How Viewing Professional Wrestling May Affect Children


This study investigated the effects on children of viewing professional wrestling. Elementary and middle school teachers (n = 370) were surveyed and asked to indicate (a) the popularity of professional wrestling among their students, (b) any preconceived notions they held about students who enjoy viewing professional wrestling, (c) their beliefs about spectator harm caused by professional wrestling, and (d) the nature and extent of their students’ imitation of verbal and other behavior from professional wrestling, as they had personally observed that imitation. The results of the survey, findings of prior literature, and research on marketing ethics together raise questions about the appropriateness of professional wrestling as sport-entertainment for children.

How Viewing Professional Wrestling May Affect Children

In the last decade professional wrestling (to describe which World Wrestling Entertainment  owner Vince McMahon has coined the term “sport-entertainment”) has skyrocketed in popularity. It is broadcast in 12 languages to over 130 countries, is viewed by 34 million people in the United States, and generates industry revenues above $1 billion annually. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is the industry leader in virtually every statistic (e.g., television ratings, live event attendance, licensing revenue). Attendance at WWE events rose from 1.1 million people in 1997 to 2.5 million for the year 2000 (, n.d.). While live event attendance has fallen a bit in the past two years, the WWE still drew 2 million attendees in 2002 (, n.d. a). WWE’s flagship television show, Raw, on TNN, is consistently the top-rated regularly scheduled cable television program, and the company’s other core show, SmackDown, on UPN, is consistently one of the highest ranked sports programs (as categorized by Nielsen) on network television. The shows have drawn combined weekly Nielsen ratings of 6-12 over the last two years (, n.d.). Other, more mainstream sports are losing coveted young viewers to the WWE. For example, in the 12-17 age group, 143% more males (and 73% of males and females combined) watched the WWE’s Monday night Raw than the 1999 NBA finals. Further, the WWE continually outperforms a number of professional sporting events, in key demographics: the play-offs of Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup play-offs, Monday Night Football (BW SportsWire, 1999).

Wrestling’s popularity has blossomed for two primary reasons. First, over a decade and a half ago, the WWE’s McMahon liberated wrestling from the constrictions that came with being labeled a “legitimate” sport. Throughout much of the 20th century, professional wrestling was thought of as a legitimate sport contest, that being a contest in which the outcome is not predetermined. However, as the industry evolved, society began questioning the genuineness of match outcomes, feuds between wrestlers, and the like. The industry found itself performing a balancing act between desiring to be perceived as legitimate sport and desiring to entertain with engaging and creative storylines. In essence, the quest to retain the perception of legitimacy necessarily restrained the ability of wrestling to present itself as creative “theater.” McMahon, in a visionary move that angered many other promoters in the business who thought the move would destroy the industry, abandoned the presentation of wrestling as legitimate sport, admitting publicly that the outcome of pro matches was predetermined. Rather than destroying the industry, however, McMahon’s tack liberated wrestling, freeing the WWE and other promoters to engage fans with wacky, funny, outrageous, entertaining camp. Fans did not care about legitimacy, they wanted to be entertained. This newfound freedom allowed, quite simply, for increased entertainment, and the industry’s popularity grew.

The second reason for pro wrestling’s growth is successful target marketing. Pro wrestling, and in particular the WWE, actively and successfully targets the coveted 18- to 34-year-old male demographic, with its ample disposable income. The industry does this by filling television programming and live events with ever-increasing amounts of the sexual and violent content that is clearly attractive to a large number of young males. Recent WWE programming, for example, has included oral sex on a wrestler by a transvestite, attempted castration of a wrestler who is portrayed as a porn star, necrophilia by a wrestler named Triple H, baring of breasts in the ring at live events by female “valets” (or “divas” in WWE terminology), and the use during matches of sledgehammers, metal folding chairs, garbage cans, quantities of thumbtacks, and even the proverbial kitchen sink. Needless to say, blood is spilled liberally and regularly. WWE divas regularly wrestle in sexually themed matches. In a “bra and panties” match, the first to strip her opponent to her undergarments is the winner; in a “paddle-on-a-pole” match, the diva who can subdue her opponent long enough to climb a pole in the ring corner and retrieve a paddle placed on top wins the match and uses the paddle to spank her opponent.

