I recently engaged in a discussion with a number of fellow columnists about the issue of steroids in professional wrestling. While it is a tough issue to dissect, we came to a few conclusions. The first and maybe most important being that steroids play a very unique role when it comes to professional wrestling in respect to other sports. Professional wrestlers and other athletes both use steroids to gain muscle mass and in turn to gain a competitive advantage over their competition. But while many traditional athletes may be looking for advantages in speed, size, and strength among other things, this may not be the case for a professional wrestler. In a land where success is predetermined and not necessarily built upon superior physical attributes (i.e. Mick Foley), steroids are used mainly for the physical appearance of the wrestler, in order to push them to the next level or “get them over” in one way or another.
The steroid argument, that being steroids should be banned from sports because they give a unfair advantage over the opponent, cannot really apply to wrestling in the same way. What is important to consider, however, is the health risks posed to the user. I mean not to focus my entire column on steroids, but rather wanted to use them as a lead-in into the larger issue of drug abuse among professional wrestlers.
We can turn a blind eye to it as fans, but it is evident that drug use is rampant among professional wrestling. It is not rare at all to hear of a professional wrestler passing way before his 40th birthday, many times because of a drug related incident. I was saddened to hear that Johnny Grunge of Public Enemy just passed away at age 39. The cause has not been released, but if we look at his age, along with the cause of death for other wrestlers of his generation, we can come to the conclusion that drug abuse in one way or another may very well be a factor.
Many of the greatest wrestlers of all time have admitted to drug use in the past. Hulk Hogan has admitted to steroid use. Ric Flair has also admitting to abusing steroids, as well as alcohol and drugs. Shawn Michaels, in his recent autobiography, discussed his struggle with prescription pills among other things before he cleaned up his act. And let us not forget about the late, great, Eddie Guerrero. Eddie turned his life around and had been clean for such a long time, but none the less his past abuses caught up to him.
Eddie’s death was the saddest moment for me as a professional wrestling fan. I respected him as a performer and as a person. He was unique and special in every way. It hurt to know that even after he had seemingly escaped his past, those demons inevitably got the best of him. I believe in the philosophy that while you can be forgiven for your actions, there will still be consequences for them. This, unfortunately, seemed to be the case for Eddie.
But I’m sure as you sit here reading you are wondering why I’m telling you all this. I’m sure most of these points are things that you’ve already thought about yourself and you don’t need me to remind you about. Yet I want to look a little beyond the surface of the issue. There are some deeper questions that I think are very important for any fan to ask. Simply put, those questions are: Why does such rampant drug use occur among professional wrestlers, and secondly, who is to blame?
I think the two questions are one and the same in many ways. We all know that the lifestyle of a professional wrestler is hectic. On the road, never home, in a new city all the time, and putting their bodies through hell all along the way. While there are obvious physical issues that this lifestyle would perpetuate, there also has to be serious psychological issues.
Imagine always being away from your family. You never have a place to truly settle down before your back on the road again. You’re being jetted in cars and on planes through cities, states, countries, and time zones. And on top of all that you’re asked to perform at the highest level which you possibly can. Every night you wish to go out there and put on the very best show you can. This could put a lot of pressure on anyone. What do you do about it?
Many wrestlers obviously turn to alcohol and drugs to get them through this stress. And when your body is being put through continual hell, with little or no time to recover, pills may seem to be the only option to get though the next day. These stresses, both mental and physical, lead me then to ask who is responsible for the stress.
I personally believe it is two fold. Wrestlers are pushed so hard, through the travel, time away from home, bodily stress in the ring, and all the while the company they work for still expect them to work at a certain level. If they want to keep their job this is the life they must live. The WWE in particular has a grueling work schedule and one really has to be super human to be able to withstand the pressure. Does the business then put too much pressure on a professional wrestler?
And let us not forget steroids as I mentioned earlier. Most of us are aware that size plays a big factor in professional wrestling, especially when we speak of the WWE. The general message is that in order to succeed you need to be strong, you need to be big, and you need to have “the look”. Obviously this may be over generalizing as there have been smaller men make it recently such as Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. But even looking at them and comparing their look when they became champion in the WWE with what they looked like early on in their career, it is easy to notice considerable differences.
So then can I safely say that the business is to blame for the rampant drug use? Maybe, but I think there is more to the story. A professional wrestler is a very unique individual. If I could describe him in one word it would be this: Driven. They are driven people. They drive to succeed. Why would anyone in their right mind subject themselves to the mental and physical punishment a wrestler must endure unless they were very driven and passionate about what they do?
I think that in their need to succeed, and because of their passion and drive, they will pursue any outlet necessary in order to make it to the next level. They know that in order to be the best they are going to have to go out there and perform at the very highest level they can. They are going to have to step in the ring every night and work hard. And if alcohol and prescription medicine is the only outlet they see to take the edge off enough to be able to do these things and succeed, then that is, unfortunately, what they will do. If steroids are the only way to get noticed, then they will use them in excess and at unhealthy levels. Again, I am over generalizing to a very large extent, but I’m doing so to make a point. And that point is that professional wrestlers are driven, and because of that they will do anything necessary to be able to do what they love, even if it leads to their demise.
Over generalizing or not, no one will argue that drugs have not become an epidemic when it comes to professional wrestling. We should not be seeing so many wrestlers die at such a young age. The WWE recently announced a new drug testing policy they will be implementing. To be honest, I don’t know if this was a publicity ploy to show the public that they “care” and to cover their backs, or if it is genuine. But no matter the reason behind it, considering the mental and physical pressures of this business along with the natural drive found in many professional wrestlers, this issue that is one that unfortunately I feel may not be going away for quite some time. Sad, but maybe all too true.
Do you have any questions or comments? Feel free to email me at JPRealTalk@yahoo.com. Until next time, this has been Joe Pritchett’s Real Talk, real talk from a real fan!