Thursday, April 10, 2014

Death of The Warrior

The Ultimate Warrior died yesterday, and a little piece of every American male age 25-40 died along with him. Although my desire to watch grown men toss each other's mostly naked body around a ring vanished long ago, what I hope to always remain is that sense of joy I felt when the masked muscular mass with the colorful tassles sprinted down the entrance ramp, grabbed the ropes and shook with all his might, then jumped into the ring and thoroughly destroyed his opponent. He was a menace. A true Warrior.

Plus he was absolutely bonkers.

I remember watching those interviews and his matches as a little kid and thinking this was the perfect representation of a man, instead of questioning why they let a clearly psychotic man on camera like I should have been. He was considered a "good guy", but he still managed to be a badass and avoid the corniness of other "good guys" like Hulk Hogan. In fact, his rivalry with Hogan was one of the main reasons I, and so many others, loved him. He was like the cool indie rock band to Hogan's Coldplay. Fuck Coldplay. Give me some off the wall crazy shit nobody has ever heard before. That was the Ultimate Warrior. 

I had a lot of action figures and toys as a kid but I distinctly remember the Ultimate Warrior figure and the Ultimate Warrior pillow. 
Yeah, I was pretty badass, too.

He was a staple of my youth, and it's kind of weird that he's gone. 

Actually, it's not weird at all, it's just making me reflect on a part of my youth I don't usually think about. The fact of the matter is, Warrior dying is kind of par for the course with wrestlers. He's lucky he made it to 54. An inordinate amount of wrestlers die before 50. The amount of wrestlers from the Warrior's generation who have already died would be considered a tragic epidemic if it was any other type of sport/entertainment/business. It's just considered collateral damage for the WWE.

These guys give their bodies and their lives for their jobs, and most don't even make a decent living. It's a lot like the NFL, but much, much worse. The NFL denies guaranteed contracts because they don't want to pay athletes who wind up getting injured. WWE just hires all of its wrestlers as independent contractors so they don't have to pay health care costs. So even if the wrestler makes millions, most of it goes to his health care. And much like the NFL, the people in charge could not care less, as long as the money keeps coming in.

It's no secret that most of these guys use steroids, just like during the "steroid era" of professional baseball. So the fact that many of them suffer complications from their sustained drug use is largely their own fault. Now, I'm not going to try to defend them, but just consider their predicament. If they don't take steroids, they won't be as successful (because the majority of wrestlers are doing steroids) and they won't make a livable wage; besides the top guys, like the Rock, or the Undertaker, wrestlers really don't get paid that well. So to reach the top, and to overcome their often debilitating injuries (they don't get sick days so they have to perform no matter what in order to get paid) they juice up. It's not like anybody is testing them, so what's to stop them? 

Besides, maybe these guys are okay with their shortened lives because it's not about the number of years you live, it's how you spend the years you do have; these guys got the glory, the fame, the thrill, or whatever the hell wearing tiny spandex and grappling with other grown men gives them. The day before he died, Warrior (he legally changed his name) said this on WWE Monday Night Raw:

"Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe a final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others, and makes them bleed deeper and something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized."

And immortalized he was. His name, his legacy, lives on. 

But was it all worth it? If he knew his fate going into wrestling, would he still have done it? Do any of these guys really know what they're getting into?

And then there's the kids.

Seriously, though, what about the young fans. Do the kids know what's really going on with these guys? I know I didn't when I was a fan. I understood as I got older, after I outgrew wrestling, but what about the kid who wanted to become a wrestler? Or another type of athlete. What is the real effect of rampant steroid use in professional sports on young athletes? The mentality becomes: do whatever it takes to get the glory. Take anything that will give you an advantage and let the lawyers figure out the technicalities. You may get a suspension or fine at most, but you'll still have "the glory."

I realize that wrestling especially is just entertainment, but it seems something should be done to stop this endless cycle of drugs and early deaths. And I realize that I am implicit in all this for (once upon a time) watching these guys and buying the merchandise. They give up their bodies for our entertainment and we act surprised or outraged when they develop crippling addictions to painkillers or other drugs.

I don't know. I don't want wrestling, or any sport, to stop. As far as wrestling goes, many kids find it highly entertaining, and that alone gives it value. I also can understand why some adults (men) are still into it. It's a soap opera for guys. Even better, it's a live show where guys kick each other's ass. And if you think, "But it's horrible acting!" tell that to the guy who stayed in character with a concussion and a dislocated shoulder. Sports, and sports entertainment, are a necessary and mostly positive aspect of our society. It just seems like something better could be done for people who sacrifice so much for our entertainment. 

I no longer think of the Ultimate Warrior as the perfect representation of man, but I do think he was an amazing performer who made a lasting impact in his time on Earth, and that's all anybody can ever really ask for.

The Ultimate Warrior gave me a lot of joy as a kid, and it seemed like he had quite a bit of fun himself...

"Nightmares are the best part of my dayyyyy!" for that I say, "Thank you, Warrior, you glorious psychopath."

I Love You All...Class Dismissed.

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