While the 18- to 34-year-old male demographic is clearly targeted by and drawn to such content, the WWE also targets and draws children. It profits from licensing revenue linked to wrestling-related adult toys and merchandise sold to children. (In 2002, total WWE licensing revenue reached $101.5 million, according to, n.d. b). It also profits from advertising by companies targeting children, including toy and videogame manufacturers as well as food companies like Chef-Boy-R-Dee. It profits from children’s attendance at live wrestling events. Indeed, the WWE trumpets these facts to potential investors (WWE is traded on the NYSE) and advertisers. Its website states that is the top sport website and the number one entertainment site for males age 12-17, adding, “Our brand of entertainment appeals to a broad demographic audience, with WWE’s advertising focus being males 12 to 24” (, n.d. b). WWE weekend morning programming has also targeted children and encourages children to tune in to the more violent and risqué Monday and Thursday night programs. In sum, the WWE intentionally and successfully targets two demographic segments, 18- to 34-year-old males and children (primarily male children).

]Research Question[

While some critics (such as the Parents Television Council, which led a partly successful advertiser boycott of WWE programming) question the acceptability of wrestling’s program content for any audience, that is not the intent of this work. This research examines issues surrounding the fact that, while the majority of pro wrestling’s audience is the young male adult, a significant portion of its audience has been and remains children 2-17. Wrestling indeed has issues with ethical targeting that beg examination. By creating significantly violent and sexual content in order to attract 18- to 34-year-old males and at the same time targeting and reaching children, does pro wrestling knowingly market a potentially harmful product to children?

Sport and entertainment researchers have given relatively little attention to such ethical questions. Indeed, Laczniak, Burton, and Murphy (1999) note the dearth of attention to ethics in sport marketing, although the general marketing literature gives significant attention to ethical targeting issues (Rittenburg & Parthasarathy, 1997; Smith & Cooper-Martin, 1997). Much of that sport marketing literature that does address ethics tends to focus on ambush marketing (Meenaghan, 1996; O’Sullivan & Murphy, 1998; Sandler & Shani, 1989). The deficit begs to be addressed, and the purpose of the current study is to provide initial insight into whether pro wrestling’s targeting strategy meets the generally accepted tests of the ethicalness of such strategies. That is, to what extent are children vulnerable to the professional wrestling industry’s campaigns, and to what extent are children harmed by consuming the industry’s products?

The literature suggests that pro wrestling does meet the first criterion for unethical targeting (at least to some degree), in that when the industry targets children, it targets a “vulnerable segment,” defined as consumers especially susceptible to economic, physical, or psychological harm because of characteristics that limit their ability to maximize their utility and well-being (Smith & Cooper-Martin, 1997). Related to the current issue, research has shown that children’s limited life experience and developmental-stage cognitive abilities leave them particularly vulnerable to learning from televised messages (Dorr, 1986; Eron & Huesmann, 1987; Singer & Singer, 1988). Television teaches children “cognitive scripts” that influence their behavior, including social interaction. Cognitive scripts tend to be learned early in life, serving as a guideline for future behavior (Huesmann, 1986). Regularly consuming, or viewing, pro wrestling introduces children to a cognitive script for handling conflict (i.e., through the kind of violence seen in pro wrestling) and for approaching relationships with the opposite sex (i.e., sexual object or objectifier). While children are particularly vulnerable to picking up from pro wrestling certain attitudinal and behavioral scripts, we do not know the extent to which they act out such scripts. This is the issue addressed by the current data.


Teacher ratings are commonly used to examine child behavior (Bates, Bayles, Bennet, Ridge, & Brown, 1991; Sawyer, Baghurst, & Mathias, 1992). As is the case in the current study, teacher ratings have been most often used in the assessment of externalizing disorders like outward aggression, as opposed to internalizing disorders like anxiety or depression. Externalizing disorders involve behaviors that lend themselves relatively well to observation and reliable assessment by others (Epkins, 1993). Teacher ratings of children’s aggression provide the most practical basis for any wide-scale screening and have been shown to be accurate. When teachers have rated aggression in children of the same ages as those in the current study, the teacher ratings have accurately predicted juvenile delinquency and violent offenses in the chidren as they aged to 26 years (Bates et al., 1991).

