Opinion: It’s time to appreciate pro wrestling

Richard Mulhall

ESPN has progressively been adding to its World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) coverage in 2016, and I love it.

The “Worldwide Leader in Sports” has substantially increased its WWE coverage recently, providing reporting on professional wrestling much more frequently and much more seriously than competitors. Every week on ESPN, anchor Jonathan Coachman, a former WWE announcer, interviews pro wrestlers and people within WWE as part of an ongoing segment ESPN initiated earlier this year.

ESPN’s coverage of WWE festivities will continued Sunday at WrestleMania, where ESPN’s Coachman broadcasted both pre-taped segments for and live cut-ins to SportsCenter from Arlington, Texas’ AT&T Stadium all day. Coachman announced this in an appearance last week on WWE Monday Night Raw.

A lot of critics of ESPN’s increased coverage of WWE have condemned what they consider unwarranted coverage to just attract more viewers and fans. Former SportsCenter announcer Dan Patrick recently criticized ESPN for just using WWE fans to garner viewership to counteract declining viewer ratings.

Despite what Patrick and other critics might argue, I think this collaborative partnership between ESPN and WWE is conducive to both parties. It benefits WWE because it gets increased awareness and  behooves ESPN because they gain viewership from the entire WWE fan base, which is pretty large.

The only people that don’t seem to benefit from the deal are butt-hurt sports fans who refuse to accept professional wrestling as a “sport.” Yes, pro wrestling is scripted. Yes, WWE stands for “World Wrestling Entertainment.” But does that make it any less of a “sport” or pro wrestlers anything less than “athletes?” I don’t think so.

These athletes are on the road more than 300 days throughout the year, traveling all around the globe to wrestle and perform in front of fans worldwide. The moves and end results of matches might be scripted, but the injuries wrestlers sustain, the travel they endure, the politics they deal with and the toll the job takes on their bodies, careers and lives, however, are very real. At a quick glance, pro wrestling can appear “fake,” but at a much closer scope, the sport is very real. To take the sacrifices these athletes make lightly would be doing them a great injustice.

Whether people like it or not, these pro wrestlers are athletes. They are entertainers, too, but they are—first and foremost—athletes. I understand not everyone will want to recognize pro wrestling as a sport, but I believe everyone should appreciate the above-and-beyond commitment these WWE superstars.

Richard Mulhall is a sports columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].