It’s Getting Harder and Harder to Breathe

“I think hockey is stupid.”

I was sitting with some friends last night in our local watering hole watching (or for me, ignoring) the hometown Capitals beat the Flyers. After being stared down by one of my companions, I explained that I didn’t know anything about hockey until I was in college, and the first game I ever watched was a 2008 Sabres/Panthers game that resulted in a player getting clipped in the throat with a rogue skate blade. (Please give me a moment while I lay down and recover from that visual.)

As I went on about the ridiculous danger of sports (which I concede are ALL already dangerous) adding a sharp weapon to the mix is a preposterous idea. My companion had several arguments but she expertly steered the conversation to wrestling.

“Wasn’t Seth Rollins just hurt?” she asked. Yes, but a little to the left, a little to the right, he would have been more or less injured, but not died. “But it’s not like people have NEVER died from wrestling, right?” Alright, listen – that’s not what we’re talking about.

But it is.

I was trying to explain earlier in the day to the same friend about how I ditched an entire blogpost about the kayfabe implications about babyface characters congratulating a heel tag team for winning the belts on social media. I get a lot of grief from people about harping on the necessity of kayfabe in pro-wrestling, particularly in this “reality era”, but I think it’s never been more important. Kayfabe creates parameters for the storytelling aspect of professional wrestling, and if used correctly it could create a clear separation for those inside the business between where the gimmick ends and the human being begins. When I explained to my hockey-loving pal why this was so important, I asked her if she could name an actor whose death was intrinsically tied their becoming too deeply a part of a character they were portraying. She very easily came up with Heath Ledger’s name – and he’s not the only one.

The human psyche is a complex and fragile thing. We know so little about the human brain when we consider how important it is. One of the things we do know is how vast its potential to destroy us is. With mental illness still such a stigmatized disease in our society (whether it be hereditary, developed, or inflicted through an outside source) it is difficult for us to discuss the ramifications of environments that encourage the blurring of personalities between the real and the perceived. When this becomes paired with physical trauma (including head injuries like concussions) the potential for death grows exponentially.

When my dinner companion brought up wrestling deaths last night, I wasn’t thinking of Eddie Guerrero (though, of course, I am today.) I wasn’t thinking about Chris Benoit (which is another post that, hopefully, I will one day possess the strength to write.) I thought of Owen Hart. I thought of a literal wrestling death. Someone who died in the ring. But I didn’t think, in that moment, about the trail of deaths – not just the 30-somethings, but the men in their 60’s who should have lived to their 80’s – that this industry has left in its wake.

Maybe it’s time to start thinking about the potential for mental injury to be just as dangerous as an ice hockey skate to the throat. After all, mental injury certainly has a higher body count.

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