Standing at the Edge: Infectious

Submitted by Chris Brosnahan on February 1, 2006 - 7:04pm
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There have been two major stories in recent weeks that have drawn my attention. Chances are that you've heard at least one of the stories - one has been verified completely; the other hasn't. However, both stories contain very similar elements.

This is the first story.

Samoa Joe has had to pull out a few Ring of Honor shows, due to a severe staph infection. He doesn't want to pass it on to other wrestlers, plus, of course, it's going to be very uncomfortable for him to wrestle with it.

A Staph infection can be serious, however it doesn't sound like Joe's infection is overly so, thankfully. A Staph Infection is what happens when staphylococcus aureus bacteria (a generally common bacteria) gets underneath the skin (via either a cut, or a break in the skin), and infects that area. They are generally red and irritating at first, but if they do not get treated early, they can spread, and become far more dangerous (especially if it gets near your heart, where it can cause clotting); not to mention the fact that the bacteria becomes ripe ground for other, more dangerous, infections and illnesses. The most common result from staph infections are large, pus-filled abcesses (Joe's is about the size of a large marble, which is enough to be classed as 'severe').

This is the second story.

Cowboy Bob Orton Jr. recently informed John Laurinaitis that he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C as a teenager. Laurinaitis didn't take it overly seriously, and told Orton not to worry about it. Orton promptly accompanied his son to the ring in a Hell in a Cell match against The Undertaker. During the match, 'Taker bled copiously, Randy bled copiously, and Bob Orton bled copiously - all over the other two at one point. Undertaker is now absolutely furious, hence why we haven't seen him on television since. (This, incidentally, is the unverified story).

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis virus - now, if the hepatitis virus actually infects the liver, that's it - you've got it the virus for life. It's not usually life threatening, however it can be, and it is also a cause of other serious issues, not least of which would be a weakened liver,screwed up blood clotting, and a high chance of catching other infections. Between fifity five and eighty five percent of people who get Hepatitis C do so chronically. Chronic Hepatitis C leads to Chronic Liver Disease seventy percent of the time, and of that seventy percent, it can be fatal up to five percent of the time.

Now, I'm not interested in debating the validity of the second story (since the first story comes directly from Ring of Honor, and Samoa Joe's livejournal, I'm going to take the risk and class that one as being true.). It may be true, it may not be. However, whether it is true or not, it is what led to me thinking down a certain path, that - when I heard about Joe's condition the following week - led me to think about the situation quite seriously.

Professional Wrestling needs to be safer.

It's that simple.

Let's go back to the Staph Infection story for a moment. That bacteria is very common - it doesn't take much for it to infect an open wound. While it isn't debilitating (I believe that Steve Austin had a severe Staph Infection when he had his First Blood Match against Kane, hence the huge padding and bandage on his arm, both to protect him, and to protect the other wrestlers), it is easily communicable. You don't even need an open cut - a graze will do it. All it takes is for that bacteria to get into an opening in your skin.

You're wearing trunks, boots, and a smile. You're rolling around on a mat, while you're sweating heavily, with another guy, who is also sweating heavily. Throughout the same night, chances are that about thirty other guys are going to be doing exactly the same thing, and there's a good chance that a couple of those guys are also going to be bleeding. That sweat-soaked, bloody canvas is then rolled up, and used again at the next show.

Is your reaction the same as mine there? Just spell WWE backwards. Eww.

It doesn't take much for a ring to be disinfected - it would just slow down the shows a little. Diluted bleach and a cloth would do the job. A spray-bottle disinfectant, and a dry clean mop would do the job. It doesn't have to leave the ring slippy. Joe himself has called for this in his livejournal. I've been at live shows - I've seen the guy drying down the ropes with a towel getting a cheer. People understand that everything needs to be safe, and if they don't? Then they don't deserve to be called 'fans'. Ideally, it should be done after every match, however, I'd see it as a great compromise if it was done after every couple of short matches, or after every long match. Certainly after a bloody match. But the bacteria alone that each of us carries on our bodies is something that gets left behind on the canvas. If it isn't - at the very least - cleaned between shows, then, to my mind, that promoter is being horiffically negligent.

In a roundabout way, that brings me to another point. Let's assume that you, the person reading this, is in some way sexually active (no jokes about wrestling fans from the back row, please). If you're sexually active, and not with the same long term partner, and you're being sensible, what do you use? Correct, you use a condom - and if you don't, you should. Why? Simple. Because both semen and (to a leser extent) vaginal fluids are things that are capable of carrying, and transmitting, a number of STI's, STD's, and in the case of the former, there's the chance of pregnancy. Now, they aren't the only way of transmitting infections, diseases, and viruses - definitely not. You see, when we're talking about these things, we're missing out the big one.

Blood. By far and away, blood is the easiest way to communicate infection. This came to my mind recently, when I watched Louis Theroux's documentary on wrestling (as part of his Weird Weekends Series. It's available on DVD), in which he goes to visit WCW and a smaller group (AIWF). AIWF is a small group based in North Carolina. They’re a typical small time group, except they do a large amount of blood based wrestling – barbed wire tables, barbed wire chairs, etcetera. In the clip shown in the documentary, more than a few wrestlers are covered in blood, as is the ring, and a large area outside the ring. How the hell that isn’t insanely dangerous, I have no idea.

Contrary to what some people believe, most viruses do NOT evaporate once blood makes contact with air. It lives on for a short amount of time, and even once that’s gone, it remains fertile breeding ground for all other types of nasty bacteria – staph infections, for example. And, of course, the Hepatitis C Virus stays active in blood once it leaves the body for (ready for this?) at least sixteen hours. So, let’s say it’s on the mat, then you have a graze, or an open cut, and you end up rolling onto a small wet patch of blood. See where I’m going with this?

