Friday, August 19, 2011

Watching professional wrestling on TV leads to violence

     Lionel Tate was only 12 years old when he murdered Tiffany Eunick in 1999.  Tate was later convicted of first degree murder in the death of the 6 year old.  Tate maintained that he was only wrestling with Eunick, including imitating moves he learned from watching professional wrestling on TV, when she became unconscious.  Eunick's injuries included a lacerated liver, skull fracture, brain swelling, and rib fractures.  The murder and subsequent trial received national attention and was dubbed by the media "the wrestling case".

Lionel Tate

     The Tate case is not an isolated incident.  In January, 1999 another 12 year old killed his nineteen month old cousin after performing a wrestling maneuver known as a "power bomb" on the toddler.  In Georgia a four year old killed a fifteen month old by jumping up and down on him.  This happened while the babysitter had a WWE video playing to entertain the children. (1)

     Despite the above cases, there is no absolute proof that watching professional wrestling on TV can lead to homicide.  However, there are data showing that it can definitely lead to violent and other risk taking behaviors.  The effects of viewing professional wrestling have been studied by DuRant and colleagues from Brenner Children's Hospital and Wake Forest University School of Medicine. (2,3)

     In the article entitled The Relationship Between Watching Professional Wrestling on Television and Engaging in Date Fighting Among High School Students, the investigators hypothesized  that the more professional wrestling adolescents watched on television, the more likely they would be to engage in violent acts such as date fighting, weapon carrying, and other fighting behavior. (2)

     The subjects studied were 2,485 public high school students from Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, North Carolina.  Students were asked to fill out a 71-item questionnaire that assessed health-risk and problem behaviors.  Multiple questions related to fighting and weapon carrying.  The frequency that professional wrestling was watched on TV in the prior 2 weeks was also assessed.  Wrestling was defined as WWE and World Class Championship (WCW) programming.  In October, 1999 2,228 students completed the survey.  In April/May, 2000 it was again administered to 1,935 of the students who had completed the survey in the fall.

     There were significant correlations between the frequency of watching professional wrestling during the prior 2 weeks and engaging in date fighting, fighting in general, substance abuse, and weapon carrying for both males and females.  The relationships were stronger among females than among males.

     In a second study published in the Southern Medical Journal entitled Viewing Professional Wrestling and Engaging in Violent and Other Health Risk Behavior, DuRant and colleagues  found similar results. (3)  This time 2,307 youths ages 16 to 20 years from 17 US states were surveyed in 2001 about health risk behaviors and watching professional wrestling on TV.  The frequency of watching wrestling was associated with having tried to hurt someone with a weapon, engaging in sexual intercourse without appropriate birth control, and cigarette smoking.  Furthermore, the more times wrestling was viewed, the more likely a youth was to also engage in date fighting.

     The authors concluded that the social learning that occurs from increased exposure to wrestling on television has a negative effect on adolescents leading to violent and health risk taking behaviors.

     The two Durant studies spanned a period from 1999 to 2001.  This falls within a critical time in the history of professional wrestling.  WWE and WCW were engaged in the Monday Night Wars.  In an effort to draw better rating the WWE changed the content of their shows to attract a more adult demographic.  This edgier version of wrestling was known as the "Attitude Era".  TV shows such as WWE RAW and WWE Smackdown  routinely depicted extreme acts of violence, racist stereotypes, sexism, simulated sexual acts, beer consumption, degradation of woman, and homophobia.

     In 2008 WWE decided top scale back on the more adult themes.  All WWE programming now conforms to "PG" standards.


  2. Pediatrics 2006; 118(2): 265.
  3. So. Med J 2008; 101(2): 129.

  Photographs are for illustrative purposes only.  Wrestling with Death does not claim ownership.   

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