To explore the effects that viewing pro wrestling has on children’s aggression, a survey was mailed to 1,200 second-grade through eighth-grade teachers around one state in the Southeast. The sample was randomly drawn from a list of elementary and middle schools, both public and private, throughout the state. Teachers returned 370 usable surveys, for a response rate of 30.8%. Elementary teachers comprised 72.9% of the sample, while 23.7% were middle school teachers and 3.4% taught both elementary and middle school students. Females made up 84.8% of the sample, and 15.2% of respondents were male. As to age, 22.8% of the teachers were in their 20s, 26.5% were in their 30s, 32.1% were in their 40s, 18.0% were in their 50s, and 0.6% were in their 60s.

Teachers in the sample were asked four series of questions. The first allowed the teachers to indicate the popularity of pro wrestling among their students. The second allowed them to indicate preconceived notions they might have had about students known to be fans of pro wrestling. The third series comprised global questions asking teachers to indicate their own attitudes toward pro wrestling and their own general opinions on how harmful to children the industry is. The fourth comprised questions allowing teachers to rate the extent to which their students imitate pro wrestling (i.e., wrestling moves, aggressive or vulgar language, aggressive or vulgar gestures, sexually connotative language or behavior). In order to avoid order effects on both the global attitude questions and the imitation items, the third and fourth series of questions were rotated, creating two versions of the survey which were pooled for analysis (surveys with global items first, n = 205; surveys with global items last, n = 165).


Teachers’ Assessments of Wrestling’s Popularity

Just how popular is pro wrestling among children? The overwhelming majority of the teachers (97.0%) indicated that they had currently, or had had within the past four years, students who watched pro wrestling on television. Further, teachers estimated that 45.08% of their current students were “fans of professional wrestling,” with middle school teachers giving a significantly higher estimate than elementary teachers, 50.33% vs. 43.74%, t = 2.12, p = .035. Finally, teachers were asked if they had seen, over the past four years, an increase, decrease, or no change in the number of their students who were fans of pro wrestling. (Four years was the period chosen, as it essentially coincided with the time frame in which pro wrestling exploded in popularity, following the significant change in program content described above.) An overwhelming 80.8% of teachers responded that they had seen an increase in the number of students who were fans of pro wrestling; 14.9% reported they had seen no change, and just 4.2% had seen a decrease. These results clearly indicate that, as pro wrestling has ratcheted up violent and sexual content over the past four years, seeking the male 18- to 34-year-old demographic, increasing numbers of children are watching as well.

Teachers’ Preconceived Notions

In order to gain initial insight into both the attitudes of teachers toward pro wrestling and the observations of teachers about whether children imitate wrestling, teachers were asked if they had any preconceived notions, or expectations, concerning students known to be fans of pro wrestling. Teachers were asked to describe these, if they existed. The software QSR NUD·IST, a qualitative data analysis package, was used to analyze these responses. While the majority of teachers (75.3%) stated that they did not prejudge students, nearly one quarter (24.7%) stated that they did. Of teachers reporting that they had made such judgments, 54.8% used the terms “violent” and/or “aggressive.” Examples of comments include the following:

1. “It has been my experience with these students in the past that now causes me to expect more aggressive behavior and rougher play at recess. Students practice what they see at matches. The students also use inappropriate language that they have heard either while attending matches or watching them on TV.”

2. “These students are more physically active and aggressive in the classroom and at recess.”

3. “They generally get in trouble more. They are loud and somewhat aggressive. They are tired due to staying up too late watching wrestling [The two main WWE programs air on weeknights, one from 8:00 to 10:00, the other from 9:00 to 11:00.] They are usually not at the top of the class grade-wise.”

Of teachers who reported that they had preconceived notions about children who viewed pro wrestling, 22.6% also anticipated “rebellious” behavior and/or “discipline problems” on the part of these children. The surveys repeatedly included statements like the following:

1. “I expect them to be more active and to have more difficulty following rules, especially where roughness is concerned.”

2. “The students tend to misbehave, are very loud and boisterous, often times rebellious and want to play by hitting or acting out what the wrestlers do.”

Smaller percentages of the teachers who said they had preconceived notions expected that students who were consumers of pro wrestling  would (a) demonstrate relatively poor academic performance (14.3% of these teachers) and (b) use inappropriate language (11.9%of these teachers).

