Physical And Mental Tolls Of Professional Wrestling English Language Essay

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Mick Foley, a veteran professional wrestler of over 25 years, once said about his choice of profession, "I would rather hurt a man than love a woman." [1] This one quote is just one of many said by various professional wrestlers regarding their love for the wrestling business. That passion, that blind love of going out in front of a crowd, whether it's a crowd of 25 people in a bingo hall or over 93,000 people at the Pontiac Silver Dome, ignites something in these wrestlers that allows them to put their bodies on the line night after night in various types of wrestling matches that exercise the chance for debilitating, career ending, and life threatening injuries. Landing the wrong way from a simple move such as a piledriver could break your neck. A punch landing the wrong way can knock out a few teeth, break a nose, or break a jaw. The use of weapons in matches also increases the risk of serious injury. Yes, wrestling is scripted and the winner is predetermined, but there is no way to soften a blow of being put through a table that was put on fire. Necks have been broken, flesh has been burned, an ear has been lost, teeth knocked out, bones have been broken, and careers have been ended because of these types of matches. Why do they do it? Most wrestlers harp on the same thing. It's not the money. It's not the fame. It's not the rock and roll lifestyle. It's the adrenaline that comes with sitting in the gorilla position [2] and waiting for your music to start and to come out in front of the fans. There is no off-season in professional wrestling as there is in other professional sports. This is "sports entertainment" and this happens night after night. The physical deterioration of wrestling matches night after night, with weapons or without, eventually conjures up enough pain that wrestlers turn to many vices to make their life a little bit easier. Substance abuse such as pain killers, marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol are what many wrestlers turn to and subsequently many wrestlers die from at an early age. Steroid use is very common within the wrestling industry as perception is a key motivation in climbing up the ranks of the industry. If you look like a bodybuilder, someone who can pick up a 300 pound person with no problem, then people will believe that you can be a world title holder. People will believe that you are an actual contender; they will believe that you can win the fight. However, if you're an average looking guy without much muscle, then it's harder to convince wrestling fans that you're a legitimate threat as a wrestler. In addition to that, there is an intense travel schedule where most professional wrestlers are on the road well over 300 days a year. The impact of repeated hits not only begets physical damage but mental damage as well. Concussions and brain damage can be caused by repeated hits to the head. Chris Benoit's [3] brain was deteriorated due to repeated concussions and hits to the head. The allure of obtaining the spotlight and trying to get over with the crowd adds more stress. Once a wrestler gets over [4] with the crowd, he wants to hold onto his spot and if he loses that spot, that addictive connection with the crowd, it could mean the end of a wrestlers career. Losing it is part of the business, but failing to regain it has ruined some wrestlers to the point that they turned to suicide. In addition to suicides, other early deaths in the industry have been caused not only by drugs but stunts as well. Owen Hart was 34 years old when he died in the ring due to a malfunction for his entrance where he was lowered from the rafters inside an arena. Chris Benoit killed himself after killing his family. Other wrestlers have died from overdoses, suicides, murders, and problems related to drug abuse such as an enlarged heart and many of these wrestlers were rather young. Professional wrestling should look into ways on how to fix this, such as mandatory drug testing, sponsored rehab, and allowing the wrestlers to unionize.

Professional wrestlers face so much physical abuse throughout their career it's no wonder that in their later years, if they even make it, they are faced with many physical ailments. The wrestling matches themselves are very physical, even if it is supposed to be scripted. In one of the more famous injuries, professional wrestler Mick Foley lost an ear wrestling in Germany after his head became entwined in the tightly wound ropes which are usually looser so the wrestlers have more bounce to perform their moves. If a wrestler lands the wrong way, if the ring is set up the wrong way, as was the case with Mick Foley's experience, if a punch or a kick lands the wrong way, there is room for serious damage to be done. As if landing the moves and setting up the ring aren't enough, weapons began to be more common in wrestling matches.

