They say it’s healthy to get things off your chest – that seeking help is a sign of strength. So allow me to unburden myself. This one’s been weighing on me for far too long.

I once cried during Wrestlemania.

It should be noted that I was 6 at the time. It’s still acceptable to bawl over ridiculously trivial matters when you believe in Santa Claus and your bedsheets are smattered with drawings of Superman. Nevertheless, I can imagine that, for my parents, it was quite the cringeworthy spectacle. They had to watch their pajamas-wearing son bury his face in a blanket because Hulk Hogan was pretending to get the snot knocked out him by Andre the Giant. Summoning my powers of empathy, I can understand how that may have been a less than ideal evening for them.

What can I say? I liked wrestling.

Notice that “liked” is in the past tense. It’s true that I’ve outgrown my obsession, and I frankly wouldn’t be able to live with myself if my emotions still hinged on the fate of Johnny Man-Bosoms and his gnat-sized tights. The whole enterprise has set a new standard for silly. Professional wrestling may not be as inane as, say, peeing on an electrified fence, but it’s definitely way more stupid than bungee jumping naked off an icy bridge in February. At least in that scenario you’ve got an interesting story to tell.

Stupid isn’t necessarily a bad thing in all situations; look no further than any Mel Brooks comedy for proof of that. Wrestling, though, is geared toward young people, and when you’re dealing with something dumb that’s marketed to youth, it had better also be wholesome (not to mention infrequent). When I was 6, wrestling was sort of wholesome – minus the chokeholds, taunting, and steel chair shots to the groin. Hogan was the face of this non-sport, and his oft-repeated message was to say your prayers, eat your vitamins, and … there was a third thing, but I can’t remember it. Floss your teeth with horsehair or something. Point being, it was wholesome.

Time would reveal Hogan to be an immoral, racist boogersnot. But we kids didn’t know that then. All we knew was that he had an upbeat message, and our parents seemed to think that some occasional stupidity was OK as long as there were positive role models involved.

That was almost 30 years ago. Have you seen wrestling lately? Holy crap! Swearing. Beer drinking. Wanton semi-nudity. The works. It’s not that I’m a prude; in other contexts, each of these things can be quite terrific, especially if they’re combined, like when you have a foul-mouthed naked person quaffing Heineken through a straw in their hands-free beer hat. Youth programs, though, should be held to a different standard. You don’t see Big Bird crushing cans on his forehead while calling Elmo’s mother a hussy. That would be the strangest episode of Sesame Street ever. Likewise, you won’t see Dora the Explorer get into a fistfight with her backpack because the backpack had a tryst with her boyfriend and then set Dora’s hair on fire. Although that’d be a sure-fire way to boost ratings.

There’d surely be a loud and gap-toothed contingent of aficionados who’d be eager to point out that wrestling is for teens and up – that the rougher elements of this bizarre entertainment offering are only meant for certain sets of eyes. That contingent should be reminded that there exists such a thing as a DVR, which records programs much the same way VCRs did back in the Paleolithic Era. Even if the Goofball Wrestling League’s Monday night broadcast of “Steroids and Speedos Jamboree” airs at 11 p.m., a single flick of the remote will preserve it on a hard drive, turning into an on-demand affair. Young Benny Bongobopper can watch it when he gets home from school, safe in the knowledge that mom is at work and dad is passed out in the den next to a fifth of Johnny Walker and an open can of paint thinner.

Sometime during high school, I briefly re-discovered pro wrestling through some friends of mine. One in particular, “Marvin,” would tape the Monday broadcast so we could watch at our leisure. I hadn’t been a viewer since Hogan’s heyday, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on that initial go-’round. Turns out it was a testosterone-rich soap opera straight from the lobotomized mind of a gas-huffing sea urchin. It’s a monster truck rally for people who prefer bad acting to monster trucks. That’s all well and good when you’re 16 years old on a Friday night, whittling away the wee hours in your friend’s basement with a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew. It’s another thing altogether when you realize, later in life, that it’s prurient violence porn packaged as family fare.

You can look up old matches on video streaming websites. Recently I punched in “Wrestlemania III” and re-watched the title “bout” – the Hogan-versus-Andre affair that had me bawling as an impressionable tot. It was hard to suppress a smile. Hogan did appear to be getting shellacked for much of the proceeding, which of course was his job; you’ve got to build some suspense, milk it a little, before you bring it on home. My youthful tears were premature and reactionary, though. The match had a happy ending: My flaxen-haired hero scoop-slammed the massive Andre and pinned him for a threecount, and when it was over, there was no trash-talking, no adult beverages mockingly poured over the loser’s bloodied head. Just the odd joy of watching grown men play make-believe in silly costumes. Say your prayers and eat your vitamins, brother.

Maybe what’s happened to wrestling is a result of cultural forces. Youth, the supposed age of innocence, isn’t that innocent anymore. Simpe good versus evil is no longer enough to grab kids’ attentions; you need attitude, shock value, something to make them gasp. What they’re exposed to in the process is unfortunate.

It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

Jeff Lagasse is a columnist and Assistant Editor at the Journal Tribune. He was going to write a column about Sept. 11, but then the terrorists would have won. He can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 319 or [email protected]