Teachers’ Attitudes Toward Pro Wrestling

Teachers’ attitudes toward pro wrestling were assessed directly, by asking teachers to rate their agreement with the global statement “I like professional wrestling,” using a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Overall, the teachers indicated a strong dislike of pro wrestling (M = 1.7). However, this measure does not necessarily indicate that teachers find pro wrestling harmful to children. Three additional questions were asked to assess the teachers’ attitudes about the industry harming children.

First, the teachers were asked for their opinions about the degree to which viewing of televised violence negatively affects children’s behavior, from 1(not at all)to 7(a great amount). They indicated a strong belief that viewing televised violence has a negative behavioral effect, M = 5.99. Next, the teachers were asked for their opinions about how harmful pro wrestling is to child fans in terms of behavioral tendencies and behavioral development, from 1(not at all harmful)to 7(very harmful). Teachers indicated a general belief that pro wrestling is indeed harmful to child fans, M = 5.59. Comparison of the mean to the midpoint of the scale indicates that it is significantly higher, t = 22.77, p < .000. Third, the teachers were asked, “Compared to other forms of entertainment and television programming, how would you rank pro wrestling in terms of harmful effects on children’s development?” Responses to this question ranged from 1 (least harmful) to 7 (most harmful). Teachers indicated a belief that pro wrestling was relatively harmful compared to other forms of entertainment and television programming, rating it significantly higher than the midpoint, M = 5.54, t = 22.88, p < .000. Strikingly, 8.8% of the sample responded that there were no forms of entertainment or television programming more harmful to a child’s development than pro wrestling. In sum, results indicate that in these teachers’ experience, professional wrestling is a negative influence on the children among its fans.

Teachers’ Observation of Children’s Imitation of Wrestlers

The fourth series of questions asked the teachers about the degree to which their students engaged in imitating various forms of behavior common in pro wrestling, with responses ranging from 1 (not at all imitative) to 7 (very imitative). The mean was significantly higher than the scale midpoint, M = 4.96, t = 10.80, p < .000, suggesting that the teachers had observed a considerable degree of imitation. Interestingly, elementary school teachers reported having observed more imitation than middle school teachers had, 5.07 vs. 4.55, t = 2.41, p = .016. The teachers were asked, moreover, whether over the past four years they had seen an increase, a decrease, or no change in how often their students imitated wrestlers. Over half of the teachers (59.2%) reported seeing an increase, while 35.2% reported no change and only 4.9% reported seeing a decrease.

The specific kinds of imitation the teachers’ students engaged in was explored in some detail by the survey. Using a 5-point scale that included 1 (not at all), 2 (sometimes but not often), 3 (somewhat often), 4 (often), and 5 (very often), teachers were asked how regularly they had observed each of the following:

1. imitation of wrestling moves and/or other aggressive wrestling behaviors

2. injuries resulting from imitation of wrestling moves and/or other aggressive wrestling behaviors

3. imitation of aggressive and/or vulgar language specifically attributable to viewing pro wrestling

4. imitation of aggressive and/or vulgar gestures specifically attributable to viewing pro wrestling

5. imitation of sexually connotative language, gestures, or other behavior specifically attributable to viewing pro wrestling

For each of the five kinds of imitation, teachers were asked to specify, in open-ended format, what they had observed. Again, the data were analyzed using QSR NUD·IST; during the process, it was important to include only those teacher accounts of imitation specifically attributable to pro wrestling, so responses were separately coded by the principal researcher and an assistant, both familiar with wrestling programming content. Minimal differences in coding were resolved through discussion.

Wrestling moves, injury. Results for the elementary and middle school teachers did not differ significantly with respect to how frequently they had observed children imitating wrestling moves and/or other aggressive wrestling behaviors. The teachers rated the frequency, on average, between somewhat often and often (M = 3.41). Over one quarter of the teachers (28.1%) said they had observed children imitating a form of “body slam”; nearly one quarter (23.5%) said they had observed hitting or kicking. Improperly executed wrestling moves have killed and injured many wrestlers by injury to the neck. The “clothesline” is a dangerous example and is a move in which one wrestler slings another wrestler into the ropes and uses his arm to hit the opponent in the neck as he bounces back. The “piledriver” is another, a move in which a subdued wrestler, held upside down and vertically, has his head driven down into the mat.

