Bernie Sanders stands for a lot of things. One of them, apparently, is mud wrestling.

Recently, on a trip to the University of Vermont and its Bailey/Howe Library, where a collection of Sanders' papers is housed, I found an odd trove of documents related to a battle Sanders conducted in 1983, when he was mayor of the city of Burlington. The subject of the battle: whether the Chicago Knockers, an all-female mud wrestling team, would be allowed to perform in the city or not.

The Knockers had come to town for a series of matches against Burlington's Booze Brothers, a local DJ team, which was to be held at the Great Escape tavern on Pearl Street. The event was scheduled for Thursday, March 24.

But that Monday, the aldermen of Burlington voted to reject the tavern's application for an entertainment license, with alderman Maurice Mahoney leading the charge, calling the sport an "insult to women" and "not the kind of entertainment we should be encouraging," according to an article in the Burlington Free Press written at the time.


Another Vermont paper, The Vanguard Press, quoted Mahoney as saying, "it took us a few million years to get out of the ooze, I don't see any hurry to jump back into it."

The manager of the Great Escape tavern, Brad Raymond, was angry about the decision, saying the wrestling show was "very professional" and not "a girlie show." He accused the aldermen of hypocrisy for allowing X-rated film screenings and Oh, Calcutta performances, while trying to ban mud wrestling.

Finally, the issue got so inflamed that Sanders weighed in. According to the paper:

"Mayor Bernard Sanders said he did not like mud-wrestling. But Sanders said Raymond “has a point” and he cautioned aldermen to not set themselves up as censors or guardians of Burlington’s morality.”


The Vanguard Press quoted Sanders more directly as saying:

“I don’t like mud-wrestling, myself; I’d just hate to see the board get in the habit” of making snap moral judgements."

The mud wrestling case had a happy ending. The Great Escape tavern hired a lawyer, Robert Russell, who argued that the bar's license for live music performances covered the mud wrestling event. The bar and Russell filed an injunction against the aldermen three hours before the show was set to begin, and at the last-minute, a superior court judge sided in favor of the mud wrestlers.


That night, 400 "beer-swigging" people showed up to see the mud-wrestling spectacle and apparently "roared during much of it."

The judge who allowed the exhibition to go on, James Morse, dismissed the Great Escape's lawsuit against the aldermen and said ,"no one is challenging the restaurant and that’s it, there isn’t any dispute."


It was a dirty battle for Sanders and the mud wrestlers, but it had a clean ending.

David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: