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After Chris Benoit's Death, Have Health Risks of Pro Wrestling Been Overstated?

Pro wrestler Chris Benoit killed his wife, his son and himself over the weekend, and we're beginning to see the latest round of news articles about how pro wrestling has an alarming number of premature deaths.

I was about to write one of those myself, but there's just one problem: I couldn't find any evidence that it's true.

Yes, some high-profile wrestlers have died young. But some high-profile people in all walks of life have died young. That isn't proof that their careers cause their deaths.

Let's take Wrestlemania III, which is generally considered the high-point of the 1980s wrestling boom of Hulk Hogan and the WWF. Of the 38 wrestlers who performed at Wrestlemania III, 31 are still alive. Of the seven who have died, three (Andre the Giant, The Haiti Kid and Little Beaver) had hormonal problems that preceded their careers as professional wrestlers and two (Junkyard Dog and Adrian Adonis) died in car crashes.

Two others, Hercules and Davey Boy Smith, died of heart disease that was almost certainly caused or at least exacerbated by steroid use. Obviously, two men dying prematurely is two too many, but the way the media sometimes portray professional wrestling, you'd think the majority of pro wrestlers die in middle age of steroid-related illnesses. That is certainly not the case.

Do professional wrestlers have a shorter life expectancy than the population as a whole? I don't know, but I'm guessing they probably do. They have high-stress lifestyles, full of travel, many more injuries than most people, a higher rate of obesity than most people, and, yes, higher rates of usage of drugs including both steroids to get into the pro wrestling business and painkillers to get through it.

But while that's an issue that should be addressed, it shouldn't lead to knee-jerk assumptions and media overstatements about the dangers of professional wrestling. The Benoit story is tragic, but it's not a tragedy that can be blamed on professional wrestling.

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