WE’VE BECOME WRESTLING NATION

Idon’t want to say that wrestling has taken over this country, but pretty soon I expect my accountant to be wearing a diaper and boots.

Last week, the World Wrestling Federation announced it was starting its own football league to compete with the NFL.

This, in addition to the endless WWF programs already on TV and the barnstorming WWF events held in every arena in America.

This, in addition to the cover of Newsweek, which just featured wrestlers Rock and Chyna.

This, in addition to former wrestler Jesse Ventura, who is now the governor of Minnesota.

This, in addition to big-breasted wrestling women such as Sable, who have moved out of the ring and onto magazine covers and movie screens.

This, in addition to countless Web sites dedicated to WWF stars.

This, in addition to not one, but two books penned by wrestlers and their ghostwriters that sit atop the New York Times best-sellers list. There are reportedly plans for five more wrestler bios, all to be published by Judith Regan, who once published the highly respected “I Know This Much Is True” by Wally Lamb. Amazing. From Gutenberg to Goldberg.

There are WWF lunch boxes. WWF clothing. There are WWF action figures that outsell Pokemon. There are WWF videos that dwarf the competition. There is an upcoming WWF theme restaurant.

And kids? Forget it. Most American children can’t tell you a thing about evolution. But they can tell you everything about Mankind.

He’s a wrestler, you know.

From Gorgeous to Bruiser to Rock

The Wrestleization of America is a curious phenomenon. The sport — if you can call it that — has long had peaks and valleys in popularity. Baby boomers remember Dick the Bruiser. Their parents remember Gorgeous George. Back in those days, wrestling was a carnival thing, town to town, under tents, a grizzly collection of beefy men and midgets snarling and throwing one another across the canvas. It was on TV once or twice a week. You watched it, you laughed, you went on.

But what’s happened now is unprecedented. Wrestling mentality has become synonymous with the culture. You can’t find a kid today who doesn’t know the Rock, Terri or Jerry (the King) Lawyler.

Jane Austen? Not a chance.

Stone Cold Steve Austin? Now you’re talking.

The minute you mix a couple of kids in a living room, they’re throwing each other into the couch, posing like muscle men, and growling: “You can’t touch me! I’m the king! I’m the king!”

What’s worse is that wrestling is actually developing story lines. I’m not talking about this guy beats that guy, end of story. I’m talking about this guy’s daughter is captured and forced to work for this pimp until the other guy comes with a club and rescues her.

The fairy tale has been reinvented.

The dragon is wearing shorts.

Necessary roughness

The new wrestling-football league — the XFL is what pooh-bah and WWF honcho Vince McMahon is calling it — promises to be everything the NFL is, and all the things it isn’t.

While the NFL goes to great lengths to keep its players from celebrating, berating officials or committing personal fouls of unnecessary roughness, the XFL will make all roughness necessary and all personal fouls welcome.

It also will have cameras in the huddle, on the sidelines and, I’m betting, somewhere in the cheerleaders’ dressing rooms. You can picture the XFL player scoring a touchdown, eating the ball, thumping his defender, headlocking the referee and throwing the bimbo into a vat of pudding.

(By the way, lest you think the WWF is un-American, it had several of its women wrestle in a pool of turkey gravy on Thanksgiving.)

It would all be pretty funny if it weren’t being so …accepted. This is who we are now, from elected officials to highest-rated TV programs. We are the world’s first Wrestling Nation.

Funny. I used to think I was mainstream and wrestling was on the fringe. Now, with Newsweek, the New York Times, and what used to be the great American pastime, football, I sadly realize it’s the other way around.

And I don’t look good in tights.

MITCH ALBOM can be reached at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Hear
“Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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