Clark’s Corner: Steroids & Wrestling

If you are a fan of wrestling and have never suspected that there is a steroid problem within the business, then you’re a fool. Who amongst us haven’t been watching a wrestling program—any program—and seen a wrestler and thought to ourselves, “he’s on the juice” or “he’s roided up”? The answer is none, at least if you’ve become a wrestling fan within the last ten years.

However, to understand how wrestling’s steroid problem came to be, you have to understand the (quickie) history of how steroid even came to be an issue in pro wrestling. First off, this hasn’t been a problem that has plagued wrestling since the beginning. In fact, up until the late 1970’s they were a non-issue as the main drugs promoters had to worry about wrestlers overusing were cocaine and beer (or other types of alcohol). Take a look at some wrestling footage from the 60’s and 70’s if you get the chance and look at the physiques on the wrestlers. Do they look like they’re roided up? Not a chance. Enter “Superstar” Billy Graham, wrestling first roided up star. After that, it was on as the 80’s became littered with roided up stars bringing in the big bucks. Such stars included Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Kerry Von Erich, and The Road Warriors. By the time the 90’s rolled around it seemed like these were the only type of wrestler that could draw and the availability of the drug made it so any wrestler could (and eventually would) get their hands on it. This was true even after Vince’s trial when the guy giving you the drugs one minute could be helping put you in the pokie the next.

The Chris Benoit tragedy was what ignited the current national obsession with steroids in wrestling, but recent evidence seems to point to this tragedy giving fire to Chris Nowinski more than the federal government. Over the last year, Nowinski has been the champion for the cause of concussion prevention in professional sports (of all kinds). It does seem that the concussion issue trumps the steroid issue in sports today as steroids is old hat with the knowledge of the drug being known to just about anyone and people being more and more conditioned to accept any story about an athlete abusing steroids. “He’s in sports, of course he’s on steroids,” is a common reaction to stories like this. However, the story of former NFL player Andre Water wasn’t common and didn’t receive such a reaction. Waters sustained numerous concussions over his playing career and committed suicide last year at 44 years of age. Later tests found that his brain was so badly damaged by years of punishment and the previously mentioned concussion that it resembled an 85-year-old man with Alzheimer’s. This is ironic because Julian Bailes—the man who conducted tests on Benoit’s brain recently—had the same results with Benoit. Bailes went on to say that, “There is a constant theme in the failure of their personal lives, their business lives, depression and then ultimately suicide.” This seems to be a more plausible long-term explanation for the events leading up to what happened and the conclusion of this whole sad story than simple “Roid Rage” despite the high amount of testosterone in Benoit at the time of his death.

The reason why the concussion issue is trumping the steroid issue is because concussion sufferers seem to have more lethal long-term problems than steroid abusers. I’m not saying that steroids are harmless (ask Billy Graham), but multiple concussions have shown to have almost immediate and everlasting behavioral and mental problems as well as suicide and dementia. These problems seem to be a bit more important to look into and prevent than a person’s balls shrinking or flipping out briefly. I’m not blowing off steroids as a non-issue (they are anything but), however people who immediately say steroids for any wrestling related tragedy almost as a knee-jerk reaction seem ignorant and behind the times. Steroids are not the only problem in the industry.

After the Benoit tragedy, Dave Ditch came up with an explanation for the number of wrestling deaths as of late—one that I agree with by the way: the schedule. It is a hint that only three major deaths have occurred in the world of pro wrestling in Japan since the turn of the century. Those deaths were Shinya Hashimoto in 2005 at age 40, Kodo Fuyuki in 2003 at 42, and Masakazu Fukuda in 2000 at 27. However, none of these had anything to do with drugs or steroids or any of the common causes of early death in the U.S. Hashimoto died of a sudden brain hemorrhage while preparing for a return to New Japan, Fuyuki died after a long battle with cancer, and Fukuda died tragically of an acute hard membrane lower bloody tumor in his brain after taking a flying elbow to the head mid-match. Two of these deaths were sudden, but explainable and one of the deaths was pretty expected. What you didn’t hear about those deaths were the people worked nearly to death or popping pills every night or shooting up at every opportunity. In Japan, wrestlers wrestle for their main promotion for about half of the year not counting any freelance shows. This is a far cry from American promotions like The E where wrestlers used to seem to take pride in “being away from home 200 to 300 days out of the year.” However, that statement is in itself part of the problem. If you wrestle that many nights a year year-after-year, then your body is going to break down; add drugs and chairshots to the mix and you have a big problem. That was in fact one of the reasons that everyone cited as being a factor in Kurt Angle signing with TNA last September. And to tell you the truth, this would be a correct assumption because considering the surrealism surrounding Kurt’s final months in The E, he very well may have been the focus of this year’s tragedy had it not been for the move.

