In plain sight – examining the harms of professional wrestling as state-corporate crime

Published date12 March 2018
Date12 March 2018
AuthorKaren Corteen
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology
In plain sight examining the harms
of professional wrestling as
state-corporate crime
Karen Corteen
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore critically the potentially harmful business of professional
wrestling in the USA as state-corporate crime.
Design/methodology/approach This paper comprises desk-based research of secondary sources.
The lack of official data on the harms experienced by professional wrestlers means that much of the data
regarding this is derived from quantitative and qualitative accounts from internet sites dedicated to this issue.
Findings A major finding is that with regard to the work-related harms experienced by professional
wrestlers, the business may not be wholly to be blamed, but nor is it entirely blame free. It proposes that one
way the work-related harms can be understood is via an examination of the political economic context of
neo-liberalism from the 1980s onwards and subsequent state-corporate actions and inactions.
Practical implications The paper raises questions about the regulation of the professional wrestling
industry together with the misclassification of wrestlersworker status (also known as wage theft and tax
fraud) and the potential role they play in the harms incurred in this industry.
Social implications The potential wider social implications of the misclassification of workers are raised.
Originality/value The originality and value of this paper is the examinationof work-related harms within the
professional wrestling industry through the lens of state-corporate crime.
Keywords Professionalwrestling, Regulation of the professional wrestling industry,State-corporate crime,
Wage theft, Work-related harms, Workermisclassification
Paper type Case study
Background and introduction
[] wrestling wasnt life lived as some kind of larger-than-life character; it was a way to make a living
(Bateman, 2016).
While many people think of wrestling as a big joke, there is one thing about wrestling that isnt funny.
The death rate among wrestlers is alarmingly high (Cohen, 2016a).
OSullivan (2015) describes professional wrestlings history as one of worker exploitation, hostile
corporate practices, and crippling injuries, wherein the flashy personalities and memorable
feuds that dazzled the fans were nothing more than a smokescreen obscuring the somatic toll of
an unregulated sport played by uninsured athletes(cited in Bateman, 2016). In addition the
career prospects of professional wrestlers amounted to working for the national conglomerate
or toiling in relative obscurityfor one of the many poorer independent promotions (OSullivan,
2015 cited in Bateman, 2016). This paper explores the impact of deregulation on professional
wrestling. It is one amongst a second generation of writings on professional wrestling that moves
beyond a consideration of professional wrestling as fake(Mazer, 1998; Wilson and Johnson,
2003; Sammond, 2005). Due to the cultural popularity of professional wrestling some journalists,
documentary makers, fans and academics have begun to take a serious interest in it. Given its
cultural relevance, Bateman (2016) comments perhaps its time to consider seriously how the
sport works. Like many others, prior to investigating this area, the author was guilty of not
Karen Corteen is a Senior
Lecturer in Criminal Justice at
the Liverpool John Moores
University, Liverpool, UK.
VOL. 4 NO. 1 2018, pp.46-59, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2056-3841 DOI 10.1108/JCRPP-01-2018-0004

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