Many are unaware that wrestling is one of America's most popular sports. It is a very tough sport, though not the most lucrative. Even the best wrestlers are rarely rich. When somebody offers financial help from the outside, it is greatly appreciated. This is precisely what multi-millionaire John du Pont gave to USA wrestling in the 1980s.
By sponsoring the USA wrestling federation with over $3 million of his own funds, du Pont earned a legendary reputation in American wrestling. He also established a training center on his family farm in 1985. By working with some of the most accomplished wrestlers in the country, John du Pont built a team that dominated on the world stage.
Two wrestlers he became particularly close to were Mark and Dave Schultz. Du Pont selected both brothers to coach his Foxcatcher wrestling team at different stages. Du Pont's behavior became increasingly erratic and even dangerous despite all the team's success during the 1990s. A luxurious but lonely childhood contributed to John du Pont's journey to insanity.
Members of the Foxcatcher team knew that the training center had become chaotic, yet nobody predicted that this would escalate to a tragedy. In January 1996, du Pont confronted Dave Schultz at his home and fatally shot him in front of his wife. The exact motives behind the murder of his most outstanding wrestler remain unknown to this day.
The Golden Brothers
Mark and Dave Schultz, born in 1960 and 1959 respectively, were the two stars of American freestyle wrestling in their heyday. They are among three pairs of brothers in history to have won gold in both the world and Olympic championships. In fact, they won 10 world and Olympic medals combined, making them the most successful brothers ever in American wrestling.
Before wrestling internationally, the Schultz brothers won NCAA wrestling titles, which is the highest possible honor for college athletes. In his senior career, Dave was an American national champion in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling.
Both famously took home gold at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984 and continued to compete successfully. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, they claimed a series of top-level international medals. When Mark Schultz became a double world champion in 1987, this no doubt caught the attention of John du Pont.
John Du Pont's Unhappy Childhood
John du Pont was born into a highly wealthy American family. The du Pont family accumulated its wealth from chemical and automotive businesses. He grew up in his grandfather's mansion that was situated on a vast 200-acre piece of land. It was here that he developed a love for animals and nature. He pursued these interests in college and graduated from the University of Miami in 1965 with a zoology degree.
Du Pont continued his studies in Pennsylvania and achieved a Ph.D. in natural science in 1973. While working towards his second degree, John du Pont managed to discover several new bird species. He worked as the director of The Natural History Museum in Delaware for some years in the 1970s.
His successful science education and career gave no indications of an unpleasant upbringing. Yet, John du Pont was unhappy as a child. He spent little time with his father and siblings and found few friends. This likely made John insecure. To make matters worse, he lost both of his testicles at age 30 after a horse-riding accident. This gave him an androgynous appearance from that point on, which probably lowered his confidence even more.
The Foxcatcher Team Led By John Du Pont And Dave Shultz
The Schultz brothers and John du Pont sound like complete opposites at this stage. However, du Pont was also very interested in wrestling. Though not nearly as decorated, he did participate in high school wrestling. Not satisfied with his accomplishments thus far in life, du Pont began to focus more on sports.
Aside from taking part himself, du Pont used his enormous wealth to sponsor some Olympic sports, including swimming, modern pentathlon, and of course, wrestling. This gave him an excellent public reputation and earned him respect among athletes in these elite sports. Maybe this was generosity from du Pont. Or maybe, he was insecure and wanted to feel like part of the sports he was never good enough to excel in.
John du Pont built a wrestling training center on his Pennsylvania family farm that included wrestling rooms, a gym, and swimming pools. Along with the millions of dollars he donated to USA wrestling, this facility allowed him to attract the nation's best wrestling talent to his estate. Du Pont was determined to build a stronger national team that would claim many world and Olympic medals. Du Pont himself started competing in wrestling again in his 50s.
John wanted Mark Schultz to act as the head coach of his Foxcatcher team to help prepare them for big tournaments. Mark took on this responsibility while he was in the prime of his career. It didn't take long for Mark to regret his decision. Although he was paid a good salary for his troubles, he strongly felt that du Pont was manipulating him.
Dave Schultz Becomes Head Coach
Mark Schultz claims he lost one of his trial bouts for the 1988 Olympic games on purpose because he hated John du Pont so much. Remember, Mark won the world Gold in 1987, so his situation must have been desperate to risk his shot at more Olympic glory. Mark eventually left, so his older brother Dave took his place in 1990.
Although Dave was aware of Mark's dislike for du Pont, he may have had sympathy for John because he too had a rough childhood and endured bullying. Due to the massive size of the farm, Dave Schultz lived in his own house in the complex with his family.