When Vince McMahon was interviewed on Real Sports a few years back, it was concerning the number of drug related deaths in wrestling. In the interview, like most, Vince became almost enraged at the notion that he should take responsibility for the deaths in his locker room (crazy, right?) and nearly got physical with Armen Keteyian at the end of the interview. That interview does seem a bit prophetic years later, but at the time nobody really thought that wrestlers like Guerrero or Benoit would be dead in so little time.

However, the question of responsibility is a good one and is definitely one that needs to be answered. Everyone is looking for someone to blame over Benoit, over steroids, over wrestlers’ deaths, over everything bad in the business today. Most people are thinking Vince McMahon and there is some validity to that. First off, he is the boss. Being the boss doesn’t just mean raking in the most money and getting to tell everyone what to do. The main thing that being the boss entails is that when the shit hits the fan, you’re the one who not only gets hit, but also has to explain why you got hit. Vince really hasn’t done that ever, and he went to trial over this shit once already! But if it isn’t Vince’s fault, then who’s is it? Kennedy and Finlay didn’t quite help their cause by coming right out and saying that personal responsibility is the main cause. For one, you can’t just say something like that—even if there is validity to it—right after a tragedy the likes of Benoit takes place; people aren’t going to like you for being that upfront and sounding that unsympathetic.

I am one who does believe that personal responsibility is the end all be all of human decision making in this world. However, Meltzer did make a good point on this when he wrote, “What personal choice did Nancy and Daniel Benoit make?” True, they were innocent victims, but if it was Benoit’s brain and not the roids that was the mental cause of all of this, then the events were set in motion a long time ago and they were just in the path of the proverbial roaring train. If a wrestler does take roids, it is their choice. They don’t have to if they don’t want to. A wrestler doesn’t need to do coke or weed or drink or smoke if they don’t want to. All of these things are personal decisions and that is mainly what Kennedy was talking about when he was preaching personal responsibility.

Scott Keith was right when he wrote, “it’s much different now than it was 20 years ago, when guys were partying like rock stars. 20 years ago, the previous generation wasn’t dropping dead on a weekly basis.” If this is truly the case, then maybe responsibility should be put on the business itself. If no person is at fault (no one has really taken responsibility) then what else is there? Truly the business has changed in the last thirty years (even the last ten years). There are too many chairshots, there are too many drugs in the locker rooms, and there has been too much emphasis on roided up monsters since Vince Jr. took over; that is a signal people. It has been a rarity under Vince’s reign that big men aren’t pushed whether they deserve it or not and the only time that smaller guys are pushed is either when you literally can’t push steroid dumpsters (Bret Hart) or when there’s no other options. Yes, big men have always drawn better than anyone in wrestling, but that doesn’t mean that you should send the signal that you have to be big to succeed, that if you want a push or any elevation (at times it seems) that you have add on about thirty pounds of muscles and take your moveset down to about 2-5 moves—to keep things simple. The business does need to change, but those changes are in motion even if they aren’t visible to the naked eye. Yes, change isn’t happening quick enough, but if you think recent events are going to change anything, you haven’t been watching wrestling long enough.

The Wellness Policy has proven itself to be a joke; especially considering the allegations that many of the wrestlers named in the Signature Pharmacy scandal got their drugs after The Wellness Policy was implemented. Minus Great American Bash weekend last year, The E really hasn’t taken any action in preventing its employees from obtaining and using illegal substances or drugs. The main problem is not in the policy—if you read it, the policy isn’t all the bad all things considered—but in the enforcement of the policy. That one weekend, The E pulled a couple of big names from a card that could’ve used them and did in that case make the right decision. They weren’t praised for it at the time because most saw it as an unavoidable move on their part—a correct assumption in hindsight. The main problem is that wrestling companies are basically all independent in the sense that they govern themselves. Unlike boxing or MMA, they don’t have to answer to a state athletic commission or give cups of piss before and after matches; trust me, if they did the business would be a full 180 degrees different than what it is right now. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t as there is an entire industry committed to helping athletes beat these tests and my guess is that if wrestling companies were under the eyes of SAC’s, then Vince, and Jeff Jarrett, and others would simply employee people in the business of hiding the banned substances (BALCO, here we come).

