Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Career Endings

When I think of the end of a wrestlers career, I always think of someone like Jake the Snake Roberts. Usually the end of a wrestler’s glory days does not end with drug addiction and loneliness but that is usually not the case. There are so many ways that a wrestler can end their career and I think it all revolves around the fact that there is no pension plan for wrestlers. Can you really ask a wrestler who makes their living in the ring what they are going to do afterward? Is there a plan for when they are too old or get a career ending injury?

The really sad end is that of wrestlers like Jake the Snake. He just got sucked into the drugs and the life on the road cost him any possible family life. There have been other stars have been kicked off the stage because of the same kinds of problems. Scott Hall was always one of those guys who perplexed me. He got drunk so much and it cost him his job at the WWE and now he has fallen off the map and wrestles independents. And his problems persist. He is not retired but it is not hard to see where he will end up.

Death could be considered an end but it seems to be a freak occurrence when thinking of it as a career ender. But so far, we have read about many stars that lose their place in the spotlight but then you hear about them later having died. So many wrestlers I saw like Rick Rude, Davey Boy Smith end up dead at a relatively young age. You could say that Eddie Guerrero ended his career this way but it was his prior drug addiction that caught up with him.

But the worst way to end a career would be injury during a wrestler’s prime. Kurt Angle put it best, he would rather have died that be told he could not do what he loved any more. All other endings for a career can really be attributed to choices that one makes but usually, an injury is something that is out of the wrestler’s hands. And it is understandable that it can be heart breaking to have to stop performing. You can see how much these wrestlers love the business when they stick around even though their in ring time has expired. Shawn Michaels was the first person I saw this happen to. I thought his character was great but was disappointed he only made sporadic appearances after losing the title to Austin. He made comments about how he would still want to be in the business even if it were not in the ring when he made his return as commissioner. And the same thing happened to Austin later when he had to retire because of his injuries.

With the way careers end is what I think puts sports entertainment into the same category as traditional sports. So many times you hear about players in the NFL failing drug tests or players in MLB taking steroids and promising players getting injured and never being the same or losing their spot on the team. All these happen in the world of wrestling and continue to happen to this day. And just like football players, those that don’t really make it have to go back to a normal life or try to work somewhere else. I guess you could say there are minor leagues in wrestling and you have the independent circuit and I guess TNA. But this aspect of life is where wrestling is more sport than entertainment. Entertainers get hurt on the set but they can keep making movies and TV shows. Getting hurt in wrestling could mean the end of a career.

So why are there no unions? Why don’t wrestlers try to come up with a plan for being ditched if they get hurt or try to keep from being worked too hard. If there are unions and rules to stick to, a promotion would find it harder to get rid of talent that doesn’t bring in crowds and is just wasting money for the company. Then more money would be lost if wrestlers had to perform less. Also, there are only a few wrestlers who actually make it big out of the large talent pool and only a few can actually retire with the money they made while being on top. So a large part of what happens to a wrestler at the end of their career really has to do with the choices they make and whether or not a crowd embraces them. Can a company really be held liable for what happens to a wrestler if their career does not flourish or they decide to use drugs? Perhaps for the drugs part. Jake the Snake told of how he got into drugs from always having to work so hard and not being able to rest the right way. From what I have seen, it seems like an unglamorous end is usually the outcome of a career and people who manage to stay in the spotlight like Ric Flair and Mick Foley are the lucky ones.


Sam Ford said...

Luis, you raise a lot of good points, and I agree that the career-ending aspect of wrestling sets it apart from other entertainment forms...sometimes. On the other hand, there would be no equivalent of Ric Flair or Fit Finlay in other sports, someone at that age still performing well. There would be no Hulk Hogan or Vince McMahon performer role. If a wrestler can stay healthy, that is, they can perform much longer than in other genres.

In acting, it is even more senseless not to push veterans, though. When you think of the plight of older female actors and how few screen and television roles there are for them, it is especially a shame. In wrestling, at least there is a solid reason for valuing youth because most people aren't as good of performers after they pass a certain age. In the acting world, people arguably get better with time, which makes it a real shame when actors are tossed in that pile of bad parts like Steve Austin talks about.

Anonymous said...

Jesse Ventura maintains that the heat between him and Hulk Hogan had to do with Hogan ratting on Ventura trying to start up union talk. I'm not sure if Hogan has ever commented on it.

Wrestling, in many ways, is a much rougher rock n' roll. The economics of rock/pop music escapes the average eye: most people aren't told about the debt position that many major label artists start at. So for those that end up with a lot money, many end up famous for a year or two but not with nearly the money to show for it that everyone thought they had.

The difference, as pointed out here, is that the abuse wrestlers have to endure to maintain in their profession is basically unparalleled.

WCW tried to beat the WWF/E by using the "pay 'em lots of money to do less" contracts but it got to the point of irresponsibility (with dozens of wrestlers getting money and plane tickets to "Nitro" for doing nothing). One wonders if the company had INSTEAD gone public with an extensive insurance plan (which may have already existed) if it would have put the WWE in a different public relations situation. Whenver Vince was pressured about health benefits and unions, it wasn't like there was an opposing promotion that put the screws to him by publicizing a detailed health plan, etc.


Ismael said...

It's hard for me to feel sorry for wrestlers' money problems when they decide to retire. I don't know the exact situations, but it seems like they are just irresponsible with money during their careers. During the Owen Hart tribute, it was said that he was the cheapest guy around and he would often spend in a week what some guys would spend in a day. This tells me that wrestlers have to be conscious of their retirement plans while they have money and not wait until it's all gone to start complaining.

Sam Ford said...

It is important to remember that wrestlers don't have a 401K or pension plan. They are independent contractors, and when the money ends, it is gone. So wrestlers get used to living in a big house or having expensive things when they are on top, but few people are on top in the wrestling world for that long, so the money runs out. It's very interesting to see what post-wrestling careers former superstars find for themselves. I know Mr. Fuji takes tickets at a theater in Tennessee (BTW, WWE decided to have him start writing movie reviews for their magazine based on that.)