Saturday, June 30, 2007

Knee-jerk gun control, Isakson-style.

And by "guns," I mean "biceps":

Everything is planned. The high-flying moves. The outlandish story lines, The crackpot characters.

One thing isn't in the script: the staggering number of pro wrestlers who die young.

Chris Benoit was the latest, taking his own life at age 40 after killing his wife and son in a grisly case that might be the blackest eye yet for the pseudo-sport already ridiculed as nothing more than comic books come to life, a cult-like outlet for testosterone-ragin' young males to cheer on their freakishly bulked-up heroes. . . .

Isakson said his main concern is steroid abuse.

"I'm not going to start speculating on federal regulation of wrestling," he said. "The issue is anabolic steroids, which are a significant problem and are known to cause significant difficulties. It's a health issue that's appropriate for us to discuss, regardless of the profession."

Now, I'm not saying that this isn't a worthwhile issue for Congress to address, but really - a man shoots his wife and child, then himself, and the issue of interest to Johnny Isakson isn't mental illness, or domestic violence, or gun violence. It's steroid abuse.

But as long as Junior Senator Johnny is on the subject of issues tangentially related to recent pro-wrestling tragedy, I'll join him. From the same article:

How many more must pass through the morgue before everyone stands up and shouts: Enough's enough?

"From my 17 years in the business, I know probably 40 to 45 wrestlers who dropped dead before they were 50," said Lance Evers, a semiretired wrestler who goes by "Lance Storm" when he's in the ring. "It's an astronomical number."

Then, he added in a voice tinged with anger and sadness, "I'm sick and tired of it."

Over the years, there are been numerous proposals to put wrestling under some sort of oversight, be it at the state or federal level. Those ideas usually have fallen on deaf ears, largely because the powers-that-be, be it the old-time regional promoters or WWE owner Vince McMahon, the guy who largely controls the sport today, don't want the government telling them how to run their business.

Jim Wilson, who parlayed pro football into a ring career, says he was blackballed when he began pushing for a wrestler's union. Since then, he has written a book about his experiences and kept up the push to rein in those who govern the sport.

Although Wilson's battle often has been a lonely one, he says Benoit's death might reinvigorate the cause.

A union could be a useful tool for cleaning up the sport. It might lead to a pension plan, improved benefits, more stringent health and safety guidelines and a revamped pay structure that would allow wrestlers to spend more time at home without risking a pay cut.

Now, most top wrestlers get a guaranteed salary, but the bulk of their income is based on how often they compete. That leads some to feel they must get in the ring while injured, often with the aid of painkillers and other numbing chemicals.

And much like rock stars, plenty of wrestlers have fallen victim to excessive partying, alcohol and drug dependency, and marital problems during grueling stints on the road.

"My longest run was 79 days in a row without a day off," said Joe Laurinaitis, the wrestler known as Road Warrior Animal and father of Ohio State football star James Laurinaitis. "It's not as bad now. They've got good guys running the WWE. Still, we need to take a look at it when things like this (the Benoit murder-suicide) are happening. Guys are still overworked."

That's why Wilson's calling for Congress to hold hearings on the wrestling industry, much like it investigated doping in professional sports and just this past week heard from ex-NFL players who believe they're being shortchanged on their pensions.

"In those other sports, they aren't dropping like flies like they are in the wrestling business," Wilson said. "Now is the time to push for legislation nationally."

Here we have a job rife with the abuse of its workers - drug use, unsafe working conditions, bad hours, and bad wages. And when one of its workers tries to form a union to end that abuse? He's fired.

Situations like this are exactly the reason that legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act is necessary. It would strengthen punishments for union-busting employers like the WWE, and it would cut red tape that prevents workers from forming unions.

So, where does Junior Senator Johnny stand on the Employee Free Choice Act? Like the rest of our Republican Congressional delegation, he opposes it. Yes, in the wake of unconscionable workplace abuse, our Junior Senator would rather hold vanity hearings on steriod abuse by workers than give those workers the power to change the very working conditions that promote that abuse.