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READER ALERT: For all the latest wrestling happenings, check out our News & Rumours section.

About that kids' wrestling controversy


By MICHAEL JENKINSON -- Edmonton Sun
From the "duh" files comes this late-breaking story: Professional wrestling is crude, rude and violent. People are tuning in the World Wrestling Federation's flagship program Raw is War on TSN and not liking what they see.

The content of the WWF's programming has been big news in Winnipeg of late as the local school board and teachers association lobby TSN to move Raw to a late time slot so that kids can't watch it. Right now, it's available in prime time Monday nights and most Tuesdays after school.

This became a national story last week when the National Post ran a big write-up on what the WWF puts on the air, how kids are responding (surprise, they're copying the wrestlers' crude mannerisms and lingo) and what TSN and the WWF are doing about it (not lots).

I have some sympathy for the Winnipeg school board. Kids today can be a handful without teachers having to worry that they're going to yell DeGeneration X's catch-phrases during math class.

Even as a long-time wrestling fan, I have no problem admitting the WWF often exceeds the boundaries of good taste and sometimes outright offends me. Anyone unfortunate enough to subject themselves to the Undertaker's crucifying of Steve Austin on Raw in December could attest to that.

But while the Winnipeg educators no doubt honestly want a solution to the problem of kids yelling, "We got two words for you ..." some context is needed.

First, let's jettison this notion that wrestling was once noble and virtuous. For example, Winnipeg principal Bob Davies told the National Post that when he watched wrestling, "I thought the content was fun and predictable." He now proclaims himself "horrified" at how much it has changed.

Except it hasn't changed. Or at least, no more so than the rest of our culture, which is now far more open to all sorts of crudity, sexual innuendo and low-brow behaviour than in the past.

Today, teachers and parents might complain about the antics of the supposed porn-star turned wrestler Val Venis. But 15 years ago, the "space mountain" interviews Ric Flair gave were at least as risque for that time.

Wrestlers bashing each other with chairs has been a staple of the sport for as long as I can remember. Homophobia isn't the invention of current WWF performer Goldust. "Adorable" Adrian Adonis pulled that emotional heartstring in the 1980s. Gorgeous George did it before I was born.

Racism? Abounding in wrestling's past. Whooping Indians doing their war dance. Shrieking Arabs calling down the wrath of Allah. Subservient blacks toadying up to white masters. Sexism? Randy Savage and Elizabeth. Ric Flair and, well, every woman he's ever encountered.

The other contextual point is that this is a problem now only because wrestling is the cool thing to watch. While wrestling always has its base of hardcore fans who watch no matter what, its standing in pop culture waxes and wanes. Right now, wrestling is red hot. So kids are imitating wrestlers.

Inevitably, wrestling will cool off just like it did after previous peaks, and the controversy over its programming will fade away on its own.

The contents of Raw is War may now be a national story, but it isn't national news. Neither the Alberta Teachers Association nor Edmonton Public Schools have heard any complaints regarding wrestling-related problems with students.

In the meantime the WWF should not rest easy. One of its biggest critics is from Alberta: Bret Hart, the former five-time WWF champion who now wrestles for Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling. Bret has done what any responsible parent would do. He doesn't let his kids watch Raw. Neither do I.

Ah, you say, but not all parents are that responsible. Indeed. That's why kids go to school imitating wrestlers. The problem isn't irresponsible kids, but irresponsible parents. There's not a school board out there with the solution to that.

Michael Jenkinson is a columnist with the Edmonton Sun, and can be reached by e-mail at mj@the-newsroom.com.
His homepage is at http://www.the-newsroom.com.
This column originally ran in the Edmonton Sun on February 1, 1999.