As recent as last Thursday, Twitter and various social media networks reported that Mike Jones, known to WWE and WCW fans as Virgil and Vince, was seen selling autographed and glossy photos of himself for as cheap as five dollars at a Grand Central train station in New York City.
One of professional wrestling’s most recognizable faces of the ’80s and ‘90s; Jones’ plight is confirmation of a sad fact only real wrestling fans know.
The industry builds characters and spits them out. If you’re not smart with your money, you, just like Jones, will have serious trouble later in life. While this can happen to anyone, in any profession, the dangers of pro wrestling are unlike any other. Unlike another dangerous sport the likes of professional football, where athletes go to college and usually have backup plans after their playing careers are over, many pro wrestlers don’t. There’s no WWE Players Association; there’s no governing body to protect their rights.
In pro wrestling, it’s you vs. the world.
It’s a mentality that will eventually kill this business the same way it has taken far too many stars in the prime of their lives.
Scott Hall once said Chief Jay Strongbow told him you can either make friends in the wrestling business or make money. Sure, money has to be made in any profession, but some realistic focus needs to be given to performers to what comes after wrestling. Unless you are Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair, professional wrestling isn’t a job you have for an extended period of time. And not everyone can become an actor like The Rock or a successful yoga instructor and motivational speaker like Diamond Dallas Page or even a trainer like Johnny Rodz after their days of active competing are over. Most workers aren’t nearly as lucky. Many have a difficult time readjusting to society after their performing days are over. It’s the reason why the suicide rates in pro wrestling are insanely high.
Jones’ plight may be funny to some, but it’s another example that something has to be done. Who knows what Jones did with the hundreds of thousands he made from over a decade in the sport. The larger question remains however: Was he ever instructed, in any way, about how to save for the future or plan? Now, ask yourself this: is it the WWE’s job to provide him with those options?
Do you have a 401k and a retirement package at your job? Chances are yes. Many of you get paid time off and even are instructed to use your vacation days. That doesn’t happen in professional wrestling. The stars of TNA and WWE and other promotions are modern-day warriors and amazons. They battle fatigue, sickness and injury for your entertainment.
They deserve better. The WWE tries to take care of some of their downtrodden current and former workers by offering drug rehabilitation, but they need to educate their workers more of the dangers that await them in the real world while the company employs them.
In a world like professional wrestling that is politically motivated and where the educated are outnumbered by those who’d die for any opportunity to “make it,” it’s fair to say that the idea of giving their workers an opportunity to climb the intellectual ladder will never be in the WWE or any other professional wrestling companies’ plans.
Roddy Piper once advocated for a retirement plan for wrestlers. Sadly, the idea never got off the ground. Even charity organizations run to benefit retired wrestlers have been proven to be anything but. Just ask another ‘80s star, James “Kamala” Harris. Another performer in such a bad way physically that he needs all the help he can get. Instead, the poor guy was a victim of a fund-raising scam, one that was run in his name.
The whole purpose of having a career in pro wrestling, or any profession, is to make enough money so you can retire at your best. But that rarely happens. Men and women destroy their bodies and minds and stay in this business far too long. Simply put, it’s not Vince McMahon, Dixie Carter or any other promoter’s fault. The facts are out there. These are grown men and women that understand the risks they take. However, from a company perspective, major organizations would benefit immensely from giving their stars financial management classes, life insurance opportunities and even a chance to take online classes.
For far too long the wrestling industry has taken advantage of people’s bodies that were all too willing to mark out to themselves. If the WWE and TNA took the time to prepare their workers for what comes after wrestling, there would be far less Mike Joneses out there.
There may even be a few less Mike Awesomes and Chris Benoits.