Thursday, April 10, 2014

On Nancy Grace, Ultimate Warrior, and Steroids

Warrior's death was used by Grace as a base talking point
Photo Credit:
Video via Headline News

Hashtag abuser and serial shock news peddler Nancy Grace tackled the Ultimate Warrior's death last night on her show on the Headline News Network. She welcomed Diamond Dallas Page onto the show as an expert guest and went on a semi-informed tirade about steroid abuse in wrestling. She covered the death with all the sensitivity one would expect from her, which is to say she had an agenda and kept ramming it into the camera and her guests' faces as if it were a battering ram crashing down the gates of Helms' Deep. Basically, she brought on medical experts to talk about how dangerous steroids are, rolled a list of premature deaths in wrestling, including Owen Hart, whose death had nothing to do with drug abuse, and then borderline harassed Page with her line of questioning.

Her treatment of Warrior's death and the wrestling business in general sparked a powder keg of outrage from wrestlers and wrestling fans alike, which is a shame, because someone who has journalistic integrity or any modicum of respect to subject material could have tackled the epidemic of substance abuse in pro wrestling and maybe made some headway into why drugs are readily available to these wrestlers. Instead, she picked the American boogeyman of steroids and hacked away until she got her desired fill of tirade.

Of course, her brand of rabble-rousing does no one any good. In a perfect world, she'd be easily ignored, but the amount of influence she holds among those who don't know any better is startling, and even more stunning is how wrong she is. Firstly, the inclusion of Hart, who died because he was forced into a dangerous working condition by a promoter who wanted the kick of seeing him rappel in from the rafters, is crass and places blame for his death on him instead of on Vince McMahon and the people who failed Hart and his safety. Martha Hart has had to suffer enough over the years, and she and her children do not need the indignity of ignorant Middle Americans who suckle on the teat of Grace's misinformation to harangue the memory of her husband further than it already has been.

Secondly, the steroid boogeyman is a disingenuous target and ignores the bigger problem of substance abuse in wrestling locker rooms. Blame is too easily assigned to steroids and other performance enhancing drugs when their monitored moderate use may have beneficial health effects. Any wrestler who died prematurely or who has had near death experiences more than likely owed his or her perils to substances other than or in addition to steroids. Buff Bagwell, Jeff Hardy, and Matt Hardy both have had public bouts with Somas. Scott Hall, Jake Roberts, and Eddie Guerrero all battled alcoholism. Chris Benoit was reportedly addicted to painkillers in addition to the steroids he was most certainly using. Cocaine use in the '80s WWF has been rumored to have been legendary in its scope. All of the above categories of intoxicants generally are considered far more dangerous than the use or even abuse of steroids.

But assuming that steroids lead to life-threatening problems, why is the blame nestled within the wrestlers themselves when the pressure to look like absurdly proportioned muscleheads comes from the top of the food chain? McMahon is the one who bears most of the blame, since the institutional pressure to look like you were sculpted from marble, especially in the absence of the Wellness Program, may have led to steroid abuse whether condoned by McMahon explicitly or not.

Wrestlers get used up by the business and spat out with a high risk of early death because of the atmosphere in locker rooms. Granted, WWE's Wellness Program is a step in the right direction. I'm not in those locker rooms, so I can't say with any veracity whether it works or not. Sadly, a lack of access keeps me from finding things out, and even those within the wrestling journalism community seem to be too niche and close to the source to enact any real change.

But if people in the national media really cared about wrestling and wrestlers, they wouldn't treat it like a sideshow with their foregone conclusions driving muckraking pieces meant to rile up Middle America into a panic. Nancy Grace would use her bully pulpit to dig deep, get answers to see whether conditions really have changed, and if not, put pressure on companies for the better of everyone involved within pro wrestling companies. Conglomerates like ESPN wouldn't allow shit-for-brains shock jocks like Colin Cowherd to "embrace debate" by poking the hornets' nest of wrestling fans by calling them nose-pickers.

Pro wrestling may not right now be the haute culture form of entertainment, and I don't know if it ever will be. However, the people who like it and those who perform in it are human beings, and they deserve the same respect as anyone in any other field or fandom. If pro wrestlers are dying early, they don't deserve scorn, they deserve help and attention. Nancy Grace prodding at Diamond Dallas Page and driving at an agenda doesn't help. It's just a shame no one better will come in, smack her down, and try to enact real journalistic change from a higher plane.