Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Bloodless Revolution: The Case Against Blading

Are crimson masks like the ones DJ Hyde and Matt Tremont are sporting here needed in wrestling anymore?
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Devon Nicholson was on his way to a WWE developmental contract in 2009 until he tested positive for hepatitis C. Of all the possible places he could have gotten the disease, which is a blood borne pathogen, the most obvious candidate was a 2007 opponent he faced in Alberta, the legendary and legendarily bloody icon Abdullah the Butcher. Nicholson, who claims to be cured from the disease after an experimental treatment, won a negligence suit against Abdullah to the tune of $2.1M US. Abdullah disputes the claim entirely, saying Nicholson was the one who gave him the disease, and that he was "only following orders" to blade as Nicholson was the promoter of the show where the incident happened.

Regardless of who was really at fault, however, one thing remains clear in my mind; the process of intentionally producing blood in professional wrestling is an outmoded concept and needs to be done away with.

Long ago, blood may have been necessary to protect the ideals of kayfabe, and wrestlers could plead ignorance about how certain diseases like hepatitis spread. The idea that a wrestler could get another wrestler gravely ill just through bleeding on them may have been a foreign concept in a largely provincial wrestling industry. Then again, if the "legitimate" sports of the time were still so behind the curve on what medicine and hygiene could do for the human body, imagine how far back in the Stone Age wrestling was in terms of knowledge.

Today, no excuse exists on any level. Sports medicine, general awareness about disease, and even the emergence of new illnesses like HIV have made intentional bleeding an even riskier proposition. I might understand WWE allowing blading because Vince McMahon has the money to implement rigorous medical screening programs. He can take care of his talent and make sure the active ones could go out and bleed buckets without posing a health risk in terms of diseases. How telling is it that WWE does have a Wellness program and takes care of its workers and also has a strict no-blading policy? How telling is it that when wrestlers bleed hardway in that company that if it's bad enough, the match will stop for trainers and doctors to sew up the laceration?

The places where blading is still commonplace are the ones where the wrestlers can afford it least. Indie wrestlers make pennies on the dollar compared to what WWE wrestlers make, and getting health insurance can be problematic to say the least (pending the successful implication of Obamacare, that is). If you get a blood borne illness, how are you going to get treated? How can you get to WWE when a condition of employment is that you don't have hepatitis or HIV? Too many risks associate with intentional blood-letting in order for it to be a viable action.

Besides, the definition of kayfabe has changed. The legitimacy of the business is no longer tied to people thinking the competitions are on the up and up, and it has been exposed as art, not sport. The only possible reason why bleeding should remain in wrestling is for pure aesthetics, which inherently are subjective. Personally, I have seen some great brawls over the years that fulfilled my lizard-brained lust for violence that had nary a drop of blood. Of course, I am but one viewer, and some out there need to have the blood as proof that what they just saw was a good brawl or a good cage match or a good deathmatch.

But are the desires of that portion of the crowd, however large it may be, enough to outweigh the health benefits of the performers? The answer, unequivocally, is no, it does not. Bloodlust of the many does not outweigh the personal care and health concerns of the performers, no matter how badly those wrestlers want to cut themselves wide open. Because blood isn't a smart substance and will spatter chaotically if not let out correctly, the subject of public health comes into question as well. Would a fan who wanted to see blood be as hungry for it if some splattered on them and contaminated their own bodies with an illness they would now have to pay out of pocket to either litigate for damages or treat?

Blood may have been a huge part of wrestling in its past, but the art has outgrown its intentional letting out. Blading is a practice that needs to die, and wrestlers who continue to use it as a prop should be shunned until they as well let it go. It's too dangerous a practice anyway, and safety has to be a concern even in an inherently dangerous business like professional wrestling. Cases like Devon Nicholson shouldn't happen in the future. In a better world, it wouldn't have happened in Nicholson's case either.