As someone who has been critical of Bret Hart for not speaking out more forcefully about steroids and drugs, I think it’s only fair to present his extended statements on the topic, which perhaps have more nuance than I’ve given him credit for. I don’t agree with Hart in a couple of key respects, but I also wouldn’t want to suggest that he isn’t calling things the way he sees them.
Hart had the following exchange recently with host Dan Lovranski of the Canadian radio show “Live Audio Wrestling” (the transcript is at http://www.wrestlingobserver.com/wo/news/headlines/default.asp?aID=21455).
Do you think pro wrestling can ever successfully police itslf, or does the government have to get involved?
I think they can police it. I think there should be no tolerance. Their drug policy…You know, I’m not a big advocate for steroids, but I don’t think steroids are the major problem. I don’t think that’s why Benoit went off the deep end. I think that the serious problem is probably the hard drugs like cocaine and things like that. You know those painkillers and muscle relaxers, that cocktail of pills wrestlers take because they’re in so much pain that’s where the problem is. The drug tests don’t solve that problem because most of those drugs you take them the night before and they’re out of your system the next day. You can’t really drug test it, so I think the onus is really on the doctors, but I think they should be able to talk to these drug testing experts and there’s no reason they can’t stamp out every bad drug in wrestling, including steroids permanently. In a business where everything’s predetermined outcome and it’s basically a show, there’s no reason wrestlers should be taking steroids. I don’t know steroids are the big evil everyone says they are. I just don’t think they’re necessary period.
I found one of the most interesting parts of your book, Bret, to be the time when Vince introduced the drug tests in the early 90s and he started testing for marijuana. You said that you thought it was a big mistake because you thought it was one of the best things the guys could use to mellow out, calm down and deal with their pain. I found it very interesting that you were advocating that and that actually that might be more of a positive one.
Well you know I take a lot of flack for those kind of comments, but I agree and I’m just telling the truth. I was around and really truly saw wrestlers who would keep to themselves and go to their rooms and not really do harm to themselves, just watch a movie and do whatever it was they do. Then the drug testing came in and I saw a lot of guys outside roaming bars with alcohol slumped on a bar stool, passed out at the counter because they were all piled up. I remember saying at the time that this is not good, people are going to die. This is an epidemic and at the same time the company thinks that they’re doing the right thing, that society will judge us and say Vince did the right thing. They said they were going to stamp out all drugs including marijuana. I just sat back and watched wrestlers that are no longer with us, get caught up in taking pills and mixing them with alcohol which is where we are today. You don’t see wrestlers dying from cocaine overdoses, you don’t see wrestlers dying of marijuana overdoses, they’re dying from mixing pills with alcohol and now it’s a serious problem. I wanted to shed light on that and show that sometimes you can set out to do something right and it can turn out really, really wrong.
“I don’t know steroids are the big evil everyone says they are. I just don’t think they’re necessary.” It is hard to argue with the integrity of that position (though I think steroids are likely pretty darn bad for a lot of subtle reasons that the brief history of the drugs’ popularity don’t fully reflect).
I also think it’s fine to discuss the drug issue in terms of the whole panoply — my forthcoming Benoit book uses the word “cocktail” in the subtitle. Efforts to give supremacy to any single factor (not only drugs, but also concussions, travel, and the stress of entertaining people day-in and day-out in such a primal fashion) are bound to overstate things.
But here’s where I really disagree with Hart: “I think they can police it.” I don’t think they can police it; the money and incentives and industry structure are just too stacked against legitimate, faithful self-regulation. And I don’t know why Hart, of all people, would feel differently. I can only attribute his position to a “wrestling gene” or “X factor” that trumps even his vast body of negative experiences.
So I’m in the funny position of appealing to his authority if he agrees with me, and rejecting it if he doesn’t. I justify this “hobgoblin of small minds” within myself only when I look at the pile of bodies in wrestling. There’s a fundamental unreality in holding either than something can’t be done about it or that that something can be done about it without the intervention and oversight of an outside agency.