No Gimmick Required
Wrestling Is STILL Not A Sport
…But that doesn’t mean you can’t pretend that it is.
by Raywat Deonandan
October 17, 2002
This column is a regular feature on 411wrestling.com. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission.
“you don’t see the point in watching sports yet you write a column about professional wrestling? f@ck you, a$$hole.” –Illmatic760@aol.com
(Profanity edited, since this is a family site, God damn it!)
Parents, please, I implore you: don’t let your retarded children use the computer!
I tells ya, I’m really getting a kick out of having (quasi) complete HTML control over these columns. The following is linked from www.mugshots.org. Ever notice how much Pee Wee Herman looks like X-Pac?
You know, it’s getting increasingly more difficult to watch professional wrestling, at least now when WWE is the only nationally televised product available to us. (NWA/TNA doesn’t count until it’s on free TV.) As storylines get weaker, other networks have found good ways to steal away wrestling’s core audience. Myself, I’m seduced by SciFi’s Stargate marathon every Monday night. Yes, I have a VCR and can theoretically tape one show while watching the other. But, really, why go to so much trouble just to watch “Kane is a murderer”?
Getting back to the above email from “Illmatic” (Criminy, what a goober), let me say this. A lot of time is spent in kinesiology faculties trying to define “sport.” The discussion usually begins by examing so-called sports like golf, bowling and even snooker. Professional wrestling almost never enters the analysis. Sure, it’s more physically demanding than golf, bowling and snooker, but it lacks the one element that unifies the rest: lack of foreknowledge of the outcome. In other words, overt competition.
Yes, there is a kind of competition at work, as wrestlers vie for bigger and better crowd pops. But it’s not a zero-sum affair. In a sport, there must be at least one loser for every winner. If crowd pops are the determinant of winning in wrestling parlance, then conceivably everyone can win all the time. That’s like handing out superbowl rings to the losing team, or letting all the countries have gold medals ’cause they were all part of the entertainment effort.
Over at www.puroresu.com (which is a respectably well-maintained site, by the way), there used to be this quote from an old-time wrestler: “work or shoot, it’s still competition.” Maybe, but I’m not convinced. I have no doubt that professionals of any stripe “compete” with one another for supremacy in their industry. But, in wrestling, such competition does not define the timbre, intent or spectacle of the product, and hence does not satisfy the sportive requirements. If it did, then vacuum salesmanship would also be a sport, as would criminal law. (Mind you, I’d gladly pay to watch the practice of law as an Olympic event. Zimbabwe would kick ass, dammit, because they make up the laws as they go.)
Well, if wrestling isn’t a sport, what is it? As I’ve been saying since I started this column, it’s “athletic theatre.” Its only relationship with true professional sport is a demographic one: fans of one tend to be fans of the other, and participants of one are often participants of the other. At least that’s the general belief. I have a sneaking suspicion that that overlap is overestimated. Just look at the XFL debacle, which was supposed to harness the innate sport-lovingness (yes, I just made up that word) of the wrestling audience to fuel a football league. There was no appreciable transfer of viewership. Also, look at the minimal effect Monday Night Football has had on Raw’s ratings: the TV audiences don’t overlap all that much anymore.
Nope, I think the wrestling-sport relationship is waning. Wrestling audiences are more apt to be rabid fans of other fictional television products, like Buffy or Star Trek or Law & Order, than of a particular professional sport. I have no statistics to back this up, so I could very well be completely wrong. But this is my column, so my theories rule!
Now, current literacy levels being what they are, someone is bound to write to me and complain that “you can’t do the stuff that they do, so shut up!” Seriously, I sometimes get email like this. See above for my generic response. There seems to be an impression that just because something is difficult, it must be either art or sport. Let me paraphrase Chris Rock: driving with your feet, while difficult, is nonetheless possible. It doesn’t mean it’s a good idea or that it deserves to be an Olympic event.
On that note, I’ll stop here and await the email (both the intelligent kind and the “Illmatic” juvenile nonsense.) Visit me at www.deonandan.com.