A sports columnist that I really like, Jason Whitlock, writes about wrestling.
Believe it or not, pro wrestlers are human beings, too. I swear.
I thought this simple fact was worth mentioning in light of two things: 1. the murder(s)-suicide tragedy involving WWE star Chris Benoit, his wife and 7-year-old child; 2. the sympathy-reparations campaign being staged by old NFL players.
We can argue all day about whether pro wrestling should be taken seriously in the sports world. What is inarguable is that Americans are entertained watching oversized men behave violently in groups, and the NFL and all the other professional sports leagues — just like the WWE — are nothing more than television shows.
I say all of this because I have far more empathy for Chris Benoit and professional wrestlers than I do for other athletes who risk their physical and mental well-being for our amusement.
No one weeps for the wrestler who dies way too young or lives as a cripple, addicted to painkillers by age 45. No one cares about their exploitation. It’s like the men who entertained many of us during our childhood are somehow magically categorized as nonhuman because they participate in a “sports event” with a predetermined outcome.
I’ve often argued that pro wrestling would be legitimized if Vince McMahon hired skating judges to rate the performances at the end of the match. Maybe, with that teeny bit of legitimacy, we would then see wrestlers as human beings and Congress would hold steroids hearings on pro wrestling.
Obviously what Chris Benoit did was a horrible deed. I don’t want to in any way excuse the depravity of his actions. But since he already punished himself, shouldn’t we try to make something positive out of this tragedy?
Shouldn’t we use this as an excuse to force reform on pro wrestling? Shouldn’t the performance-enhancing drug crisis/discussion include wrassling?
These guys don’t start out as cartoon characters. Many of them start out as amateur wrestlers in high school and college. Long before he entered Vince McMahon’s world, Kurt Angle was an all-American golden boy, an Olympic hero.
Don’t these men deserve some protection?
I’ve watched in amazement as retired NFL players have orchestrated a beautiful public-relations campaign vilifying union president Gene Upshaw because he has little interest in forcing the current players to sacrifice more of their revenue to benefit retired players.
We all feel sorry for old, beat-up NFL stars and believe they should be allowed to rework their pension benefits for a fourth time and make it easier for them to qualify for disability benefits.
Rather than demonizing Upshaw, they should be thankful they have a strong union, especially a guy like Mike Ditka who did little to support the union when he was a player.
Pro wrestlers have virtually no rights. They certainly don’t have a union. They work year round, crisscrossing the globe and abusing their bodies for our enjoyment. Performance-enhancing drugs, painkillers and recreational drugs are all abused. They suffer depression. Their unpadded “sport” is far more physical and damaging than football.
No one cares.
This is foolish. Many young children are just as influenced by pro wrestlers as football and baseball stars. The drugged-up, overmuscled wrestler helps define manliness to a child, possibly more so than Barry Bonds’ and Mark McGwire’s home runs.
I just want some consistency. Do we really care about steroids? Do we really care about athletes getting exploited?
OK, it’s incumbent on the athletes to care first. But the handful of people controlling professional wrestling have so much power and the high-paid wrestlers are so easily replaced that we’re unlikely to hear much organized dissent from within the industry.
Those of us in the media should care enough to complain loudly. We’re the watchdogs. We’re the voice of the voiceless. We don’t have to respect the “sport” to appreciate the humanity of the performers.