Fate of wrestling (and wrestlers) is all too real
A sure sign you’re getting old — you finally have to turn off pro wrestling.
I’ll explain: I grew up a fan of the old National Wrestling Alliance, which eventually became World Championship Wrestling. This was to the dismay of my parents, who always scolded me whenever they caught me watching (interestingly, my wife made the same face when she discovered me watching).
I couldn’t help it. Something about the energy of the crowds, the do-or-die nature of the good-versus-evil matchups … not to mention the personality of the wrestlers themselves. My favorite running storyline was Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat’s ongoing feud with the villainous Ric Flair; the two of them wrestled hour-long matches seemingly every week.
It was a love affair that continued through high school and even college: the New World Order, WCW’s never-ending battle with WWF (E, whatever), Sting descending from the rafters … these are things that resonate with me even now.
Unfortunately, pro wrestling’s dark side now appears to be coming to light. It hit home for me a few years ago, when Chris Benoit — inarguably one of my favorites from his days as a member of the “Four Horseman” — lost his mind one night, murdered his wife and child and then killed himself.
It was such a shocking event, it was beyond reason. Now, several years on the other side of it, the reason seems obvious. Benoit spent so many years wrecking his body with painkillers, performance-enhancers and God knows what else, working through injuries and concussions … and he finally snapped. It was the most horrifying sports story of the year; even worse, nobody seemed to care too much.
Though his was the case that resonated the most with me, Benoit wasn’t the first wrestler to die before his time, and he hasn’t been the last. The story is a familiar one: a wrestler stays in and out of rehabilitation programs, can’t find a second life after wrestling — with Flair and Hulk Hogan the two most high-profile examples — and eventually, his life spirals out of control.
Brian Pillman. Rick Rude. Curt Hennig. Eddie Guerrero. And Benoit, of course.
Drug problems have occurred in every sport — what separates other sports from pro wrestling is an authority structure (not to mention a union) to protect the interest of its athletes. Wrestling doesn’t have that for two reasons. First, because it hides behind the “sports entertainment” (and not pure sports) label, it’s not held to the same standard; second, the powers-that-be in wrestling consider its performers independent contractors, not employees. That, of course, means no drug testing, no health insurance, no retirement. Wrestlers compete, night in and night out, until they absolutely can compete no longer … and then, in many cases, they die.
It’s a much more complicated world than it was when I fell in love with it as a kid. Then again, most everything is.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
shameless promotion (2.0), part ix
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