Simon Rothstein of UK’s Sun has a hard-hitting interview today with Jim Cornette, the pro wrestling manager and executive who is now with the promotion Ring of Honor. See “‘It is shocking if an ex-wrestler is actually found in good health,'” http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/sport/wrestling/2815458/Jim-Cornette-blasts-WWE-over-number-of-grapplers-who-have-died-young.html.
Cornette blasts Linda and Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment — which he has both worked for and competed against — for encouraging the drug culture that is largely responsible for the industry’s death pandemic.
It’s worth noting that both ROH and TNA (for which Cornette also has worked) have occupational health and safety issues of their own. TNA, in particular, has an atrocious record of steroid and painkiller abuse, and a testing regime even less reliable than WWE’s “wellness policy.” For example, TNA just signed accused North Carolina drug dealer, and wrestling star, Jeff Hardy after WWE dropped him.
Nonetheless, for the general public the preponderance of the heat appropriately falls on WWE, the industry bellwether and standard-setter. The McMahons’ talent-rewards system in the eighties and nineties pushed impossible physiques that, for the most part, could be attained only with dangerous drug intake.
The other piece of the puzzle is the hard-core performance style, popularized here by the original ECW out of Philadelphia. Chair shots, weapons, and moves with crazy physical risks exacerbated concussions and dependence on painkillers. WWE didn’t invent the can-you-top-this? mentality, which buried wrestling’s more sane magic-show tradition. But WWE had the market power in the late 1990’s and the first decade of this century to reject those elements; instead, the McMahons embraced and co-opted them.