokeholds and addressing police officer misconduct as the state's few Black lawmakers and many more supporters raised their fists in the air.

Carr reached out to other prominent Black wrestlers around the country. Guys like Jordan Burroughs, a five-time world and Olympic champ; J’den Cox, a two-time world champ; and Kyven Gadson, a 2015 NCAA champ for Iowa State, among many others.

They all discussed their feelings on Floyd’s death and shared their own experiences. Carr said he’s faced small bouts racism throughout his career.

As an eighth-grader, Carr moved to Kentucky to live with his uncle Joe so he could wrestle high-schoolers. He went 47-1 and won a state title at 126 pounds. But at one tournament, one person referred to him with a racial slur.

“I beat this kid, and they were walking off, and he’s like, ‘That damn …’” Carr recalled, pausing for emphasis.

He continued: “He didn’t say it directly to me, but I remember just like — I was so mad the next match.”

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► RELATED: David Carr is ready to write his own Iowa State wrestling story

Carr said a lot of his personal experiences are more micro.

In the weight room one day, someone said he’s “supposed to jump higher, because you’re Black,” he recalled. Another time, someone critiqued the way he talked after hanging out with members of the Iowa State football team.

“They’re funny and goofy, and most of our football team are minorities and Black men,” Carr said. “Someone said, ‘David, I don’t like it when you talk like that. You’re Black, but you’re not like Black Black, like the football players.’

“I was like, what do you mean? I can talk how I want to talk, first off, and how I talk doesn’t show my blackness. That literally made me so mad.”

Talking with, and listening to, other Black wrestlers has helped Carr.

Earlier this month, USA Wrestling released a video featuring 10 Black men’s freestyle wrestlers from the past and present sharing their own experiences. It included Gadson, Burroughs and Cox, as well as Nate Jackson, BJ Futrell, Kenny Monday, James Green, Gabriel Townsell, Mark Hall and Kerry McCoy.

Gadson, who was a two-time state champ at Waterloo East before his Iowa State career, shared that a wrestling fan hurled a racial slur at him during the state wrestling tournament his senior year.

“As I’m walking off the mat,” Gadson said, “I see this man look at me, and he says, ‘You were tired,’ and he yells the n-word. I kind of like paused, said, ‘Yep, sure was, still won.’ But I was furious.

“It still bothers me to this day.”

Gadson and many others on that roundtable have launched the Black Wrestling Association, aimed to “Inspire, Connect, and Empower Black Wrestlers and Allies to Grow Wrestling through Representation, Equality, and Opportunity.”

Many Black wrestlers have helped elevate the sport on the national and international state.

Since 2012, USA Wrestling has won 55 medals at the Senior-level world wrestling championships, and 17 of them have been won by Black wrestlers. In that same span, USA Wrestling has won 22 world titles, including eight by Black wrestlers.

Even more, USA Wrestling released its own statement on social injustice in response to Floyd’s death — which was crafted with the help of wrestlers.

“Social injustice is wrong and contrary to the inclusive nature of wrestling,” the statement read. “USA Wrestling’s mission is to provide quality opportunities for its members to achieve their full athletic and human potential. Recent tragedies in our nation compel us to do more and do it better.

“We stand with our African American and black communities and all of the diverse people who are part of our sport. We will focus our actions on how we can drive change against unjust treatment, police brutality, and systematic racism that is plaguing our nation and world.

“We need to come together now and use our voice, platform, and actions to help create the kind of society that reflects our values. By its nature, wrestling can be the most inclusive sport on earth. Anyone can wrestle and everyone is welcome. When we hit the mat, we are all part of one wrestling family.”

► Listen to David Carr's entire interview on the latest In The Room podcast.

The constant support and continual conversation have given Carr hope for the future.

“This one definitely feels different,” Carr said. “We have to keep talking about it and keep educating people. Some people just don’t want to have the conversation because it’ll make them uncomfortable, or because it’s not happening to them.

“We need to get more people to care, keep educating them, keep researching and learning more about it. We all need to want this change. The sky’s the limit.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

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