HOW MANY MORE?
Davey Boy Smith
Both men died last week, only the latest names on a list that is already too long, the list of young men who earn their living as professional wrestlers and who died sad, pathetic deaths well before even approaching middle age.
According to the great Vince McMahon, professional wrestling is now "sports entertainment", a metamorphosis that has transformed this once-ugly backroom exhibition into a pretty new butterfly, fraught with all sorts of crossover possibilities. Just ask him, he'll tell you with a smile on his face how the WWE isn't "rasslin'" any more, but an "attraction" for the whole family. His wrestlers are movie stars, TV stars, they do commercials, they're on SportsCenter, they have a reality show on MTV. "Sports entertainment," get it?
But does any other "sport" keep dirty little secrets like these?
If we saw Olympic athletes, for example, consistently dropping dead of heart attacks while still in their thirties, would there not be a slew of investigations and inquiries?
If baseball players died of drug overdoses every year, year in and year out, would not someone, somewhere, sooner or later, ask why? And then ask, what can be done about it?
Of course there would be. But in professional wrestling, life goes on without missing a beat.
Wrestlers die, and they die young. The roster of the deceased is obscenely long, and more names get added every year. Hell, let's face it, stories about some former wrestler's drug-related death pop up so often we've pretty much gotten used to it. Certainly, due to repetition if nothing more, we've got our response to the latest obituary down pat. And our response is usually: Nothing.
Even loyal hard-core wrestling fans, for all their hand-wringing and crocodile tears, even we keep our mouths shut when it comes to calling for any kind of fundamental change in the way business is done in this seamy enterprise called Professional Wrestling.
How many more talented young athletes need to die before something is done?
The Outsider is going to be clear about this: like any other group of skilled professionals, wrestlers need a union, and they need it especially NOW, a time when there is, for all intents and purposes, only one place for a wrestler to go for employment. To protect themselves and all who come after them, professional wrestlers MUST unionize.
They deserve a union that affords them a health plan that includes paid leave for detox and rehab and aftercare when a drug problem surfaces. A union that affords them a pension plan when they can no longer actively compete. A union that protects them from all forms of harassment and unfair termination. In short, a union like the kind that even common laborers have.
For all his talk about bringing wrestling into the modern age, Vince McMahon has lined his own pockets by making sure that certain aspects of the business NEVER change. Like most egotistical despots, Vince loves his power. He revels in the knowledge that he holds careers in the palm of his hand. You won't do the spot? He'll find someone who will. Too hurt to perform? Either take a pill or move aside. Plenty of bodies to take your place. Your ass dragging? An ephedra supplement should get you going. Implants. Steroids.
How many sports entertainers would re-sculpt their bodies if they didn't have to? If Vince didn't subtly imply that a wrestler wouldn't get on television otherwise?
Normally The Outsider wouldn't give a damn what an athlete does or does not put in his/her body. But doing so out of fear of job security isn't right. That kind of attitude, in the WWE's kind of subculture, leads to all sorts of depraved behavior. People die because of it. Christ, a contestant on WWE tie-in Tough Enough 2 almost dropped dead this season from an ephedra OD.
Once we asked ourselves, "What has to happen before something is done? Do we need to have someone actually die in the ring?" But that barrier has already been broken in spectacular fashion by one Owen Hart. And even after that young man died, the show did indeed go on.
The Outsider calls out to a superstar like Stone Cold Steve Austin, a man who makes tons of money for Vince McMahon through his merchandising, a man whose name is known by people who do not in any way consider themselves wrestling fans.
Imagine if Stone Cold Steve Austin were to call a press conference where he insisted on a union to protect the rights of professional wrestlers, or "sports entertainers," where he said that he personally would lead a strike until an agreement in principle could be reached with World Wrestling Entertainment.
Imagine if someone like Stone Cold decided to show some true heart and courage and statesmanship. Because believe me, to initiate an action unprecedented in a sport generations old would take a degree of leadership that only the courageous possess. But if a man like Steve Austin were to take an action like organizing a union, would that not be a prouder legacy than all the bogus "titles" he might garner in the play-fighting farce of professional wrestling? Would that not make him more respected and richer in public esteem than all the money he might earn in T-shirt sales?
How many more have to die before someone stands up and says, I'm sorry to crush your fantasy world, but this crap has to stop, and it has to stop now, once and for all? How many more?