Missouri wrestlers weigh in on cauliflower ear

Said Barnes: “You could say it’s like a bruise or a scar. It’s normal to us.”

Missouri sophomore wrestler Lavion Mayes had been wrestling for a full five minutes before he noticed the blood dripping from his ear.

“I didn’t feel pain or anything,” Mayes said

Mayes, like the majority of Missouri’s wrestlers, has cauliflower ear. His bleeding episode during a November practice is the kind of thing people who have with the condition have to deal with.

Repetitive blunt force trauma is the main cause of cauliflower ear. Damaged tissue tends to block blood flow to the ear, leading to swelling and puffing. Although it’s permanent, routine draining can help decrease irritation and bleeding.

The best way to prevent cauliflower ear is to wear protective headgear while in the ring. However, many wrestlers including Mayes, think headgear does more harm than good.

“I actually hate wearing headgear,” Mayes said. “It’s restrictive. Your opponent can grab onto it.”

Mayes began wrestling in seventh grade and got cauliflower ear during his senior year of high school. He wears protective headgear during duels, but never during practice because he said it’s an impediment.

The Illinois native doesn’t think of his cauliflower ear as anything out of the ordinary. Rather, he said he considers it a symbol of his dedication to the sport.

“A hundred years ago, farmers working out in the fields didn’t have gloves, so their hands would become calloused. People called them working-man’s hands,” Mayes said. “I think cauliflower ear is the same thing, just with wrestling. They’re the ears of a fighter and a competitor.”

Living with cauliflower ear hasn’t changed Mayes’s opinion of wrestling. He’s accepted the deformity as a necessary burden and said he wants his kids to wrestle competitively, just as he did growing up.

“It’s just one of the results of fighting,” Mayes said. “You wrestle, you’re probably going to get cauliflower ear.”

Junior Le’Roy Barnes didn’t know what cauliflower ear was until his sophomore year of high school. One year later, he had it.

“When I first got it, my parents started freaking out,” Barnes said. “They were worried because I would have to deal with it for the rest of my life.”

Barnes didn’t think much of it.

“As wrestlers, I don’t think we acknowledge it as much as everyone else does,” Barnes said. “I think it is just part of our everyday lives, something that we deal with. You could say it’s like a bruise or a scar. It’s normal to us.”

Those who have cauliflower ear learn to live with it. However, there are a handful of Missouri wrestlers who have been lucky enough to avoid the deformity.

“We have a couple of guys on this team who definitely don’t want to get it,” Mayes said. “If you’ve made it this far and you don’t have it, you want to keep your ears intact.”

Although he’s been wrestling since third grade, sophomore Cole Baumgartner has only had cauliflower ear once. Baumgartner said he noticed his ear swelling up during his sophomore year of high school and rushed to the doctor’s office. Because he had his cauliflower ear drained so soon after swelling started, Baumgartner was able to avoid permanent deformity.

“I’ve worn headgear everyday since then,” Baumgartner said. “I really don’t want cauliflower ear and if I didn’t wear headgear, I think I’d get it pretty quickly.”

While he certainly doesn’t want it, Baumgartner recognizes how cauliflower ear can contribute to feelings of camaraderie between wrestlers.

“It’s definitely is the mark of a wrestler,” Baumgartner said. “If we go out as a group, people know that we’re wrestlers just by seeing our ears. That’s something I kind of miss out on.”

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