PYONGYANG, North Korea – Former NFL player Bob “The Beast” Sapp and a group of brawny pro wrestlers led by a Japanese politician took their oddball attempt at sports diplomacy to the streets of Pyongyang on Friday, staging a tug-of-war and arm wrestling competition with local children before a large and somewhat bewildered crowd of spectators.
Sapp, who briefly played lineman for the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears before hitting it big in the ring in Japan, is in North Korea with about 20 other pro wrestlers for an exhibition this weekend. The show will be the first sports event featuring celebrity foreigners since former NBA star Dennis Rodman played a basketball game for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s birthday in January.
The event is the brainchild of Japanese lawmaker Kanji “Antonio” Inoki, himself a former pro wrestler, and comes amid a slight thawing of relations between Japan and North Korea. Tokyo recently eased some unilateral sanctions on the North to allow more exchanges, but continues to enforce UN sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs.
Sapp, who has made a lucrative career playing the villain in the ring, growled and snarled at the kids before letting them beat him. He also handed out cookies with his likeness on them.
Later, the wrestlers — from France, Brazil, China and Japan — pulled a bus and paired off with the children for a tug-of-war.
Sin Kuk Hua, a 13-year-old middle school student who was among the spectators, said she had never seen an American before and wasn’t sure exactly what to think.
“I thought we could beat him,” she said. “It was fun.”