The introduction of weapons into matches began to be more common in the 1990's. Matches such as Ladder matches, Hell in the Cell matches, Steel Cage matches, Hardcore matches that feature barbed wire, steel chairs, 2x4's, baseball bats, tables, fire, pots and pans, and any other item imaginable that can be used as a weapon started to become more common. Mick Foley wrestled in the King of the Death Match tournament in Japan on August 18, 1995. The first match incorporated a barbed wire bat and 10,000 thumbtacks with the object being to pin your opponent in the giant box containing those thumbtacks. His next match that same night, involved wrestling his opponent in a match with barbed wire boards around the floor of the ring as well as a bed of nails. His final match of the night would be a no rope, barbed wire board, C4 explosive, exploding ring match. The C4 was rigged to the barbed wire boards and would be detonated upon impact. Mick Foley recalling the event in his autobiography, Have a Nice Day, "…Terry's damn middle explosives had gone off directly underneath my arm. I felt like I'd been shot…Terry stayed down- a portion of the explosion had caught under his right triceps and he was in considerable pain." [1] Another match featuring Mick Foley that made him famous was wrestling in the Hell in a Cell Match, which is an enclosed steel cage with the top of the cell being 20 feet high. Mick Foley was launched, 20 feet down through a table, only to go back and climb the structure with a broken shoulder. Once on top again, he was picked up by his throat and put through the structure dropping 20 feet into the ring. Mick Foley said about the incident, "I landed hard on my back, my neck, and the back of my head. If I'd gone higher, I would have landed directly on my head and I probably wouldn't be here- at least not in control of my limbs."² He dislocated a shoulder, suffered a concussion, lost a tooth, and put a hole in his lip that was so wide he could fit his tongue through it. These are just some examples of how the use of weapons in matches can really harm a wrestler, especially wrestling in these types of matches night after night without a break.

There is no off-season in professional wrestling. This is another factor in how wrestlers wind up injuring themselves. The amount of pain that they put themselves through night after night without being able to rest their bodies often leads wrestlers looking for ways to find ways to diminish the pain they're feeling by turning to either alcohol or drugs, or more likely a combination of the two. These wrestlers hurt themselves even more by abusing painkillers, taking sleeping pills to sleep it off, and taking uppers to get back on the road in the morning. Steroids also became common as the wrestling industry wanted it's wrestlers to be larger than life. Often wrestlers would get them from other wrestlers, like in Tom Billington's case, "Junkyard Dog was the first wrestler to give me drugs of any kind, and they were steroids… within a few years, nearly everybody was taking them; you had to if you wanted any work." 3 Tom Billington wound up taking drugs, not massive amounts at first, just one pill here and there and then it became an addiction. This was the case for many wrestlers, abusing steroids, marijuana, cocaine, crack, speed, sleeping pills and pain pills. Doing these drugs was just another way to distract themselves from the life on the road.

Because there is no offseason for professional wrestlers and that they are on the road so often, many have said that it messes with your mind and takes a toll on you mentally. You're away from your family all the time, you miss the birth of your children, your children's birthdays, your wife's anniversaries, and after awhile it feels like you don't have a true family anymore except for the other wrestlers. In addition to the schedule, wrestlers have to get over with the crowd. Doing this is a hard task and many wrestlers are able to do it for a small period of time, but staying over with the crowd is even harder. Wrestlers have to deal with gimmicks that embarrass them, such as playing a mentally challenged wrestler, two straight guys portraying as a gay couple, a clown, and other ridiculous gimmicks, not to mention having to do things such as literally kissing the boss's ass on live television and being publically humiliated in front of thousands of people and millions watching at home. This also takes a toll on wrestlers, as not only are you being humiliated but you have to try and come back from that the following week and get the crowd to cheer for you. Another factor that contributes to the mental tolls of professional wrestling is the impact on the brain from repeated hits to the head. A New York Times article said, "Chris Benoit, a professional wrestler who killed his wife, son, and then himself in suburban Atlanta in June, had brain damage caused by repeated concussions in the ring, two leading neurosurgeons said." 4 It would go onto to say that the examination of his brain tissue revealed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative condition that leads to depression and erratic behavior caused by brain damage. These repeated hits from weapons, kicks, fists, and headbutts cause long term damage and could eventually lead to brain damage.

