Could "The Wrestler" Unite Pro Wrestlers?

Tim SteinContributor IJanuary 27, 2009

The movie "The Wrestler" is getting much hype on the internet among what we call the "IWC" (Internet Wrestling Community). In fact, this attention has gotten to the point that the star of the movie, actor Mickey Rourke is expected to appear at this year's WrestleMania in a slightly different role than he has previously played.

We saw last Sunday at an awards ceremony that Rourke has basically admitted to not only preparing to wrestle, but is targeting WWE's Chris Jericho as his opponent.
The movie itself might help revive the "sports entertainment" venue of pro wrestling by bringing back "old" fans and in fact drawing new ones, but the fact that something director Darren Aronofsky mentioned in one, or some, of several promotional interviews for the flick has seemingly gone under the radar intrigues me.
It's very well-known in the industry and fairly well-known to fans that contracts that these athlete-entertainers sign with such federations as WWE and TNA, and most all of the other "minor-league" federations are heavily-laden clauses and exceptions, etc., that really favor the employer rather than the employee, including a no-compete clause we hear so much about.

This no-compete clause basically denies a fired ring grappler from plying his trade and making a living for three months. This can be a real hardship, especially if said released wrestler has an injury and has to pay out of his own pocket all medical expenses, since nowhere in these contracts is any stipulation to provide for these medical repairs.
It is also known to many that on several occasions the topic of a wrestlers' union has cropped up. There was even a recent lawsuit launched on the basis of a certain company paying medical expenses for injuries suffered "on the job." The idea of a wrestlers' union goes way back, way before Vince McMahon basically monopolized the business to the point that several point to him and the WWE for the decline in interest in the "sport."
In an effort to avoid certain taxes and levies in the majority of locations, as well as licensing, etc., the WWE has done a masterful job of moving pro wrestling out of the "sports arena" (pardon the pun) and into the realms of entertainment, basically turning his "performers" into, "actors", or at the very least "stuntmen" publicly.

Everyone knows nowadays that pro wrestling is an orchestrated play with a pre-determined outcome, but it wasn't always that way (this is where the term "kayfabe" is from, for the three of you reading this who didn't know). All of this was a very closely-kept secret in the wrestling world for decades.

Is it real? Is it fake? All you hard core fans know the story of the pro wrestler who beat the crap out of a tv talk-show host who asked those questions. The older ones will remember the "feud" between Andy Kaufmann and Jerry Lawler where Lawler at one point slapped Kaufmann on live late-night TV (The David Letterman Show) and Kaufmann swore on the air before storming off. It wasn't until the bio-pic Man In The Moon that most of us realized it was all a set-up (called a "work" in the business).
This is where the statement by the director of "The Wrestler" comes into play. As far as unions go, wrestlers are pretty much split, with the well-paid ones (the "top-carders") admitting they have no problems paying their own medical bills. The more vocal ones are the "mid-carders" and "curtain-jerkers" who don't have that top payday.

Now, unionizing a la the NFLPA or any other major sports' players union, has always failed spectacularly or never really gotten off the ground. However, Aronofsky's take on the subject deserves a lot more press than it has been given.
Since these pro wrestlers are now, thanks to McMahon and the WWE, considered more entertainers than athletes, what is to stop any of them from joining an already-established and very powerful union? Surely, their status in the entertainment industry allow them to qualify for membership in the Screen Actors' Guild (SAG).

As performers, this is what the vast majority of the "up-and-comers" as well as established stars of the sport should seriously look into.
As powerful as Vince McMahon is, he is nowhere near powerful enough to stand up to that union, and in fact his actions in turning his product into more entertainment than sport might be seen as the architect of this mass migration, if it were to ever come about. The idea I think deserves a lot of merit, and at least a gander at by those who could be affected by it. If it does happen, Vince will only have himself to thank. Or to blame.