The number of cases in which a child died as the result of imitating such moves is large and includes several recent incidents (Clary, 2001; Davis, 1999). Over one-fifth of the teachers surveyed for this research (20.9%) said they had observed imitative behavior involving the neck, in that their students used the words “clothesline,” “chokehold,” “pedigree,” and “piledriver” in a context of physical aggression. The fact that the teachers cited such industry-specific terms suggests that they quite accurately attributed the observed physical behavior to an imitation of pro wrestling. A further 8.1% of the surveyed teachers reported students’ use of “headlocks,” while 6.8% reported observing imitative moves involving a jump from a raised surface of some sort (typically a desk or jungle gym) to land on another child, as wrestlers frequently jump onto their opponents from above.

The teachers were asked whether they had seen students injured as a result of imitating wrestling moves, and 57.9% of them had not. However, 42.1% said they had observed injury occurring as students imitated wrestling moves. Clearly, the potential for bodily harm through such imitation is occasionally realized. Most often, the injuries teachers had observed were bruises, cuts, and scrapes (74.4% of teachers) They also reported observing injuries to the head or neck (24.1% of teachers), muscle injuries such as sprain or strain (10% of teachers), and broken bones (5.7% of teachers).

Language. Findings for elementary and middle school teachers did not differ significantly with respect to their reports of how often students used aggressive or vulgar language while imitating wrestling programming. The teachers rated the frequency of such imitation between sometimes but not often and somewhat often (M = 2.64). According to the teachers, the most commonly imitated phrases included “Suck it,” which was the catchphrase of the defunct group of wrestlers known as “Degeneration X.” One quarter of the teachers (25.1%) reported this as the most commonly imitated wrestling expression among their students, who they said frequently mimicked a wrestling gesture (arms crossed in an X and moved repeatedly toward the pelvis as the hips are repeatedly thrust) to accompany the phrase. The students of 10.3% of the teachers had regularly used the term “ass,” for example in talking about the wrestler “Bad Ass Billy Gunn” and quoting the Rock’s slogan, “I’m going to whip your candy ass” (the Rock is another wrestler). Students had used other phrases to imitate the wrestler “Stone Cold Steve Austin,” according to 7.3% of the teachers, calling a peer “son of a bitch” or cheering, “Give me a ‘hell yeah.’” Other teacher reports of aggressive or vulgar language their students used could not with confidence be directly linked to pro wrestling.

Gestures. The teachers rated the frequency of children’s use of aggressive or vulgar gestures in imitation of pro wrestlers as between sometimes but not often and somewhat often, M = 2.53. Degeneration X’s gesture (see preceding paragraph) had been observed by 31.9% of the teachers, according to their reports. Stone Cold Steve Austin’s signature raised middle finger was mentioned by 27.8% of the teachers. It should be noted that some of WWE’s most popular merchandise alludes to Austin’s signature gesture, including a large foam hand with the middle finger raised and t-shirts bearing the gesture. No other gestures were cited by significant numbers of the teachers.

Sexually connotative language, gestures, other behavior. As described earlier, the sexual content of wrestling programming has increased dramatically in the last several years. Female characters are scantily clad, their roles often revolving around activities having sexual connotations, as in the “wrestling” matches between “divas” described earlier. Television’s place in social learning and the formation of cognitive scripts suggests that regular viewing of women in such roles may contribute to children’s development of harmful gender stereotypes and sex roles (Honig, 1983). Teachers in the current study indicated that they had observed children imitating sexually connotative pro wrestling behaviors sometimes but not often, M = 1.94. According to descriptions of such imitation provided by 15.7% of the teachers, the sexually connotative command “Suck it,” accompanied by the Degeneration X gesture directed at female classmates, was the most often observed.

Other sexually connotative behavior observed included male students’ imitation of the wrestler called “the Godfather.” At the time of data collection, this character was a pimp who was walked to the ring by scantily clad women called the “’ho train.” In imitating this wrestler, the students called female classmates “ho.” They also repeated the Godfather catchphrase “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy.” The teachers cited certain other sexually connotative language and behavior that could not with confidence be attributed clearly to wrestling’s influence and so was not included in the study. The results do tend to indicate, nevertheless, that imitation of sexually connotative behavior from pro wrestling does occur among children to some degree; it may perhaps contribute to their development of cognitive scripts that direct men and women to view each other as the men and women characters of pro wrestling appear to do.