Early deaths in the professional wrestling industry are very common as well. Sure, there are some accidents, however according to a transcript from CNN's Death Grip: Inside Pro Wrestling, Drew Griffin reports, "Dr. Keith Pinckard studied wrestling deaths over a 20- year span, from 1983 to 2003. He found 64 professional wrestlers, all just 40 years old and younger, had died. A CNN tabulation shows, in just the past five years, 18 wrestlers under the age of 50 have died." 5 Each of those wrestlers died of a drug overdose, a heart attack, or committed suicide. Even more have died since then, most notably Lance Cade, 29, and Eddie "Umaga" Fatu, 36, of heart failure and a drug overdose respectively. Chris Benoit, suffering brain damage and possible depression caused by the brain damage, killed his family and then himself. "Steroids were found in his body, and an autopsy showed severe brain damage, apparently from years of blows to the head," 6 according to a New York Times article detailing the deaths of professional wrestlers. "…[T]he deaths of professional wrestlers, not just in the W.W.E., have received sporadic attention…a Dallas medical examiner who calculated that wrestlers had a death rate seven times as high as that of the general population and were 12 times as likely to die of heart disease as other people of the same age…professional wrestlers were 20 times as likely as professional football players to die before the age of 45." 7 These are very alarming statistics for an industry that markets sports entertainment and has a large fan base of families and children.

Possible remedies to reduce the risk of the physical and mental tolls of professional wrestling would be to institute a stricter mandatory drug testing policy. The WWE has instituted a drug testing policy; however it is very lax with several loopholes. The WWE doesn't suspend their wrestlers if they abuse marijuana and painkiller, they're just fined. Stricter and more frequent drug testing policies would possibly be a strong deterrent from abusing drugs. Instead of just fining the wrestlers, suspend them. A three strikes policy could be instituted before a termination of contract. Another thing that the WWE has been doing is sponsoring drug rehab for current and past wrestlers that have worked for them. Many wrestlers have used it, some several times. Sometimes the rehab works to control the drug addiction or alcoholism, other times their name keeps coming up for repeated visits. The WWE foots the bill though, and this is something that other professional wrestling companies should look into doing as well. Another thing that has been deemed controversial within the wrestling industry is the formation of a union. In the past, wrestlers have tried to bring about a union within the wrestling industry but promoters shut down the talks almost immediately.

The WWE says that all of the wrestlers that work for them are independent contractors, however they're performers and the WWE prefers to call their wrestlers entertainers, so if not a professional wrestling union, why should they be excluded from the Screen Actors Guild union? They're performing live in front of a camera at least three times a week as well as in front of live audiences in an untelevised capacity. A union, similar to the Players Union in the NFL, is necessary for the industry because of the way the wrestlers deteriorate physically and mentally over the years and they will eventually need to be taken care of way before they reach Social Security. There isn't a really large window of opportunity for wrestlers to perform and put their bodies on the line night after night. A union would provide them the health insurance, life insurance, and the protection that they need. This union would give a little bit more control to the wrestlers away from the promoters and in addition to that they would be taken care of if anything happened to them such as a career ending injury. These are some measures that can be taken by the professional wrestling industry to take care of their wrestlers.

In conclusion, the physical and mental tolls of professional wrestling are many. The prevention of these tolls should be realized by both the performer and the promoter. They need to come together, either by a union or a comprehensive health care package that would take care of the wrestlers while they're performing for the company and afterwards as well. A transition program of adjusting to working after your wrestling career is over or you've been released could be a reasonable way to help the wrestlers adjust to life after the entertainment industry. The promoters do stand to lose some profit by engaging in these types of programs as they could be costly, however with the wrestling industry's notoriety for having one of the youngest death rates in all of sports, this could be a step in the right direction. For a final comparison of physical sports, all of the 44 starting football players who played at Superbowl XXV in 1991 remain alive. In professional boxing, two boxers are dead of the 44 boxers who held a title in 1991. At Wrestlemania VII [5] in 1991, 14 of the 51 wrestlers who performed that night are now dead.


Mick Foley, Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 336.

Ibid., 480.

Tom Billington, Pure Dynamite: The Price You Pay for Wrestling Stardom, (Ontario, Canada: Winding Stair Press, 2001), 29.

Alan Schwarz, "Sports Briefing," The New York Times (New York), 6 September 2007, D7.

Dr. Keith Pinckard, "Death Grip: Inside Pro Wrestling," Interviewed by Drew Griffin, 7 November 2007, CNN, video.

Peter Applebome, "Politics, Wrestling, and Accountability," The New York Times (New York), 26 August 2010, A19

Ibid., A19