We, like many other wrestling fans, were saddened to learn this week about the death of former WWE alumnus Sean Haire, better known as his in-ring persona Sean O'Haire. He was reportedly found hanged and although it is too early to speculate, initial reports indicate that he had been suffering from addiction issues and depression in recent years.
Professional wrestling is a colourful, jolly and light-hearted form of entertainment. We become personally invested in the trials and tribulations of our on-screen heroes (and villains) who shoulder the burden of iconic status for many people across the world. It is perhaps therefore no wonder that news of depression, addiction and death are particularly shocking for wrestling fans.
In recent years, there have been many sad stories. Perhaps the most prominent and tragic is
that of Chris Benoit. Many young wrestling fans might not know about "The Rabid Wolverine" because the nature of his death has seen him largely written out of wrestling history. In a horrendous incident, Benoit seemingly killed his wife Nancy, their son Daniel and then himself. Although different explanations for his actions have been offered, the most prominent theories include steroid or alcohol abuse and ill mental health.
Others that have quite publicly struggled with their personal addiction demons include Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Scott "Razor Ramon" Hall, Tammy Lynn "Sunny" Sytch and the Hardy Boys, Matt and Jeff.
Although fair weather fans might not be aware, some years ago WWE established a rather responsible system to help former talents battling addition. From September 2007, the company offered rehabilitation assistance to all former contracted talent. Once a year, they send a letter to all their former employees notifying them of the program and relevant details. Over 650 letters were sent out in 2011 and a confidential hotline exists in order to arrange admittance to a certified treatment centre. The company keeps in contact with those wrestling talents that take them up on their offer and 5 years ago, they reported that some 6% of their former talent had accepted assistance. Only last year, leading TNA talent Kurt Angle praised the WWE program and described it as "awesome for me".
Part of the fun of wrestling is investing oneself in the characters. Indeed, the business would not succeed if the fans didn't buy into the storylines. However, it is important that the various wrestling promotions continue to allow for stopgaps in the dramatic representation of their contracted talent, In order to help fans see their idols have a human side. Initiatives like WWE's father's day campaign are key in this regard. Hearing that Roman Reigns is a father and takes the time to be with his children (and seeing him singing "I'm a little teapot") humanises him for the audience.
From Robin Williams to members of your family, mental health problems can of course affect anyone no matter how famous. Although such problems are very common - affecting as many as one in four people according to the UK charity MIND - stigma, myth and discrimination are widespread. With another death in the wrestling fraternity, perhaps now is the time for individual promotions to be considering public educational campaigns about mental health, depression and addiction. In doing so, they might help to demonstrate that mental health is not something to be embarrassed about and encourage those quietly suffering talent and fans alike, to speak up and seek help.
RIP Sean Haire, February 25, 1971 - September 8, 2014, Thanks for the memories.