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Steroids: Not the Only Problem in Professional Wrestling


Steroids: Not the Only Problem in Professional Wrestling
(c) Thomas Emma

The following is an e-mail I received from Thomas Emma. Thomas is a former team captain of the Duke Blue Devils basketball team. He is the founder of Power Performance, Inc., a company that specializes in training athletes in strength, conditioning, and performance-enhancement techniques.

Steroids: Not the Only Problem in Professional Wrestling

Okay, I finally have had enough of the coverage of the steroid endemic in professional wrestling. My problem is not that media has brought to the forefront steroid abuse among wrestling performers (a good thing), but that they seem to blame each and every premature wrestler death on the drug. Case and point, during a recent cable television legal show where commentators and their guests were discussing steroids and professional wrestling (mostly in relation to the Chris Benoit murder/suicide case) a list of the four dozen or so wrestlers who died in the past 10 to 15 years under the age of 50 would scroll down the screen every few minutes. The insinuation, of course, was that all these athletes died mysteriously of some unknown illness most likely linked to steroids. This is far from the case. While steroid abuse may very well have contributed to some or even a slight majority of the listed wrestling deaths (the medical community has by and large not confirmed this link, however) many of the premature fatalities had absolutely nothing to do with the drug. Two names that jumped out at me immediately were Andre the Giant and Bruiser Brody.

The 7'4" (listed) 520 lb. (confirmed) Andre Giant actually dealt with a condition called Acromegaly (sometimes referred to a Giantism) that caused his body to produce huge amounts of growth hormone year after year, thus making him grow up and then out to enormous proportions throughout his life. In essence, his body did naturally what steroids and its cousin in the muscle building family Human Growth Hormone (HGH) were designed to do: increase testosterone levels. To think that Andre would add to his problem by taking steroids or other growth related drugs is ridiculous to say the least. On top of this, the Giant eschewed the weight room and never pumped iron throughout his wrestling career. As anyone in the sports or strength and conditioning world knows without lifting weights the “positive” physical byproducts of steroid use (increased strength, power, and muscle mass) don’t come to pass. Andre the Giant may have consumed prodigious quantities of food, drank massive amounts of alcohol (he was rumored to have imbibed 144 12-ounce cans of beer in a single sitting!), and loved the night life, but did he abuse steroids? Not a chance!

Now on to Bruiser Brody. Unlike Andre the Giant, the massive Brody was an avid weightlifter and, according to his recently published biography, experimented with steroids in the late 1970's before they were known to cause health problems. But his use was short lived, as he felt that while steroids helped him build additional strength and muscle, they didn’t agree with his constitution. Bruiser Brody was well known in wrestling circles as a health freak, eating canned tuna and green beans on road trips while his counterparts filled up on fast food and beer. If steroids were bothering his system, it’s not a stretch to think he would give them up regardless of what they did to enhance his physique and strength.

The above is moot when it comes the demise of Bruiser Brody, however. He was stabbed in a wrestling locker room by a fellow wrestler prior to a card in Puerto Rico. Brody died shortly thereafter at a nearby hospital. There was some speculation that his blood wouldn’t clot from the wound due to his high level of aspirin intake causing him to bleed to death. This sad story certainly doesn’t speak highly of professional wrestling business, especially on the island of Puerto Rico, but it also is a case where a prominent wrestler’s death had absolutely nothing to do with steroids.

And, as you may have already guessed, the scrolling list included others who’s premature deaths were not steroid related. Adrian Adonis died in a car accident on rout to a wrestling card. Owen Hart from the famous Hart wrestling family which includes his legendary brother, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, succumbed to a misguided in-ring stunt. John Tenta (a.k.a. Earthquake), Jerry “Crusher” Blackwell, The Big Boss Man, and Bam Bam Bigelow were extremely huge men, all tipping the scales at over or near 400 lbs. during their wrestling careers. The life spans of 400 plus pound individuals, wrestlers or not, are markedly shorter than the average. The excess weight carried by these wrestlers certainly had something to do with their premature deaths. This is not to say that any or all of these four didn’t abuse drugs (I have no way of knowing for sure), but from the looks of their collective physiques, steroids and HGH were not their drugs of choice. The above mentioned wrestlers I suspect are not the only ones on the scrolling list that died of something other than steroid abuse.

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