June 2003
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Wrestling with a stigma
By Stephen T., Grade 12, Fredericton High, Fredericton, NB

Most people, when they find out that I'm a fan of professional wrestling, act like I just told them I have syphilis.

Pro wrestling is so often misunderstood and misrepresented in the mainstream media that it's natural that I be stigmatized for openly endorsing it. Ninety percent of people who criticize it have no idea what they're talking about. I accept that.

But let me offer this body of text in defence of my tastes, by taking on the most common put-downs I hear about my favourite "sport."

Firstly, don't mistake me for one of these Johnny-come-lately fans who jumped on the grappling band wagon because Rolling Stone magazine came out and said wrestling was cool again. I'm more of a lifer, and I'm proud of it. I was watching when wrestling veterans Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Rick "The Model" Martel worked the absurd yet thoroughly entertaining blindfold match at Wrestlemania 7. Most of the folks you see running around in the stupid $35 T-shirts would think ice dancing was ultra cool if television told them it was the next big thing.

Secondly, let's be clear that professional wrestling is indeed predetermined, making it at least generally "fake". This means that, yes, the outcomes are known in advance, and many moves are scripted. However, it's more legitimate than you might think. Some things about wrestling are very real. Mostly it's the pain you see on the wrestlers' faces.

See, even if you decide who's going to win beforehand, wrestling hurts. If you let a three hundred pound behemoth pick you up and throw you down on your back, it smarts, regardless of whether or not you're in on the gag. Martial artists and stuntmen will tell you that there's really no way to do this without pain. Try it if you don't believe me.

Also, keep in mind that most wrestling rings aren't "rigged" as some people believe. They aren't trampolines, people. The floors of most pro wrestling rings are made of wood and covered with a few inches of the thin padding you normally find at collegiate wrestling tournaments. The corner ring posts are usually fixed to big springs, like those found in automobile shocks, but their purpose is to add extra lift when wrestlers jump in the air. They don't do much in the way of softening the landings.

In fact, pro wrestlers injure themselves at an alarming rate. Blown-out knees, torn muscles, and broken necks have plagued the ring for years, and because the intensity of the work rate of the wrestlers has picked up recently, there are more and more severe injuries occurring today. Since 1997, WWE competitors Kurt Angle, Rhyno, Chris Benoit, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Scotty 2 Hotty and several others have suffered from seriously injured necks, causing each to undergo major surgery. One rookie wrestler, Darren Drozdov, was the victim of a botched wrestling maneuver in the late 90s, and he has since been declared paralyzed and is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Despite the fact that most wrestlers perform over 200 cardio-busting live shows per year, wrestlers aren't largely respected as athletes. Their sport isn't even considered a "real" sport. The idea that wrestling is an inferior form of entertainment comes from the rather unfortunate Western ethos that our activities be based on competition. Because a wrestling match is the constructive effort of two performers working together, and not an actual attempt by two combatants to maim one another, North America short-changes it. The logic is that since there's no real winner, it can't be a sport. The problem with this notion is, if it is true, then non-competition rock climbing, hiking or skiing shouldn't be considered sports either.

Some critics indict pro wrestling as violent and morally corrupt. Others say it is cartoonish and too silly for serious discussion. The main problem with these two points is that they can't both be true. If we want to make a case against wrestling we'll have to pick one or the other. Together they cancel each other out.

The real point here is that I've never heard an argument against pro wrestling that carried any weight. Most people's qualms with it boil down to no more than the knee-jerk reaction of image-conscious ninnies or overbearing schlock of academic types.

The only argument I feel I need to make for pro wrestling is that it's harmless entertainment that's fun to watch. Wrestlers are injured at a far higher rate than either football players or boxers because they perform more spectacular feats than anyone truly competing against another athlete ever could. Instead of being mocked for its predetermination, I feel wrestling should be praised or at least respected for its daringness.


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