Children’s Favorite Wrestlers (and Likely Models)

Prior research has shown that the relationship between televised violence and viewer aggression is strengthened when actors committing the violence on screen are perceived as attractive (Huesmann & Eron, 1986; National Television Violence Study, 1997). It was therefore proposed that the wrestlers whom children find most attractive and “cool” are those with whom they will most likely identify and those likeliest to eventually contribute to their cognitive scripts. In light of the proposal, teachers were asked for the names of any wrestler their students had ever mentioned. The wrestler most popular among children appears to be Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was mentioned by 61.4% of teachers (additionally, 34.0% of teachers named the Rock, 24.0% named Goldberg, 20.0% named the Undertaker, 14.3% named Hulk Hogan, and 13.5% named Degeneration X). The Stone Cold character’s popularity stems from his rebellious (presently, his main nemesis is WWE owner McMahon), mistrustful, take-no-prisoners attitude. For children to learn and imitate Austin’s coarse language and gestures goes against injunctive societal norms. One teacher’s remarks included the following:

I think that wrestling emulates things that we work hard to remove from the school environment. I understand that usually the good guy prevails, but before he prevails, he has to be run into the ground. The bad guy seems to gain all of the popularity. Characters like Stone Cold Steve Austin are such. He shows no respect for authority, values, or trust. The attitude is “I will get what I want at your expense.” Where does this take us?

It takes the WWE into the black, with enormous profits from sales to children of licensed merchandise featuring wrestlers like Austin: names, likenesses, coarse gestures, and violent sayings. One top-seller is a shirt stating, “Austin 3:16 says I Just Whipped Your Ass.”


The present research has provided initial insight into the ethical implications of professional wrestling’s targeting of children. It has asked whether wrestling, as it has targeted the valuable 18- to 34-year-old male demographic by making its products attractive to young adult males with sex and violence, has placed a potentially harmful product in the path of a vulnerable market segment: children. Social contract theory states that corporations exist only through a society’s cooperation and commitment, meaning there is a social contract providing legitimacy to businesses based on consent from those whom the business affects (Dunfee, Smith, & Ross, 1999). Relative to this ethical theory, pro wrestling and society hold each other responsible for the condition of their mutual existence. If this theory holds, and corporate legitimacy is provided by the consent of those affected by a business, society must critically examine the effects of professional wrestling and other forms of sport-entertainment marketed to its children. As this initial exploration has found, according to elementary and middle school teacher accounts, professional wrestling does indeed produce negative effects in the form of physical, verbal, and attitudinal imitation by children who are regular viewers of wrestling programming.

It should be noted that any discussion of ethics risks being perceived as normative or judgmental in tone. Indeed, the Code of Ethics of the American Marketing Association provides what many would consider a purely normative directive, stating that marketers should not do harm knowingly and should offer products and services that are safe and fit for their intended uses. Much of the marketing literature on ethical targeting issues deals primarily with assessing product harm and a target population’s vulnerability both to a marketing message and product (Rittenburg & Parthasarathy, 1997; Smith & Cooper-Martin, 1997). For this reason, assessment of and commentary on product harm and consumer vulnerability most often contain at least some statements perceived to be normative judgments, yet ethics’ importance from a non-normative, solely business standpoint cannot be ignored. As an example, consider Kotler’s (1997) “societal marketing concept” that organizations should build social and ethical considerations into their marketing practices and act in the best long-term interest of society. Because consumers make ethical judgments, Kotler claims, ethical business practices should in turn make positive impacts in the long-run success of an organization as consumers accept or reject products based in part on their ethical judgments. Indeed, Kotler’s societal marketing concept seems reflected in several areas of sport, such as the public’s rejection of athletes perceived to have engaged in unethical acts and the negative public reaction to sporting goods manufacturers’ perceived unethical acts (e.g., the labor practices of Nike). Sports marketers, including sport-entertainment marketers such as the WWE, must not lose sight of the relationship between ethical practices and financial success. In the language of Laczniak, Burton, and Murphy (1999), sports marketers should, in light of ethical considerations, begin to examine their current practices and justify, modify, or eliminate as necessary. It is toward this end that this examination of pro wrestling’s targeting of children was carried out.