Blood to blood transmittal is the most dangerous kind of transmittal there is. You know why the HIV Virus spread amongst gay men so much? Because, to put it simply, the anus isn’t built for sex. It’s possible, but it’s not what it’s intended for – as a result, until people’s bodies get used to it (and sometimes afterwards) some mild tearing usually occurs. Nothing major usually, just small mild cuts, but enough for the chance of transmittal to heighten to an enormous degree – and that’s not necessarily from the other partners blood entering it. You bleed over somebody else, and they have an open wound (or mouth, or eyes – blood getting in the eyes is incredibly dangerous), then you’re begging for something to go wrong.

So let’s look back at that second story, shall we? Cowboy Bob Orton Jr. informs Laurinaitis that he has Hepatitis C. Johnny Ace decides it’s not a big deal, and decides not to bother telling anybody about it (which, if he wasn’t aware that Hepatitis C can be chronic is entirely plausible. If you’re told somebody had it as a teenager, would you know that they probably remain infected?). Bob then goes to the HIAC match, blades to an insane degree, and his blood gets mingled with Takers’, and his own son’s. Now, as if that wasn’t bad enough….if he’s had it since he was a teenager, then every time he’s bladed in a match with somebody, that person is at risk, as is any person that ends up on a part of the mat he’s bled on. (For the benefit of any WWE lawyers reading this, I’m talking about the rumour, and I am absolutely not stating this as fact. I’m using the rumour as an example to talk about a bigger issue. Thanks for your time).

Now, let’s look at another case. Let’s say Ric Flair. He’s been on the road for decades, and he’s famously been a womaniser. Now, chances are that he’s been checked – but hypothetically, let’s say he hasn’t. At this point, let’s remember that TLC match the other week, where he bled everywhere. Over Edge, over Lita, over the ring, over the tables…see where I’m going with this? How many ring rats over the years? How many matches with other people that are bleeding?

Anybody remember Jerry Lynn’s match with Steve Corino, where he used Steve’s blood to write ‘DIE’ across his own chest? A few years ago, I read an interview with Jerry Lynn in Powerslam (in the interests of fairness, I must point out here that this next quote could have been Lance Storm, I’ve lost some issues. While I remember the quote, I’m a little hazy on which of the two said it), that there were certain people in the ECW locker room that he would not get involved in blading with, due to some of their lifestyle habits.

There are a couple of conclusions I want to draw from this line of thought.

First and foremost is this. If regular blood testing is not already mandatory, then it should be. Take a tip from the porn industry. The more reputable porn companies regularly check their employees (sorry…independent contracters) for STD’s. I believe it works out at every two weeks. So every two weeks, that person has to show that they’re still clean. If they don’t have it? They don’t work. About a year ago, a well known performer was found to have a major STD, and the porn industry basically closed down for a week while EVERYBODY got re-tested. That’s a more responsible take on things.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that every wrestler should do this, but I am suggesting that those wrestlers who blade on a regular basis should. If you’re going to blade on a semi-regular basis, you should have a clean bill of health before you do. (I’ll pointout that WWE may already do this, and that I simply don’t know). Since they’re supposedly bringing in a full and independent regular drug testing policy soon, I see no reason why this couldn’t be extended.

Secondly. Blading is overdone. Completely and totally overdone. No other business does something as stupid as allowing people to bleed over each other. It’s irresponsible, it’s idiotic – and it’s usually unnecessary. Look, I like a good, hard brawl as much as the next wrestling fan. I get the dramatic increase that occurs when somebody is wearing ‘The Crimson Mask’…but can you remember the last PPV that didn’t have somebody blading, off the top of your head? How about the regular TV show?

A lot of the time, it’s a crutch. It’s a shortcut used to increase interest in what is going on. You think it’s a coincidence that as soon as John Cena started losing popularity, he started blading regularly? In the right place, at the right time, it works great. But it’s being used so much these days that even the impact has vanished. Hell, not long ago, Ric Flair bled all over himself during a promo – and compare the impact of that with the impact of the small trickle of blood Foley got when he hit himself in the face to intimidate Randy Orton? You don’t need to put yourself in need of a transfusion in order to look hard anymore. And besides, with the regularity of it, you don’t need to do it at all.

Thirdly, the two minutes it would take to disinfect pools of blood, and the five minutes it would take to disinfect the ring canvas are not minutes that the audience would walk out in. I was at a recent show where they were having ring problems – and so there were delays between the matches. What did they do? They improvised. They had the announcers do skits. They filled a couple of minutes. You know what? It’s not difficult. At the very, very least, do it in the interval, and between shows.

Finally – small companies. If you can’t afford to do any testing on your wrestlers and you can’t afford the people/time to clean up your rings? Don’t concentrate on blood sports. It’s downright irresponsible. Oh, and first aiders would be a really, really good thing. You don’t necessarily have to pay them – find a volunteer first aid group, and find out who likes wrestling, then offer them free passes. In the meantime, you need your own first aid kit, and not a crappy basic one either – you need a FULL First Aid kit, with plenty of gloves, and antiseptic wipes.

If you can’t provide First Aid and if you can’t clean your ring between shows? Don’t promote any more. You’re not responsible enough to do it.

So, the four conclusions again. Testing for those who can afford it, cutting down on blading, disinfecting pools of blood, and keeping your ring clean. Do these four things, and we won’t have rumours flying around about Hepatitis, and we won’t lose wrestlers for a short time to Staph Infections.

The wrestling business is a crazy one. We all know this, and we all love it for it. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be more responsible. If we’re behind the porn industry with health and hygiene, then something is seriously wrong.


AIM: chrisbrosnahan

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