Posted on July 11, 2007 by Zachariah Marcantoni
I thought we could all benefit from a much different perspective than I’m used to seeing online or in print. We have longtime male journalists and editorialists in wrestling, and they do quite well. We do not have an abundance of college educated female wrestling fans who go back over ten to fifteen years in following the business, let alone following the industry from an “insider” standpoint. As a qualifier, I’m not counting ring rats.
I’ve known Alyssa Banotai for over ten years. She’s followed the entire Benoit story since hours after it happened, and she recently wrote myself and a few good friends her feelings on what’s been going on, three weeks later. Her e-mail, with her permission, has become the article that follows
Allow me to play a bit of devilâ€™s advocate here. I’ll be honest; I really can’t understand why anyone who has watched wrestling for any amount of time is throwing up their hands in frustration over the lack of long-term health support for these athletes and the WWE’s unwillingness to do anything about said situation. Did you really think the Benoit tragedy with all of its loopholes and extremes would be a righteous call to action? Years of wrestling heart attacks, drug dependence, depression and suicide didn’t change a thing so why should a double murder suicide? I’m not trying to be callous but that’s the company mentality. We all know this.
People like John Cena aren’t going to feel the need to change for the very reason Dave Meltzer suggests â€” the perceived invincibility of youth. Cena has no children, no wife, no girlfriend, no commitments to anything besides his job. Why should he care? Why should he give a thought to life after the spotlight? If he needs to drink the company Kool-Aid to stay on top, he will. Jericho too â€” don’t think he hasn’t realized that Fozzy isn’t a bankable future. The short sightedness of young main eventers is unsurprising. All of us are around the same age as these men and women and how many of us think about the importance of 401ks, IRAs, mutual funds, retirement and the declining impact of Social Security and Medicare? Very few of us, I’d guess. Same goes for most of our peers.
So, of course the only real, clear perspective you’ll get on this issue will be from people like Bret Hart or even Superstar Billy Graham who spoke candidly about these things in that audio file John sent a few weeks ago. But really, the last person McMahon is going to listen to is Bret Hart, no matter how much sense he’s making (and I thought he was excellent on Larry King). Billy Graham and Bret Hart have no power or influence with McMahon. Someone â€” a regulatory body or some other outside force â€” is going to have to bully McMahon. That’s the only kind of approach he’ll respond to. Retired wrestlers â€” and current locker room denizens â€” are in no position to rally for a union or fair employment benefits; vicious cycle, I know.
Vince McMahon treats his wrestlers as commodities, as investments. Dehumanizing, maybe, but no different from the way the NFL treats its players, trying to fudge the facts on concussions and mental health risks and cheating their retired players out of the proper health care that their years of service has so entitled them. The NFL and WWE are, above all, businesses. I encourage all of you to check out the excellent New York Times coverage on the NFL health care issues as well as the work done by the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes at the at the University of North Carolina. I’m going to guess that similar results would emerge from a similar study of wrestlers or any other athletes who spend a significant portion of their life in collision and combat sports â€” the great white hope of MMA included.
I acknowledge that the comparison of WWE and the NFL is an imperfect one. We certainly don’t see NFL Commissioner Roger Goodall crucifying his daughter on a goal post or staging his own death. But it is interesting to note the mass media coverage of the football concussion issue and their kid glove treatment of the NFL, guardian of football, ” America ‘s game” versus the glaring white heat cast on WWE and wrestling as a whole. How much have you read on the Congressional Hearings on the retired players’ health issues? Certainly Nancy Grace hasn’t mentioned it, nor has Larry King.
None of us have any illusions about the perception of wrestling in the media and in the general. We all have defended our passion for it more than once. Therefore, we all know that just as no one will stop watching the NFLâ€™s product because the league treats its cast off players disgracefully, very few fans will stop watching wrestling because of Benoit â€” as Dave Meltzer has reported in his own (admittedly informal) polling. Those of you who have stopped watching WWE programming have done so way before the Benoit murder-suicide for your own reasons.
But to vilify people like Cena or anyone else at the top of the WWE main event card isn’t going to get anything done. From discussions I’ve had with non-wrestling fans about this whole mess, no sensible person following the story believes the views of those inside the company to be unbiased. Professional sports (and sports entertainment) have little room for whistleblowers. John Cena’s appearance on Larry King is no different from an appearance by [White House spokesperson] Tony Snow on a Sunday morning political show. We all know that. To become infuriated at Cena for spouting the company line (as the WWE’s lawyer sat next to him) is simply wasted anger where an eye roll would suffice.
This story isn’t going away anytime soon â€“ which is good. Benoit is on the cover of People Magazine and cable news talking heads are foaming at the mouth over it. I hold out hope that a constructive measure of reform will occur as a result of the media glare and I’m willing to wait it out and enjoy the Monday Night show, you know, like an NFL fan.