Never before in its history has professional wrestling faced a greater challenge than it does today. Many always considered wrestling to be a "sport" where its competitors were nothing more than steroid-using giants. But nobody ever took it further than that. The only exception came in the early 90s when Vince McMahon was declared innocent of distributing steroids to his employees.
Fast forward to 2007 and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) now faces a tough challenge as the national spotlight is shining on the steroid use of its competitors. The US government is involved in this potentially industry-changing scandal.
So if "everyone knew" that WWE wrestlers were steroid users, why is it that nobody did anything until now?
What brought so much attention to this problem was the double murder/suicide involving former WWE wrestler Chris Benoit. According to reports, Benoit murdered his son and wife before taking his own life. Benoit was linked to steroid use and it was said that he had a high amount of human growth hormone at the time of his death. Many in the media began to speculate that Benoit had experienced "roid rage", which means that after taking a certain amount of steroids a person loses control and becomes highly aggressive.
After the Benoit incident other facts came to light. For example, according to the website Wrestling Information Archive, in the past 20 years 46 wrestlers have died all under the age of 50. All of these deaths were classified as suicides, drug overdoses or heart attacks. Many people, including the US government, began wondering why? Why was it that so many men and women who work/worked as professional wrestlers were dying so young and in such unpleasant ways.
Everything and everyone pointed their fingers at the lifestyles that these wrestlers live. They wrestle close to 300 days per year. They are travelling most of the time. They miss out on a lot of important family events such as birthdays and anniversaries. They sleep in hotel rooms most of the year. They have their family calling and complaining that they are never home. They have to find several hours a day to work out so they can keep their bodies in top condition. They have to go out in front of the fans and perform. They suffer real injuries and bumps even though wrestling is a "fake" sport. It is a daily grind that would wear anyone down.
What some wrestlers have done to cope is they become involved in illegal drug use. Some become addicted to pain killers. Others use steroids to keep up with fellow wrestlers.
In November 2005 a 38-year-old wrestler named Eddie Guerrero died of heart failure. The autopsy report also said that he had "an enlarged heart and other enlarged organs, which is related to a history of anabolic steroid use."
After Eddie Guerrero's death, WWE created and implemented a wellness program that would prevent its wrestlers from using illegal drugs. According to the program, wrestlers are suspended 30 days without pay after the first violation, 60 days without pay after the second violation and they will be terminated after the third.
Almost two years later though, WWE wrestlers are still living the crazy lifestyle and former wrestlers continue to die young such as Brian "Crush" Adams and "Sensational" Sherri Martel. So how effective is the WWE's Wellness Program? That is a question the US government is now asking.
In a three-page letter, Representative Henry Waxman, the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Tom Davis, its ranking minority member asked WWE to basically hand over reports regarding WWE's drug-testing policy. The government wants to know exactly what is the policy, what the results have been thus far, which wrestlers have failed and whether they were punished, what improvements the wellness program has brought in regards to drug use in the business, exactly which drugs does the program test for, etc.
The US government gave WWE Chairman Vince McMahon until August 24, 2007 to comply. We are well past that date. So at this point we will need to wait and see if the reports submitted by WWE will be satisfactory to the government.
One thing is clear. WWE is taking the matter seriously. Just this week ten wrestlers were suspended for violating the company's drug policy. The names of the offenders were not released. However, WWE said that beginning November 1st it will make the names public of anyone who fails the drug testing going forward.
It will be easy to figure out who the suspended wrestlers are since you will suddenly see ten of them missing without any reason. Two of them are John Morrison and Umaga. Both of them were wrestling champions in the company and this week they just happened to "lose" their championships. They will most likely be off television for a 30-day period if the policy is followed to the "t".
WWE is also working on bringing back two top stars who have "natural-looking" bodies in Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho. These two wrestlers don't have the monstrous appearance that some of the other wrestlers have. They are smaller but also very charismatic and they would definitely help WWE during this mess.
I honestly feel that WWE is doing all they can to clean up the business at this point. However, I also feel that they didn't take the matter seriously until all of the negative press and government investigation FORCED them to take action. Either way, it is a step in the right direction.
Do I think WWE will make it through problem? Yes. But it will never be the same again and that's a good thing. Visually I anticipate the wrestlers will be a bit smaller and we will see less of the giant monsters with the bulging muscles.
All I have to say is that any good change is a welcome change.
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