As I write this Labor Day article, this is my last day. It is my last day of summer. I am sure that few of you are feeling sorry for me, the high school teacher, who has to return to work after nearly three full months off. This summer I rested a great deal, went to a teaching workshop in Birmingham and took some college classes. It was a lot of fun and I feel ready to return to school.
After all I am about to start nine months of a sixty-hour plus workweeks. It is non-stop and pretty stressful. My day doesn’t end at 5 p.m. or on weekends; it goes straight from September through June. There are no nights and weekends off from at least some work. By the time summer rolls around, I am mentally and physical exhausted.
It is in those last days of the school year when it is hard to grade those final essays, I think of professional wrestlers. Strange I know but when I am getting close to a much-needed break, I think of those who don’t get one ever.
They are on the road generally Friday through Tuesday. They rush home on Wednesday and maybe have Thursday off and begin the process all over. They seem to be physically and emotionally exhausted at times. When most wrestlers get into there 30’s, they seem to go down for months with bad knees, necks or elbows. They need a break. No human can go 300 plus days with burning out, especially if you are on the road during that time. Many wrestlers have quit the business, Brock Lesnar for example, because they tie of the constant grind.
On August 27, ESPN’s Bill Simmons had a length podcast discussion with author David Shoemaker about all things wrestling. You can listen to it here. One of the parts that stood out to me was the quick discussion of an off-season. As we get closer to the Triple H-Stephanie Era, we have seen some changes for the better for the worker’s health in professional wrestling. We have additional safety precautions at the new performance center, a wellness policy and required time off for concussions. The health of the wrestler is being looked at like never before. Can we take that next step of an off-season? Let’s examine a few of the angles for this idea and some simple compromises that could assist the wrestler’s long term.
The Corporate View
Obviously the management loves having no off-season. Sure they make most of their money based on their television deals and the monthly pay per views but even house show revenue is great.
Your average house show will clear about 200,000 in revenue not including merchandise sales. However the value goes beyond the short-term revenue. Most fans cannot afford to travel far to see a show; the constantly touring house show market is creating new young fans. It is financially a smart business model. They can travel to places that the major team sports cannot. Seeing your favorite wrestler in person is certainly going to be more exciting then watching him or her on television every week.
While I am sure wrestlers would like some time off to be with their family and friends, they understand the nature of the business. An injury can destroy your career and thus affect your wallet. Mark Henry, mainly because of injuries, was not trusted with many main event runs early in his career. By the time of his late career renaissance, he had to take a massive pay cut to stay employed in the WWE. It provides incentive to stay working even through hurt. You could lose your chance to the next guy.
The WWE still seems to have an outdated mentality of “tough guys work hurt”. John Cena gained a lot of respect for working with a torn triceps injury at Summerslam. Sin Cara however gets heat for stopping after a painful dislocation on his hand. In a business were literally dozens of wrestlers dropped dead because of pain killer addiction; you think the “tough guy” mentality would change. But fear of the financial loss leads to the breaking down of our wrestlers and refusal to take care of their own well being.
I think there should be some level of compromise. The WWE makes too much money on pay per view and television deals to simply take two months completely off. I don’t think I would personally mind especially right at this time a year but I think I am in the minority. We are getting good storylines right now but we have a crowded landscape with the return of the NFL, NBA and college football. It is always a down time for the WWE and this is where the break of some sort should naturally come into play.
Simmons in his podcast suggests one possible solution, the forced vacation. Everyone needs a break to recharge his or her batteries. In the WWE, the only way to get a break is to recover from injury. I am sure we all notice most times the wrestler return from break fresh and rejuvenated. Even a few weeks off could help the physical and mental well being of the performers. If the WWE mandated a few weeks off a year, it would improve the wrestler’s long-term health. They could heal their wounds and reconnect with family and friends. I believe it has to be mandatory or the wrestlers wouldn’t run the risk of taking time off. Would it matter too much if a wrestler took off say two weeks? With a roster numbers in the hundreds between the main and developmental roster, we won’t have a problem with the show going on with the rotation of breaks.
Another simple solution it taking off a few months of WWE house shows. Usually business drops during this busy sports fall season, why not use it to your performer’s advantage? I would propose no house shows for all of September and October. You would still have your workers doing the two nights of work a week but give them a much-needed break on weekends. With the audience either going back to school or focusing on pro sports, the WWE sees a significant drop in television ratings and revenue in the early fall. It wouldn’t hurt the financial line to lessen the work schedule during this traditional slow period. You still would have a chance at the holiday house show money in the following months but you would have wrestlers more refreshed for the busy Road to WrestleMania season.
Professional sports are looking at the health of their athletes more then ever before. We are looking at the long-term health effects of a career in violent world of sports. However while the NFL gets months to recover each year from their brutal games, wrestlers experience the wear and tear over 300 days a year. And the lists of early deaths remind me they need a break too. I would rather see my favorite wrestler thriving and enjoying a retirement then being forced to squeeze in another meaningless house show. We all deserve some time off.