Finally, Laczniak and Murphy (1993, 1999) suggest a series of tests be used to evaluate the ethics of marketing practices, including those of firms in the sports and entertainment industries. Two of these tests directly apply to the current issue. The “consequences test” asks, “Is it likely that any major damages to people or organizations will result from the contemplated action?” The “justice test” asks, “Does the proposed action leave another person or group less well off?” as well as “Is this person or group already a member of a relatively underprivileged class?” If underprivileged class is taken to mean vulnerable class/market segment, which would reflect the spirit and intent of the justice test, it could be argued that the professional wrestling industry performs questionably on both tests.


Raw beats the NBA finals in the ratings. (1999, June 24). BW SportsWire. Retrieved June 24, 1999, from

Bates, J. E., Bayles, K., Bennet, D. S., Ridge, B., & Brown, M. M. (1991). Origins of externalizing behavior problems at eight years of age. In D. J. Pepler & K. H. Rubin (Eds.), The Development and Treatment of Childhood Aggression (pp. 5-54). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Clary, M. (2001, January 26). Wrestling defense fails: Boy, 13 faces life. Los Angeles Times, pp. A1.

Davis, J. (1999, September 3). Did wrestling video spark kid to kill? Atlanta Journal-Constitution, pp. E5.

Dorr, A. (1986). Television and children: A special medium for a special audience. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Dunfee, T. W., Smith, N. C., & Ross, W. T. (1999, July). Social contracts and marketing ethics. Journal of Marketing, 63, 14-32.

Epkins, C. C. (1993). A preliminary comparison of teacher ratings and child self-report of depression, anxiety, and aggression in inpatient and elementary school samples. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 21(6), 649-661.

Eron, L. D., & Huesmann, L. R. (1987). Television as a source of maltreatment of children. School Psychology Review, 16(2), 195-202.

Huesmann, L. R. (1986). Psychological processes promoting the relation between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior by the viewer. Journal of Social Issues, 42(3), 125-139.

Huesmann, L. R., & Eron, L. D. (Eds.). (1986). Television and the aggressive child: A cross-national comparison. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Kotler, P. (1997). Marketing management: Analysis, planning, implementation, and control (9th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Laczniak, G. R., Burton, R., & Murphy, P. E. (1999). Sports marketing ethics in today’s marketplace. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 8 (4), 43-53.

Laczniak, G. R., & Murphy, P. E. (1993). Ethical marketing decisions: The higher road. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Meenaghan, T. (1996). Ambush marketing: A threat to corporate sponsorship. Sloan Management Review, 103-116.

National Television Violence Study (1997). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

O’Sullivan, P., & Murphy, P. E. (1998). Ambush marketing: The ethical issues. Psychology and Marketing, 15(14), 367-383.

Rittenburg, T. L., & Parthasarathy, M. (1997). Ethical implications of target market selection. Journal of Macromarketing, 17, 49-64.

Sandler, D., & Shani, D. (1989). Olympic sponsorship vs. ambush marketing. Journal of Advertising Research, 29(4), 9-14.

Sawyer, M. G., Baghurst, P., & Mathias, J. (1992). Differences between informants’ reports describing emotional and behavioural problems in community and clinic-referred children: A research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33, 441-449.

Singer, D. G., & Singer, J. L. (1988). Some hazards of growing up in a television environment: Children’s aggression and restlessness. In S. Oskamp (Ed.), Television as a social issue: Applied social psychology annual (pp. 171-188). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Smith, N. C., & Cooper-Martin, E. (1997, July). Ethics and target marketing: The role of product harm and consumer vulnerability. Journal of Marketing, 61, 1-20. (n.d.). Retrieved January 3, 2003, from (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2001, from (n.d. a). Retrieved January 3, 2003, from r_a_facts.html (n.d. b). Retrieved January 3, 2003, from l_advert.html
Author Note

Matthew J. Bernthal, Department of Sport and Entertainment Management, University of South Carolina.

All correspondence concerning this research should be addressed to Assistant Professor Matthew J. Bernthal, Department of Sport and Entertainment Management, College of Hospitality, Retail, and Sport Management, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208; phone 803-777-4579 (office), 803-732-1405 (home), 803-777-8788 (fax); e-mail: .

-Download How Viewing Professional Wrestling May Affect Children as PDF-