August 12, 2012
Does wrestling need an off-season?
By MATTHEW BYER - SLAM! Wrestling
Vince McMahon has been quoted several times over the years proudly proclaiming that unlike the major professional sport leagues, professional wrestling has no "off-season" -- but is that a healthy thing?
In the past couple months both Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio violated the WWE Wellness Policy for a second time. The unconfirmed rumour swirling around is that when Orton was told about his suspension he wasn't particularly upset which infuriated WWE officials. If this is true then the real question has to be asked -- how much of a cause is the constant working and travelling in the WWE that led to the violation? Was Orton's reaction due in large part to the aforementioned schedule?
Prior to the 1980s when the WWE and WCW became large national and international wrestling promotions, the wrestling business was made up of smaller territorial promotions. The territorial promotions' wrestling season primarily ran from the fall to the following spring with the summertime as the off-season because it had been found that the number of fans attending shows during that time of year declined because most people were away on vacation. Whatever shows that ran in the summer were often "events", perhaps at the ballpark or, as in the case for Stampede Wrestling, tied into the massive Calgary Stampede every July.
This meant that the wrestlers could spend the summertime with their family and friends, recharge their batteries for the year ahead and heal their injuries incurred from performing in the ring. (Or they could get booked in summer-only territories, like the Canadian Maritimes or Northern Ontario, or find a territory that ran year-round.)
The territorial promotion also arguably led to less travel into various different time zones since the majority of the work was within the local territory. Consequently wrestlers could establish a home they could live in with their families near the headquarters of the territorial promotion. The benefit of this was that it enabled the wrestler to have a greater degree of continuity with their daily routine and the fatigue of travelling was less.
Now compare that to the situation which exists today with a company like the WWE. There is no off-season and wrestlers are constantly travelling all around the world. In some cases they have to perform in multiple time zones within a given week (or even a given day). The travel is constant and often involves lengthy flights between countries and continents. At best they get to see their friends and families only a couple of days a week. Due to the constant work schedule the time for healing from nagging injuries is negligible at best. It would only be once a major injury was incurred, that required surgery, that they are given time off.
Likely leading that kind of life for a couple of years would lead someone to feel isolated and cut off from the life they knew growing up, a good deal of loneliness, and burn out. It would probably put a strain on relationships with their significant others and their children. Some wrestlers would undoubtedly be able to deal with that sort of working environment better than others. Yet, those who perhaps from a personality point-of-view are more vulnerable, or who had greater trouble dealing with the physical pain their bodies suffered from performing in the ring, would be sorely tempted to turn to things such as drugs and alcohol in order to cope. The lack of being able to sleep in your own bed and instead having to check into a strange hotel room would mean having to accept that you didn't have a place of your own where you could lick your wounds and feel safe.
How many wrestlers from the 1980s, 1990s and now the 2000s have we heard about passing away? The list at times seems endless. Why is it that the list of wrestlers from the 1970s and earlier who have passed away a young age seems so much smaller? The only conclusion I can reach is that wrestling under the territorial promotions in many ways may have been healthier in comparison to an international promotion such as the WWE, and there were certainly more wrestlers making a full-time living at the sport. It may not be the only one, but that change has to have been a factor in the seeming increase in the death toll of wrestlers from the last 30 years.
An off-season would likely not solve all the problems a wrestler faced. Still, it would help. Giving a wrestler more time to spend with their support network would lead them to not feel as isolated, which in turn would lead them to feeling less tempted to find other ways to cope with their loneliness.
And there is the inherent benefit in the wrestler being away for a while and the fans missing them, and marking out for the surprise return.
If the WWE is serious about its Wellness Program the best thing it could do is establish an off-season for their wrestlers. The end result would likely prolong several wrestlers' careers and give the creative writers of the WWE the time to properly formulate long-term storylines. As for television programming, in the WWE's case, it has a ton of footage in its libraries from not only the WWE, but WCW, ECW, and countless others which could be used during an off-season.
Matthew Byer is a Senior Project Manager who lives in Victoria, BC. He hopes that the idea of an off-season for professional wrestling is given serious consideration for the welfare of everyone involved in the industry.