When someone says “professional wrestling” what do you think? Fake fighting? Drug addiction? Steroid use? Early deaths? Wrestling does not seem to be viewed in a very positive light by the media and consequently fans of professional wrestling are expected to be stereotypically stupid. How do I know? I am a fan of professional wrestling. I cannot recall how many times I’ve heard “Wow, you watch wrestling? You don’t strike me as someone who would watch such a thing” or “Why do you watch wrestling? You know it’s fake, right?”
The truth is there is a lot more to professional wrestling than what meets the eye. I know this despite never stepping into the ring myself or even meeting a professional wrestler. I know this truth because I’ve read about half a dozen books on professional wrestling, I write a regular column on tnawrestlingnews.com, and I’ve seen wrestling DVD after wrestling DVD which includes comments from wrestlers and promoters themselves.
I think the main problem lies in society’s classification of professional wrestling. We classify professional wrestling with sports like football, baseball, and basketball. Compared to football, baseball, and basketball professional wrestling appears to be a joke because it is “fake.” To really understand professional wrestling you have to disband the classification of professional wrestling as a sport. Instead you have to classify professional wrestling the way Roland Barthes, great thinker and writer of the 20th century, does in his essay “The World of Wrestling.” Barthes does not refer to professional wrestling as a sport but rather a spectacle. Classifying professional wrestling as a spectacle is the first step to understanding the industry of professional wrestling.
The second step is to realize wrestling is not “fake.” Better and more accurate words would be scripted and predetermined. Wrestlers do not use their full strength when wrestling others but they are still getting physical. For example if Wrestler A hits Wrestler B with a steel chair, Wrestler A is not going use his full strength to swing the chair but at the same time he is still hitting Wrestler B. But don’t just take my word for it. Pro wrestler (and #1 New York Times Best Selling Author) Mick Foley speaks of the trials and tribulations wrestling has on the body in his book The Hardcore Diaries. For those not familiar with professional wrestling Mick Foley has been a part of some of the most brutal moments in the history of professional wrestling including being thrown off of a 15 foot cage into an announce table in 1998. In The Hardcore Diaries Mick Foley writes about how he was feeling after a match in Japan in 2006 saying “I spent the hours after the match puking in the toilet following a really hard kick to the back of the head and needed a wheelchair to get through the airport…” (272).With this in mind would you still consider wrestling “fake”?
Fake or not what seems to give professional wrestling a bad reputation with our society is the amount of drug use and early deaths in the industry. As an onlooker to professional wrestling two types of drug use are apparent- pain killers and steroids. In our society any kind of drug use is frowned upon and rightfully so. However just looking at no drug use as good and drug use as bad is using black & white thinking which is just as outdated as the system of segregation. To best understand the drug use in professional wrestling you have to analyze the context the drugs are being taken in.
Most wrestlers spend upward of 300 days a year on the road, traveling all over the United States of America and abroad too. Wrestlers give up a regular life in order to dedicate themselves to their craft, entertain thousands or millions of strangers, and to support families they often don’t get to see. Wrestlers take physical punishment night after night. Is it really that far of a stretch to the imagination to understand why, in a moment of weakness, a wrestler may take pain killers?
Perhaps the more concerning issue is the use of steroids in professional wrestling. The industry of professional wrestling is dominated by a juggernaut company, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). With the WWE size matters. In the book The Death of the World Wrestling Federation: Wrestling’s One Ring Circus, written by Scott Keith, the issue of size is explored. Keith infers the WWE’s preferred workers stand at 6ft 5in and weigh 300lbs (126). The trouble is there are many wrestlers who are dedicated and love wrestling with a passion but yet they don’t fit the bill for the industry’s top spots. So what happens? They begin to take steroids.
A perfect example of somebody who had a passion for wrestling and ended up with drug problems is the late Eddie Guerrero. Throughout his career Guerrero struggled with drug addiction. In November of 2005 Guerrero was found dead in his hotel room. Eddie didn’t die of drug use though. Guerrero passed away due to heart failure. Sure, some of the heart failure was due to past drug abuse but the important thing to remember is Guerrero was clean when he passed away.
A year and a half before he died, Guerrero reached the top of the professional wrestling mountain winning the WWE Heavyweight Championship in February 2004 and defending the title successfully the next month at Wrestlemania which is equivalent in the wrestling community to throwing the winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl or hitting the game winning homerun in Game 7 of the World Series.
The question is would Eddie Guerrero have ever achieved such a feat if it wasn’t for the steroids and other drugs? Guerrero, like many other wrestlers, had a passion for wrestling and gave everything he had to be successful in the professional wrestling industry. He passed away at the age of 38 but his legacy will live and inspire wrestling fans and I’m sure other wrestlers as well.
And at the core of it all that is what professional wrestling is all about- inspiration; inspiration to give something everything you have, inspiration to never give up, and inspiration to overcome all the obstacles placed before you in your life. Are there problems with the wrestling industry? You better believe it! But it isn’t fair for the media and for society to pass judgment on the wrestlers for the flaws in the system of professional wrestling. So, when somebody says “professional wrestling” don’t think fake fighting, or drug addiction, or steroid use, or early death; think inspiration!