I think of all the athletes pro wrestlers get the least amount of respect. Maybe it's the freakishly, cartoon bodies. Maybe it's the rampant steroid use. Maybe it's the choreographed endings to the matches. Maybe it's the over the top storylines. Whatever the reason. Pro wrestlers are the ugly step-sisters to other sports.
I get it. You say it's not a sport, because the outcome is pre-planned and choreographed. Okay, I get that. Yet, these guys are athletes. They work harder than any football player, basketball player, hockey player, and most definitely baseball players. They are on the road anywhere from 250-300 days a year. They have their bodies tossed around like rag dolls. They have their heads slammed into poles (even if your hand is there to take some of the pain, I've walked into a pole. Not fun). Sometimes, the blood you see is not fake. Often, the injuries are quite real. Ask Chyna, who had her implant pop during a match, Scott Steiner, who had his bicep ripped from the bone, Sid Vicious who had his leg broken during a match, or Owen Hart, who died rehearsing for a stunt. They risk as much if not more than many other athletes when they step into the squared circle.
The damage is horrible, and it often leads to other problems. One only has to look at what happened to Chris Benoit to see what falling on your head 200-300 times a year over 20 years. They did research on his brain after he killed himself, his wife Nancy, and their son Daniel. It was revealed that Benoit's brain resembled that of an Alzheimer's patient. He was 40. I'm not excusing what he did. What he did was horrible and unforgivable, but a 40 year old man with the brain of an Alzheimer patient?
Lonelyplanet.com listed prominent wrestlers who have died under the age of 50 since 1985: Chris Von Erich - 21, Mike Von Erich - 23, Louie Spiccoli - 27, Gino Hernandez - 29, Jay Youngblood - 30, Rick McGraw - 30, Buzz Sawyer - 32, Crash Holly - 32, Kerry Von Erich - 33, D.J. Peterson - 33, Eddie Gilbert - 33, The Renegade - 33, Owen Hart - 33, Chris Candido - 33, Adrian Adonis - 34, Gary Albright - 34, Bobby Duncum Jr. - 34, Yokozuna - 34, Big Dick Dudley - 34, Brian Pillman - 35, Pitbull #2 - 36, The Wall/Malice - 36, Leroy Brown - 38, Mark Curtis - 38, Eddie Guerrero - 38, Davey Boy Smith - 39, Johnny Grunge - 39, Vivian Vachon - 40, Brady Boone - 40, Terry Gordy - 40, Bertha Faye - 40, Chris Benoit - 40, Rick Rude - 41, Randy Anderson - 41, Bruiser Brody - 42, Miss Elizabeth - 42, Big Boss Man - 42, Earthquake - 42, Mike Awesome - 42, Ray Candy - 43, Nancy Benoit (Woman) - 43, Dino Bravo - 44, Curt Hennig - 44, Bam Bam Bigelow - 45, Jerry Blackwell - 45, Junkyard Dog - 45, Hercules - 45, Andre the Giant - 46, Big John Studd - 46, Chris Adams - 46, Mike Davis - 46, Hawk - 46, Dick Murdoch - 49, Rocco Rock - 49, and Sherri Martel - 49.
Car accidents (many after matches), suicides (an epidemic among the Von Erichs), drug overdoses, heart attacks (mostly heart attacks), I don't think there is another sport that has had an anomaly like Pro Wrestling. They put their bodies on the line every night to entertain the masses. They destroy their bodies and use anything they can get their hands on find relief from the aches and pains. Yet, they are the Rodney Dangerfield of sports. As a kid, pro wrestling was my soap opera. They were larger than life-comic book characters brought to life, who flew through the air and performed unbelievable feats of strength. Cheering the baby faces and booing the heels. I waited anxiously every week to watch and to see how the storylines would end. I never knew how tragic most of the stories would end.
To an Athlete Dying Young
by A. E. Housman
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields were glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.