The Signature scandal and the “Operation Netroids” investigations have been seen as big wins for those against steroids in wrestling. However, if you look at the reaction to these stories and how The E has handled them, it just seems to be more bad press for The E—something I honestly don’t think Vince cares about anymore no matter what it is. The following names were named in the Signature scandal: Randy Orton, Charlie Haas, Edge, Booker T, William Regal, Simon Dean, Anthony Carelli, Johnny Nitro, Mr. Kennedy, Umaga, Funaki, Chavo Guerrero, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Brian Adams, and Sylvan Grenier. Let’s look at this list for a moment: Eddie, Chris, and Crush are all dead with Benoit’s being the only newsworthy death since Eddie’s was almost two years ago; Haas, Chavo, Regal, Carelli, and Funaki are non-issues within the company and thus no real waves there, Grenier was fired long before the story came out, Dean was fired after the story came out, but was an agent at the time, Booker just quit, Kennedy lost another push, but is still active, Edge is injured and this will likely have blown over by the time he comes back, and Orton and Umaga are still wrestling. So what exactly has this story done to cause waves within the industry? It has cause The E to make public any wrestler who fails drug tests or violates any of their drug policies, but that’s really it. Batista and Chris Masters were named, but nobody really cares about Masters and Batista is still main-eventing for SmackDown! so, yeah. The other big revelation was that Eddie was given nandrolone, testosterone, and anastrozole two weeks before his death. This does seem a bit convenient that the other major wrestling death in recent memory is brought into play here, and I’m sure that this could end up causing people to wonder if the illegal substances—not prior drug and alcohol addiction—caused his death. I’m on the side of his past finally beating him because these substances would’ve shown up at some point after his death and would’ve been made public for the same reasons they’re being made public now: to bring awareness. However, in this case, you’re two years too late despite the timing of him receiving these substances, it really doesn’t seem like they contributed (at least in my opinion).

The E claims that Orton hasn’t been suspended because he came out and admitted it before his name was mentioned. Well, Hermes Franca did the same thing and was showed no mercy by the Nevada State Athletic Commission after UFC 73, why should Orton? The E says he already did his time so to speak, but that’s bullshit. The real reason Orton isn’t suspended is because he’s in a feud with Cena right now. To be real, he’s the only main-event name left on RAW as HBK is still injured, HHH just came back, Carlito is still in the mid-card, etc. They need Orton so there’s at least someone for Cena to face at PPV’s and if there’s only one option, you have to go with it. It is shitty for The E that their only option is on that list and thus their reaction to him being on the list will be looked at by at least someone because their reaction isn’t exactly promising when it comes to punishing the guilty. That may in fact be the real reason Orton lost at Summerslam: not the Internet rumors, but the fact that putting a world title on a guy who’s a top name on the steroid list really wouldn’t look good. He could still win the belt on Sunday and to tell you the truth, if he doesn’t, then whom does Cena have to face until Wrestlemania? Are they going to run Cena/Orton for the next seven months? I doubt it. And if they are saving HHH/Cena II for Mania, then they have booked themselves into on hell of a corner (taking a page from TNA).

So what does all of this come down to? What it comes down to is the federal government looking to get a second shot at Vince McMahon. Yes, that sounds paranoid, but I think we can all agree that our government (no matter who’s there) doesn’t like to be embarrassed and that’s exactly what happened thirteen years ago. After nearly two years of boasting that they had an airtight case, it all blew up in their faces. I did say when Vince was on the cover of Muscle & Fitness a few years ago that it would be blown up and used in court against him within two years. My timing may be off, but the prediction still could come true. However, if the government is even thinking of going after Vince again, they’d better think twice because they have less of a chance of winning this time than they did back in ’93. Here’s why:

1. Nobody in The E’s locker room is going to come out and testify against Vince due to the job security being in The E provides.

2. The government wouldn’t have a witness of the magnitude of Hulk Hogan to put on the stand this time around.

3. They can’t use Benoit’s death despite the testosterone levels because his brain examination provides an alternate reason for his actions.

4. While The E hasn’t done a whole lot pertaining to the Signature scandal, they can’t pin that on Vince personally because it was an online pharmacy selling the drugs, not Vince.

5. The government doesn’t have a doctor—that we know of—that has dealt with Vince personally on the subject of steroids like they did with Dr. George Zahorian.

At the worst, people can say that Vince is a terrible boss, but people have been saying that for years and it hasn’t changed anything. As of now, The E is going to take some measures to change, or create the appearance of change, in order to prevent any government intervention (that is press that Vince doesn’t like). Will any real change take place? No. How many times in the history of wrestling have promotions had the change to literally change the face of the “sport” through policy, who they push, the direction they take their promotions in, etc. and never do anything? Think about that and you’ll know why you shouldn’t expect a whole lot to happen regarding the so-called steroid controversy. While it is a big deal, I’ve pointed out that when looked at in perspective, there are several other issues within wrestling that are bigger and need to be dealt with quicker and more effectively than the juice. And if the government is thinking about going after Vince again, remember the old phrase “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

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