By the time Dave took over as head coach, John du Pont was already displaying strange behavior. For example, he removed all treadmills from the gym because he thought they were time machines. He constantly thought people were spying on him, and one time he was convinced that geese on the farm were evil magical creatures, so he shot them. Foxcatcher wrestler Kevin Jackson remembers how hard it was to get along with du Pont:
"If it wasn't for Dave being at Foxcatcher, nobody else would have gone. He was a legend, just one of the best wrestlers in the world at the time"
Dave Schultz was perhaps the only person who could help control du Pont's sometimes threatening behavior. Without him there, the program would probably have shut down years earlier. The worst of du Pont was still to come, though.
Du Pont's Actions Got More Disturbing
In hindsight, John du Pont's weird behavior on the farm may have been fueled by alcohol and drug abuse. Regardless, these harmful tendencies began to impact the wrestlers who were training in his camp. In 1995, du Pont said he was linked to the KKK and subsequently banned black wrestlers from training at his facility.
John du Pont was often armed while walking around his farm. WWE star Kurt Angle is an Olympic wrestling champion who used to train at the Foxcatcher gym. He said this about du Pont's dangerous actions:
"It seemed like he was always sedated on some kind of drug, carrying a gun around with him all the time, I mean, he was like a ticking time bomb"
Kurt Angle's Olympic trial opponent Dan Chaid trained at Foxcatcher as well. One day when he was exercising in the gym, John du Pont appeared and pointed a machine gun at him. He ordered Chaid to get off the farm, and he escaped unharmed and departed immediately. This was a clear warning that a tragedy would unfold if nobody took action.
According to Angle, even Dave Schultz was tired of du Pont's antics and was ready to leave the training facility. By early 1996, Dave planned to continue training the wrestlers based at Foxcatcher for the 1996 Summer Olympics because he did not want to let them down. Afterward, he would never come back. Sadly, Dave Schultz never got to leave the farm.
John Du Pont And Dave Schultz: Deadly Encounter
Dave Schultz was the elite wrestler that du Pont wanted to be his entire life, and, despite the antics, Dave remained friendly towards du Pont as one of his only true friends. When he learned about Dave's plans to take on a new coaching role, he became yet more terrifying.
Another critical point is that Dave did not believe in any of du Pont's delusions. If John claimed that the trees around his mansion had eyes, Dave would say that he was talking nonsense. A combination of jealousy and disapproval of Schultz's departure might have caused du Pont to spiral out of control. In truth, the cause of what happened next is still a mystery.
On a cold winter day on January 26th, 1996, John du Pont had his security guard drive him to Dave Schultz's house on the Foxcatcher farm. When he stepped out of the vehicle, Dave Schultz fixed his car outside the home and warmly greeted him. Du Pont responded angrily: "You got a problem with me?" and shot the champion coach three times. He then pointed the gun at Dave's terrified wife, Nancy, and ordered her back inside the house.
The driver got out and pointed his weapon at du Pont in self-defense, but the millionaire, who just became a murderer, drove back to his mansion and locked himself inside.
The Arrest & Trial
911 was called, but Schultz's wounds were fatal. The authorities turned their attention to his killer, who was barricaded inside his mansion. Over two days, police besieged his house and waited patiently to arrest him. They negotiated with du Pont over the phone, but the key to bringing him out was cutting off the power. When he went outside to try and fix his heating, police captured him.
In court, John du Pont pleaded not guilty due to insanity. This was rejected, although he was deemed mentally ill. Therefore, on February 25th, 1997, du Pont was sentenced to prison for between 13 and 30 years. Dave Schultz's widow successfully sued John du Pont for at least $35 million.
John du Pont eventually passed away in prison as a result of COPD in 2010, aged 72.
The Aftermath & Dave Schultz's Legacy
After his death, there was the question of what to do with du Pont's considerable fortune of around $470 million. His will instructed that 80% of his wealth be awarded to Bulgarian wrestling champion Valentin Yordanov and his family. Yordanov is another Olympic Champion who trained at Foxcatcher in the 1990s.
This unexpected request was protested by John du Pont's nephew and niece, who stated that their uncle was in a bad state of mind when he wrote the will. This claim was unsuccessful.
In Dave Schultz's memory, USA wrestling hosts a yearly tournament bearing his name. The Dave Schultz Memorial international competition takes place every January around the anniversary of his death.
This fascinating and tragic story was captured by the 2014 award-winning film Foxcatcher and the 2016 documentary Team Foxcatcher.