IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: Only the Wrestlers Die Young
By Al Laiman
Nov 4, 2012 - 9:48:10 AM
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IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: Only the Wrestlers Die Young
I love professional wrestling. I've experienced multiple levels of the industry, and I've spent a good portion of my life participating in it in some fashion. I've been an avid fan, I've been a jaded fan, I've been on the crew, and I've been a performer. When pro wrestling is good, it can lead to some of the most unforgettable memories you've ever had. When you experience it with other people, it can contribute to friendships that last a lifetime, and even form some new ones. There are some people reading this column right now who I know specifically because of pro wrestling in some form.
There are those with whom I've wrestled. Some of them I haven't even seen in years, but we still have that connection. There are those I met as a fellow fan, attending shows and starting to talk to each other. In fact, some of the most special friends are like that, and if they're reading, they know who they are. Some of them were already my friends, but professional wrestling enhanced our relationship. I've told those stories a number of times, and you've seen comments from one of the most special ones.
Then there are those who I don't necessarily know personally, but participate here. For all of you who comment, I know there are a lot more who don't. I see the clicks on Jaded Hope explode after I post the column, and I know there are plenty more of you who just read. While 20 of you may comment, I know there are hundreds more of you that let me into your life every Tuesday and allow me to share with you my thoughts on Monday Night RAW.
Ten years ago, I was one of the silent ones. In 2002, I discovered wrestling columns, but I never commented on any of them. Despite what may come across in my own work, I've never been the one to even read comments on a page, let alone participate in them. My show gives a lot of people the false implication that I'm an extrovert, when outside of performing, I'm really a rather quiet guy. Not to mention, just reading some of the comment sections on this site makes my head explode, so I just opt to stay out of it.
So by now I'm sure you've seen the Billy Joel reference in my title, and seen this little personal story, and either wondered where I'm going with it, or are getting ready to accuse me of ripping it off. Either way, that title probably made you wonder something. Do only wrestlers die young? Of course not. That would be frivolous. Would you rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints? A good number of you definitely prefer heels over faces, so that's to be taken into consideration. Did you hear I run with a dangerous crowd? Well that would be false, considering I'm about as threatening as a sad-faced kitten. You know, it's interesting that Billy Joel can write a song about trying to convince a girl to break her religion and come sleep with him, or that John Lennon can write one of the most atheistic songs to ever hit the mainstream, but because of who is singing it, nobody really makes a big deal about it. Listen to the song "Hook" by Blues Traveler sometime to understand exactly what I mean.
All joking and references aside, I really wanted to address a serious topic here, and it's one I've championed ever since I started writing columns again in early 2011. Brad Armstrong recently passed away. He was only 51. Mike Graham also passed away a few weeks ago. He was about the same age. This is not normal.
Now can I tell you personal stories about Armstrong or Graham? Can I talk about the times I spent at shows with them, or memories of them performing? Honestly, no. Outside of vaguely knowing who they are, I can't tell you a whole lot more about them. What I can tell you is that they are two more professional wrestlers who have died way too young.
The amount of professional wrestlers who die at early ages is staggering. The biggest wrestling company on the planet, WWE, has done something to help by instituting Wellness policies and offering to cover any former employee's rehab, but does that really address the heart of the issue? How many wrestlers have struggled with addictions, steroids, or died from other causes who never worked for Vince McMahon? How many more never took up the offer? How many got the help, and still passed away long before their time?
Professional wrestlers don't work as many dates as they used to, but they're still on the road nearly every single week. Sometimes they have to travel internationally, and then return to stateside and put on another show like nothing happened. At no point are wrestlers allowed to slow down or phone it in, especially on the highest level. You have a paying audience, even at a house show. They're not going to accept, "I just got back from Germany, I can't do my finishing move."
It might be less prevalent on the IWC, but most fans of the business do not understand that professional wrestlers are human beings. They go to see a show, and when they put down their hard-earned money to do so, they expect nothing but the best. Who can blame them? Suppose you don't live in one of the major wrestling hub cities. How often does WWE come around? Do you even get televised shows within a reasonable distance? Maybe your city isn't major enough to host a televised event, and a house show is the best you're ever going to get. You still have to pay the same prices as you would for a RAW, and chances are you aren't going to see anything that affects televised storylines. By spending that money, you expect just as good of a show as what you've seen on television, as well you should.
But it still doesn't address the issue.
Wrestling is on now almost every day of the week. If you want to get technical about it, on Pay-Per-View weeks, it is on every day of the week. Fans of this generation have been conditioned to expect new, great wrestling every single day, every single week, all throughout the year. I don't blame them for that; they've only accepted what they've been given. They love professional wrestling, and they keep getting more of what they love.
But something has to be done about what is happening to these people.
I know WWE loves to brag about how long their shows have been on, producing new content and never missing a week. At this point though, it's like Ryback's undefeated streak... Does it really matter? If Monday Night RAW was a rerun this week, would the entire industry collapse?
I've made this argument before, but two more recent deaths only further my position that one of two things need to happen.
My proposal is a three-month offseason after WrestleMania. Now, some of you have heard that before, and often worry about fans losing interest in the product during that time, but I assure you that the business would still be playing things up. Think of it like the NFL: The NFL is only actually on about four months of the year, but you can tune in to the NFL Network at any time of year and find analysis, predictions, free agency, the draft, preseason, exhibition, and other things that keep the continuity going. Why can't WWE do the same thing after their version of the Super Bowl?
Is continuing a streak of consecutive shows worth how many more wrestlers will become addicted to pain killers, get on steroids to further their careers, and die young as a result of the business itself or what they did to perform in it? Is producing new content 52 weeks of the year that essential to the industry's survival?
Imagine if during that three months, all the rosters had to start over, and the GMs of the respective brands drafted from the very beginning, like they did during the first WWE draft. WWE could produce original content hyping up the draft, wondering who they would pick, hold a draft special, and advance storylines the same way most modern sports do. Imagine what three months off every year would do for those performers who are always in constant pain. Imagine what three months off would do for their families, who don't get the access to them that most families do. Imagine every wrestler having time to recover from the minor injuries that build up over performing all year, every year.
New seasons would begin, and I think they would be more anticipated, not less after a three month break. Every other sport has an offseason, and they don't panic and think that no one will come back. I don't think it's too much to ask of all of us to live for a quarter of the year without it, and I think extending some of the performers' lives would be well worth it.
The other option is one that many have suggested when I've brought this up before, and that is rolling times. Certain wrestlers would be inactive for three months throughout different times of the year, and all of them would come back together around WrestleMania season. This one does have some merit, and it would do well for not seeing the same people on television every week. If continuing their streak and having a product every single week is that important, I would definitely accept this alternative. It still gives wrestlers that time off that they deserve without taking away the product for a time. I still don't think it's that much to ask, but this would be a viable substitute.
The point is, too many wrestlers have died young, and something needs to be done about it. It's gotten to the point where I almost expect to see another one in the LOP headlines, and it usually doesn't surprise me. Wrestling is a tough business, no doubt, but there is no reason that we should lose this many of its performers as young as we do.
Something has to be done about it.
IN CASE YOU MISSED LAST WEEK'S EPISODE