Valparaiso Times – March 27, 2001
By Bradley Cole
HAMMOND — Professional wrestling is coming back to Hammond, bringing the fantasy that thrills fans, but concerns health professionals who see children mimicking the sometimes dangerous holds and moves.
Shows such as the World Wrestling Federation’s “Smackdown” regularly captivate teen-agers and young adults with their soap operalike plots, scantily clad women and incredible athletic displays.
There is, however, a dark side to the sport when some wrestling fans take their fanaticism too far.
There are the wrestling hopefuls who trudge out to the back yard and decide to videotape their own wrestling matches, oftentimes sending them to wrestling programs in hopes of making the big time.
What can happen, however, is that young fans mimicking stunts and moves perfected by their wrestling heroes wind up in the local emergency room after cracking their head open, breaking a leg or tearing ligaments.
Pro wrestling has been blamed with causing deaths as well.
Recently, Lionel Tate, 14, was convicted of killing a 6-year-old playmate by smashing her skull in Florida. He claimed he was just wrestling with the girl, imitating what he saw on TV, but the jury didn’t buy his defense. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The case rekindled the debate of who has the responsibility to monitor the content of TV programs that children are likely to watch. Many parents and family organizations blamed the TV networks, which in turn said it’s up to the parents to turn off negative TV programs.
Jon Dykstra of Hammond said he’s watched WWF shows and didn’t like what he saw.
“(WWF owner) Vince McMahon says if you don’t like it, click the TV off,” Dykstra said. “So we’re a clicker.”
Dykstra admits his teen-age sons enjoy the televised wrestling “and we’ve had battles over that for some time.”
“I tried to explain to them that it promotes revenge, pride, violence, abuse of women and greed, and that’s clearly wrong.”
He said he believes that his sons, who are into body building, enjoy watching their muscular heroes and their scantily clad female counterparts.
“It is not quite pornography, but it’s about one step above it.”
Some professional and amateur wrestlers agree that children trying to imitate the fantasy images they see on TV are wrong for doing so. They all said it’s the parents’ responsibility to keep abreast of their children’s activities and to teach them right and wrong.
Chris Chetti, 26, is a professional wrestler from Long Island, N.Y., who knows the dangers of professional wrestling firsthand. Despite being a graduate of a top wrestling school, Chetti has suffered some serious injuries that culminated in him being paralyzed twice last year.
Chetti said he feels bad for kids who see what happens on wrestling shows and try to imitate it.
“I don’t understand why they want to mimic what they see on TV,” Chetti said. “Why are they doing it? For what? They’re not getting paid, and they’re not trained to do it.”
Professional wrestler Simon Diamond, agreed, but said he understands why some kids do that.
“As a kid, childhood is tough,” Diamond said. “Some kids are often ostracized by others and have a lot of pent-up frustration. They see this fantasy on TV of people beingbullied and fighting back.
“As they watch this they begin to have a vision of busting out. They think, ‘Boy, wouldn’t it be great if I could do that to Johnny. Boy, if I did that to him and other people saw it, they wouldn’t pick on me anymore.’ They see their fantasy played out.”
Diamond said it’s difficult for some people to understand that wrestling is just entertainment.
Daniel Moran, a professor of psychology at Valparaiso University and a practicing psychologist, said it’s natural for children to mimic behaviors.
“Children learn from mimicking the behavior of their parents or siblings,” Moran said. “A child learns to get juice from a jar by watching his father, or a cookie by mimicking the behavior of an older brother who has received one. They learn that mimicking often leads to good things.”
Moran said children don’t always see the difference between mimicking good or bad behavior. He said it’s the parents’ role to intervene and teach children the difference between right and wrong and fantasy and reality.
Moran said he doesn’t believe television programs, such as wrestling, should be censored nor does he believe that TV is the sole reason why kids become aggressive or violent. He said a child’s upbringing has a lot to do with his behavior.
Diamond also said that it is up to the parents.
“Parents have a responsibility,” Diamond said. “If they allow their children to watch wrestling on TV then they need to sit down and say, ‘Look, this guy you see on TV is acting. He’s playing a character.’ I don’t think some parents do that.”
Local wrestler Ward Doepping of Crown Point said wrestling itself is not harmful for children to watch.
“I do extreme matches,” Doepping said. “We use thumbtacks, fall through tables and are chained to each other. It’s definitely something that I wouldn’t want kids to mimic at home, but I don’t think it’s my (or other wrestlers’) responsibility to tell them that. It’s the parents that need to do that.”
Doepping said he plans to organize a summer camp for children that would allow them to witness and experience everything that goes into wrestling, from the preparation to the setup of matches, so they can get a better understanding.