Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sean O'Haire and death in professional wrestling

I originally wrote this article about the death of Sean O'Haire in September 2014 shortly after his death. I reprint it today on what would have been his forty-fifth birthday.

Over the last fifteen years, dozens of wrestlers died young whether by suicide, overdose or the after-effects of excessive use of steroids or other drugs. And while WWE has done everything they can to stem the horrible tide with their wellness program and their sponsored rehabilitation, they can’t really stop it. Wrestling is a sport often built around a life of excess on the road. Steve Austin, Roddy Piper and Jim Ross often spend hours talking about it on their podcasts. And while I’m sure it’s fun for all of them, it’s also a hard life to leave.

Steve Austin makes no secrets of his bouts with depression, alcohol and drug use in the wake of ignominious end to his WWE career. He talks about how the loss of that road life can easily change a person and the transition to a life not out and about can wreak dangerous havoc on someone’s mind.

I doubt that was the case with O’Haire. Although we didn’t hear a cause of death in the first few hours since the announcement, I could only guess it is one the three usual reasons for a wrestler’s death. And sadly, the history of Sean O’Haire point out how troubled a soul he was.

He went from a promising young future star in WCW to just another guy in WWE. He was one of several wrestlers to get repackaged (in a great devil’s advocate role) only to have that gimmick thrown away and be released. Just months after working major storylines in his early career, he suddenly was a wrestler without a job.

He made lackluster attempts to transfer into MMA and kickboxing, but he was no Brock Lesnar. His careers in both were underwhelming, while his post-wrestling build made his use of steroids in his wrestling days obvious. He became most well known in the past few years for a series of domestic violence incidents.

I will never excuse the abuse of a spouse or loved one, but it seemed apparent even then that O’Haire was a man at his tipping point. Here’s a guy that wanted nothing more than to be a sports star, but failed at every field he entered. In the end, he was left a relative unknown, a name barely mentioned by anyone until news of his death hit late yesterday.

Sadly for someone like Sean O’Haire, that kind of dark spiral often leads to the choice he took on late Monday or early Tuesday. Maybe suicide should never be a solution, but for so many people it often seems like the only escape from the troubles and tribulations that beat down upon them for years.

Sean O’Haire shouldn’t stand as an example of a missed opportunity or a star never quite allowed to shine. We should remember him as a reason to help those around us facing trials, people that need the kind of mental health help that is so hard to receive in this country. He should shed light on a business that still desperately needs to understand the mental toll it can take on its talent. And maybe, just maybe, he can serve as another in a long list of reminders to the young people of America that the quest for fame has all too dark a side as well.

I cannot say Sean O’Haire deserved better, as many of his demons may very well have been of his own making. But I can say he deserves to be remembered as an example to wrestling and mankind.

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