Bob Magee
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets

A groundbreaking story was reported this weekend by ESPN on its Outside the Lines show regarding prescription drug addiction by retired NFL players. The statistics in the study read much like the endless stories of those in wrestling addicted to somas, prescription painkillers, alcohol, other drugs, or combinations of several as painkillers. The study was conducted by researchers at Washington University/St. Louis School of Medicine, is the first of such use by former NFL players.

In the study, the following statistics were recorded:

  • 52 percent of the retired players said they used prescription pain medication during their playing days. Of those, 71 percent said they misused the drugs then, and 15 percent of the misusers acknowledged misusing the medication within the past 30 days.
  • Those who misused prescription painkillers while playing were three times more likely to misuse the drugs today than those who used the pills as prescribed while playing.
  • 63 percent of the retired players who used prescription pain pills while playing obtained the medications from a nonmedical source: a teammate, coach, trainer, family member, dealer or the Internet.
  • When asked about their prescription painkiller use within the past 30 days, 7 percent of the retired players surveyed said they either used more prescription pain medication than prescribed by their doctors, used the medication without a prescription at all, or both. This figure is seven times more than the national average for abuse of these drugs.
  • Of those former NFL players who said they did not currently use prescription painkillers within the past 30 days, 8 percent had 20 or more drinks in that same period. Of the retired players who said they misused opioids in the past 30 days, 27 percent had 20 or more drinks in that same time period.
  • Of the retired players who admitted to misusing prescription painkillers within the past 30 days, 98 percent said they suffered from undiagnosed concussions compared with 79 percent of those players who did not currently use prescription pain medication.

    All this, even with the fact that the NFL is known as having one of the stronger drug testing programs in professional sports. When asked for comment, Dr. Lawrence S. Brown, the NFL’s medical adviser for substances of abuse, explained that ” it was scintifically flawed” to compare the drug use of athletes to the avereage person. In other words, the NFL has basically said “well of course they use drugs, they are football players”.

    WWE has its Wellness Program, with drug rehabilitation offered to past WWE talent (which has been a great help to many); yet addiction issues are still prevalent. There has been of course, no such study of professional wrestlers, largely because WWE still refuses to recognize its employees as employees, and still engages in the “independent contractor” charade which allowed the company (until the Benoit family tragedy) to take a largely hands-off approach to drug use.

    It’s only within the last few months that use of somas has been banned by WWE, even with a prescription. Mind you, if one form of pain medication has been banned…wrestlers may well go to another. As the NFL study above showed, alcohol isn’t just a recreational drug anymore, but a painkilling medication of choice for some.

    In both forms of sports/entertainment, there is a culture where tolerance of pain is necessary to peform. While on one hand players/performers are being told to notify team/company management of injuries…they also know that their pay is dependent on performance. Anything that will get in the way of performing is “managed” through use of painkilling drugs or alcohol.

    Until a change of some type is made in the WWE schedule (or the NFL schedule), to rotate performers/athletes in and out from TV, and provide an opportunity for bodies to naturally heal, these drugs will continue to be abused.

    Until next time…

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