At one time, not very long ago, there was a one-of-a-kind American athlete by the name of Kurt Angle. Nobody was more focused, driven, talented, dedicated to his craft, or inspirational than the freestyle wrestling champion. After all, it takes an amazing man to defeat a significantly larger opponent while suffering from a severe neck injury to claim an Olympic gold medal, and that’s exactly what Angle accomplished in 1996. Tales of Angle’s triumph over tragedy gave me chills when I read his autobiography, and the story doesn’t end on that podium in Atlanta. A short time after his gold medal victory, Angle went on to master the unusual athletic theater known as professional wrestling as quickly as any rookie in the history of the business, and soon became one of the very best in the world. But fast-forward 13 years and oh my, how the mighty have fallen.
TODAY’S ISSUE: The decline of Kurt Angle.
In a sad tale of self-destruction, Kurt Angle went from Olympic phenom to pro wrestling prodigy before being released from his World Wrestling Entertainment contract by Vince McMahon in August 2006 for “personal issues” likely related to a painkiller addiction. Those “personal issues” are remarkably similar to the Vicodin addiction he suffered from ten years earlier as a result of his severe neck damage and the added strain of continuing to wrestle at a world-class level while so badly injured, but he rid himself of that particular demon years before he became a pro wrestler. When Angle signed with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling a few weeks after his WWE contract was nullified, many saw that as evidence that TNA cared little for Angle’s long-term health, since it was clear WWE wanted him off the road and away from the grind for his own good.
While statistics and title wins would indicate that Angle’s had a very successful run in TNA these past few years, his personal life has rapidly deteriorated. His wife Karen filed for divorce, he’s been arrested once for driving under the influence and again for driving with a suspended license while in possession of prohibited substances and “stalking” a former girlfriend after she filed a Protection From Abuse order against him. The one common denominator, of course, is the professional wrestling industry.
I truly believe that every adult is responsible for his own actions and choices, but it’s difficult to deny that living the lifestyle of a pro wrestling superstar played a hand in Angle’s decline. If after his Olympic wrestling days Angle had gone on to do endorsements, write books, coach the US team, or any other career besides pro wrestling, I can’t imagine him spiraling out of control the way he has. Karen only divorced him after she was dragged into the pro wrestling circus as an on-screen character, and now there are rumors that she’s involved with Jeff Jarrett, who just happens to be one of the owners of TNA. What a tangled web we weave…
What is it about pro wrestling that entices people to act out in such ways? Is it all the physical abuse they suffer, damaging their brains night after night? How about the laundry list of harmful substances they ingest to look good, to endure the pain and agony of the endless bumps they take, to slow down at the end of yet another crazy night so they can get some sleep, or to pick themselves back up for that early morning flight or the next big show? Could it be the insane levels of stardom they earn for their efforts, living like rock stars and being adored by men, women and children alike? Many wrestlers party like college kids on Spring Break for over 200 days a year, which isn’t going to work out for most people.
I have been a huge fan of Kurt Angle the pro wrestler and far more importantly, Kurt Angle the man for the past thirteen years, but lately it’s become tougher and tougher to feel anything but contempt for the person he’s become. This is a man who, fresh off his Olympic victory and riding a wave of superstardom that might have taken him anywhere he wanted to go, was so disgusted by Raven “crucifying” Sandman at an Extreme Championship Wrestling event he was scheduled to participate in that Angle walked out on a potential ECW contract and threatened to sue Paul Heyman if he ever associated Angle’s name, likeness, or voice with ECW.
And now his real life persona would be a perfect fit for the original hardcore company; it’d be interesting to note, if it weren’t so sad. Where’s his moral outrage now? Was he only concerned about marketing his image back then, or did those ECW antics truly offend him? If so, he’s lost something of himself in the last 13 years, because the way he lives now produces the same disgust and outrage in his fans that he once felt watching a make-believe event, but his actions are all too real. Angle was once a great American, and now he needs to get his house back in order before he loses everything important, including the most precious thing a man possesses – his self-respect.
I just watched a match from April of this year in which Angle challenged Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in Japan. In the process of doing the right thing and putting over the local guy clean as a whistle in the middle of the ring, Angle performed a solid, US television-style match against the reigning champ, proving he’s still a good enough athlete and entertainer to carry on in TNA or WWE, should he ever return to the promotion that launched his pro career. If only he could get his personal life in order, Angle could be the sort of veteran to continue making an impact wherever he goes for years to come. There’s always another World’s Greatest Tag Team out there who could benefit from the rub a former multi-time world champion could give them, as long as Angle is in control of his issues enough to stay out of trouble outside the arenas and not become a liability to the organization for which he works.
I don’t judge Angle for the things he’s done because that’s not my place, but I do hope he figures out what he’s lacking in life that makes him act in such a self-destructive way, and that he finds a way to cope without doing any more damage to his legacy. It’s tough to understand why a guy who seemingly has it all would live as if he’s got nothing to lose, but that’s how Angle’s choices make me perceive him. I want to see him on top of the world once again, not locked up in a holding cell while law enforcement officials decide his future, or suffering from a fate far worse than prison. He’s too special of a man for that, if only he’d remember who he is, where he came from, and what he was once all about. He has overcome amazing odds in his storied life, and I hope to see him overcome the odds currently stacked against him, which unfortunately point to him eventually becoming another pro wrestling tragedy. I wish you nothing but the best, Mr. Angle; please get it together.
Vin Sanity is not categorized as a psychological disorder… yet.
p.s. – “But to him who tries and fails and dies, I give great honor and glory and tears.” – Joaquin Miller