Monday, July 9, 2007

How to Get Vince McMahon to Clean Up the Drug Problem in WWE

How do we get Vince McMahon to clean up the drug problem in WWE? Give him a financial incentive to do so.

In the wake of the Chris Benoit tragedy, pro wrestling has received an unprecedented amount of mainstream media coverage. A full two weeks after the grisly double murder/suicide, Chris Benoit appears on the cover of People Magazine, and Larry King Live plans to devote an entire hour to drug use in pro wrestling. Everyone is seeking answers to explain this horrific act.

Two key talking points have emerged in the discussions: rampant drug use (particularly steroids) among pro wrestlers, and the lack of an “off-season” – or any scheduled vacation at all – to recuperate from the rigors of the pro wrestling lifestyle. Some are calling for Congressional intervention. Others are calling for WWE owner Vince McMahon to step down. But if history is any indication, this story will blow over and nothing will change.

Change Must Come From The Top Down

We can glean from past actions and interviews that McMahon is fascinated with the muscled-up bodybuilder look, and gets incredibly defensive when people start pointing fingers at him. Despite numerous tragedies, he has shown little or no interest in making changes that would benefit the well-being of the wrestlers. The current “Wellness Policy” – put in place after the untimely death of Eddie Guerrero – is by all accounts nothing more than a PR move to show that the WWE is “testing.” So how do we get McMahon to enact real changes to improve the health of wrestlers? We have to give him a financial incentive to do so.

The May 14 issue of the Wrestling Observer newsletter outlined the major business changes made when WWE lost two headliners within the same week due to injuries commonly associated with steroid use. WWE champion The Undertaker had to abandon his planned long-term title reign, and up-and-comer Ken Kennedy lost his intended year-long title chase schedule to culminate at Wrestlemania. Editor Dave Meltzer made a very astute observation about the WWE’s Wellness Policy: a key goal of the policy should actually be to keep the wrestlers healthy. This is how we can get WWE to initiate positive changes in the industry: show McMahon that it is good for the bottom line.

It's Cheaper to Retain Stars Than it is to Create New Ones

Other industries have regular studies on the actual monetary cost of retaining employees versus training new ones. This is nothing new, yet no one in the mainstream media has made the connection to the pro wrestling industry. Consider this Who’s Who list of inactive WWE superstars:

Wrestlers who died while working for WWE:
Eddie Guerrero, Brian Pillman, Chris Benoit (not counting the dozens of active wrestlers who passed while not employed by WWE)

Main eventers who quit WWE due to demands of the industry:
Bill Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, Rob Van Dam, Chris Jericho, Big Show

Current WWE Superstars on the sideline due to injuries:
Triple H, Undertaker, Rey Mysterio, Shawn Michaels, Ken Kennedy

Recent WWE headliners forced to retire early due to injuries:
Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley, JBL

That list makes for quite the potential PPV lineup.

Think about that for one second. What is the present value of having these wrestlers healthy and active? What is the future value? These are real bottom-line numbers that can be calculated. With these figures, we can put a dollar value on the case for making positives changes to WWE. We can calculate the value of giving wrestlers time off. We can calculate the value for enforcing a stricter drug policy and suspending or firing those who fail. We can make a case to Vince McMahon, WWE, and its shareholders in a language they all can agree on: the bottom line.

Healthy Wrestlers are Good for Business

I challenge prominent pro wrestling journalists and the mainstream media to make this case. Come up with the numbers and get them out into the open. Vince McMahon’s past actions have not shown that he truly cares about the well-being of his wrestlers. But he does care about business. Let’s show him that keeping wrestlers healthy is good business.


Anonymous said...

The problem isn't with Vince - it's with the fans who have come to expect wrestlers to look like life-size action hero toys. Vince would change his policy today if the fans quit paying to watch his brand of entertainment; this is the same issue baseball faces with it's lax drug wanna see balls get hit outta the park, so baseball (until recently) has been very lazy about testing. The money ALWAYS comes first, so making a good case for a healthy athlete is a very good first step.

I believe establishing a wrestling "season" would be helpful toward promoting the integrity of this sport, and certainly would help maintain the health of the wrestlers. But at the end of the day, this is not a sport - it is scripted entertainment, through and through. There's nothing wrong with that, but when you go to see the circus, expect to see some drugged-up animals in the ring.

Anonymous said...

A very interesting article which points out something which I believe in the long term would benefit the industry as taking care of talent by taking them off the road would mean that the storywriters would have to plan angles way further in advance. Feuds could last longer and therefore be more meaningful to the viewers.

The ultimate payoff for these long drawn out feuds would come in the form of huge buyrates