Study draws WWE ire

By Mike Mooneyham

Aug. 13, 2006

A Wake Forest University School of Medicine study that links violent adolescent behavior with the frequency of watching professional wrestling on TV has drawn the ire of WWE head honcho Vince McMahon.

The study, which took place over seven months in 1999 and shared with other researchers in 2001, used a random sample of 2,228 North Carolina high school students. Researchers warned that adolescents who watch wrestling on television are more prone to violent behaviors than other young people. Researchers also found the more teenagers watch wrestling, the more they’re likely to use alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

The findings are published in the August issue of the journal “Pediatrics.”

“We regret that this seven-year-old junk science was re-issued. It was junk science then, and is junk science now,” said McMahon. “It took them seven years to get someone to actually read it and it hasn’t even been subjected to a peer review. There is nothing new in the study, and we think it is recycled garbage put forward by some obscure professor who finally got someone to read his paper and is trying to get his name in the media.”

An official statement from the company called the study “flawed and ridiculous” and indicated WWE was contemplating legal action.

Robert H. DuRant, professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest and an author of the study, said the study had tremendous implications.

“It shows that exposure to this type of violence on television during this crucial period of time when a teen’s cognitive, social and physical deevelopment is still being cemented, probably affects adolescents in a negative way.”

Adolescents who watch wrestling on TV are exposed to a high frequency of violence between men and women, alcohol use and hearing women referred to in derogatory terms, according to the study. In addition, the scenarios played out in the TV dramas often present violence as a solution to a problem.

WWE spokesman Gary Davis said that the study ignores the positive changes that the pro wrestling industry can have on adolescents, including helping to develop their self-esteem and confidence.

“From a real-life perspective, we know the brand can have a lot of positive impacts on society,” said the WWE vice president of corporate communications. “There are lot of good studies out there, but unfortunately, I think this study has a lot of flaws.”

Researchers asked a random sample of 2,228 high-school students in North Carolina how many times they had watched wrestling on TV in the past two weeks. Among males, about 63 percent had watched wrestling and about 25 percent had watched it six times or more in a two-week period. Among females, 35.1 percent had watched wrestling and 9.1 percent had watched it six or more times.

The study found that for both sexes, a greater frequency of watching wrestling was associated with higher rates of problematic behavior.

In the males, watching wrestling was associated with starting a fight with a date, alcohol or drug use and even carrying a weapon, according to the study. Females who watched wrestling exhibited similar behavior, DuRant said.

The researchers point out that these forms of media do affect the development of teenagers. “(Parents) don’t put it together that it could be having a negative effect on kids who are right in the middle of putting together attitudes about norms and proper behavior,” DuRant told the Associated Press. “The bottom line is that adolescents are affected by what they are exposed to.”

“The bottom line is that we are affected by what we expose ourselves to,” DuRant said. “This study shows that the incidence of date fighting and other violence increases when the exposure to violence increases. Now, wrestling doesn’t in itself cause violence, but when combined with overall socialization, violence on television can affect what is perceived as socially acceptable behavior.”

Of the 2,228 students who participated in the study, 51.4 percent were female and 38.3 percent were of minority ethnicity.

“The researchers could not find a direct causal relationship between watching wrestling and health-risk behaviors,” Davis said. “The study ignored other factors that might lead to the types of behaviors discussed in the study. Its findings, therefore, are less than conclusive.”

Critics also have pointed out that not only is the study dated, and conducted in a period in which wrestling was far more popular among teenagers, but that other sports such as pro boxing and NFL football also are violent and could produce similar results, along with some movies and video games.

Robert Thompson, head of Syracuse University’s Center for the Study of Popular Television, challenged the scientific data in a 2001 interview in Media Life and on the WWE Web site.

“You can find correlations between all sorts of things,” he says. “There is an absolute correlation, for instance, between the size of my salary and the thinning of my hair. But does that mean anything?”

Thompson also related a story about appearing on a call-in radio show to discuss the wrestling controversy.

“One call came in where this man says to me, ‘I take great issue with what you’ve been saying about wrestling not being a pervasive negative influence. I absolutely know for a fact that wrestling causes kids to be violent. Every time my son watches the WWF, all he wants to do is wrestle on the floor with me.’

“And I said, ‘Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that what fathers are supposed to do with their sons?’”

Brad Bushman, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, told Forbes.com that he thinks that about 10 percent of the cause of violence among teens is due to violent media. The majority of influence comes from a child’s experience at home, school and with friends, he said.

“They look to the mass media to decide what a real man is like or what a real woman is like,” Bushman said. “What they see if they look at wrestling is that real men and women solve their problems with aggression and force.”

- One of the most anticipated matches for WWE’s Summer Slam pay-per-view is back on after a week of uncertainty.

Hulk Hogan, who missed last Monday night’s scheduled appearance on Raw, has been sidelined with a knee injury that jeopardized next weekend’s Summer Slam showdown with “Legend Killer” Randy Orton. But he announced last week that he will appear at the WWE pay-per-view.

Hogan learned that he suffered a partially torn meniscus after undergoing an MRI, and has opted thus far not to have surgery. He has been receiving cortisone shots to help alleviate some of the pain.

“I’ve prided myself over the last 25 years of not getting injured and disappearing,” Hogan told the WWE Web site. “”Normally I can work through any injury, but the problem is that this is my good knee, which means I can’t rely on my surgically repaired knee to shoulder the rest of the burden.”

Hogan, 52, implied that he’s starting to feel his age.

“I’m sort of freaking out. I’m beginning to learn I’m a lot older. And with age, it’s tough to be the same dependable guy I’ve been in the past. I realize that as I get up there in age, I can’t go on forever.”

Orton told the WWE Web site that he questioned the legitimacy of Hogan’s injury.

“I told you last week, he got hurt getting off a couch. That’s all I have to say about that,” said Orton, alluding to Hogan’s story that he heard his knee pop while getting up from his couch.

“It started about two weeks ago, like a toothache,” Hogan said on Friday, “the joint on the outside of the knee. I was complaining to my son Nick that it was killing me all the time. I have been on the road with my daughter Brooke and haven’t been able to work out my legs like I should.”

Hogan added that it was hard to sit and get up and down the stairs.

- Longtime WWE figure Pat Patterson underwent emergency heart surgery last weekend to remove a cyst from the main artery.

The cyst was the size of a baseball according to the WWE.com report.

Patterson, 65, was in critical but stable condition following a four-hour surgery in Montreal.

Friend and WWE performer Sylvan Grenier said Patterson had been experiencing some pain in his back leading up to his surgery that led him to the hospital.

“I met him on Friday for dinner and (Patterson) was complaining about back problems,” Grenier told the WWE Web site. “The next day, he spent the day with his sister in Montreal and the pain was worse and getting worse to the point where he couldn’t sit down straight and couldn’t walk straight; his sister convinced him to go to the hospital. They went to the hospital and the doctors found a big cyst on the main artery (of his heart) inside of his abdomen the size of a baseball, rarely seen that big,” he said.

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