March 26, 2005
WWE's soft sideCompany compassionate with addiction issues
By TJ MADIGAN - Calgary Sun
Wrestling will probably never be considered a classy business. The industry's reputation is so deeply entangled in its sordid history of steroids, sex abuse, crooks and con men, that many spectators simply write it off as a flashy freak show -- a modern day Smackdown and Gomorrah.
While these criticisms were undoubtedly true in the past, today's WWE is an entirely different animal. Yes, the company still has its problems, but there's also another side of Vince McMahon's empire that very few people get to see.
Many wrestling old timers still pick up cheques from WWE each month, not because they perform any necessary corporate function, but simply because McMahon is a nice guy.If you hear about a WWE star visiting Make-A-Wish kids, chances are they are sacrificing their only day off to be there, and are not getting one red cent for the appearance.
Many other acts of compassion take place on a regular basis, without any fanfare or ulterior motives. One of the least publicised of these is the company's unofficial procedure on "personal problems", which is the politically correct way of saying drug issues. MLB may be under the microscope right now, but make no mistake about it, wrestling has always led the pack when it comes to the 'roided up reputation. Anyone who followed the genre in the 80s knows the stigma is somewhat deserved, but there are also countless cases where WWE went above and beyond to help their talent kick drug habits.
Look at it this way. If a wrestler develops a serious substance abuse problem, they become a liability. The last thing WWE wants is to be splashed across the front pages because one of their employees OD'd in a hotel room. The smart corporate choice would be to release the offending wrestler and distance themselves as much as possible from the potential public relations disaster. Instead, they often tackle the problem head-on.
Many wrestlers, some of whom no longer even worked for the company, made it through life or death battles with drugs and alcohol because WWE not only footed the bill for rehab, but also offered them moral support and a chance to get back on their feet financially when they recovered.
Eddie Guerrero is one of those grapplers.
He nearly lost it all -- his family, his job, and even his life -- but because WWE offered him help instead of letting him self destruct, he made it through and is now back on top of the world.
"I know Vince McMahon genuinely cares for people when they're sick," Guerrero told the Sun this week. "That's a side of WWE you never hear about. The media focuses on the negative, and it's unfortunate because WWE does so much good work that never gets exposed."
Of course, there's only so much WWE can do to help. The rest is up the wrestler.
"You have to want to be helped," Guerrero said. "Vince will give you the opportunity but he's not going to force it down your throat. He gives people opportunities to help themselves." Sadly, wrestling is a business where many people require that opportunity. "Even I myself have questioned why these things happen so much in wrestling. It's just a very difficult lifestyle. The demands on you personally are so tremendous, that if you go into this business, you better be ready to live it."
It may have been a bumpy road, but Guerrero is now finally ready to live it. He turned his life around, reunited with his family, and achieved his ultimate career goal -- winning the WWE championship at No Way Out last year. He currently works for the Smackdown brand, a job he loves so much, he wouldn't even consider trading to the more successful Monday Night Raw franchise.
"I'm always looking for new challenges, but I love the Smackdown crew and I love the guys. Even if I got a chance to go to Raw, loyalty comes first. I would be loyal to Smackdown."
Guerrero will wrestle Rey Mysterio at Wrestlemania 21 on Sunday, April 3. His DVD biography, 'Cheating Death, Stealing Life', is available now.