BY JEREMY BLACHMAN
“I tell the truth,” said former professional wrestler and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, at the start of his brown-bag lunch with members of the Committee on Sports and Entertainment Law (CSEL) on Tuesday. Ventura briefly discussed his career and then spent almost 90 minutes fielding a variety of questions from students, in a freewheeling discussion that touched on subjects as diverse and controversial as steroid use in professional sports, the California recall election, his wrestling career, President Bush, organized religion, the second amendment, and his current experience as a visiting scholar at the Kennedy School of Government.
“People tell me wrestling is fake… I take offense to that,” Ventura said. “We put our bodies on the line. If something goes wrong and someone gets paralyzed, that’s not fake.” He explained that during halftime at professional basketball games, sometimes a man on a trampoline will come out to perform, and “he’s called an artist. But I’d like to see the trampoline artist miss the trampoline and land on the floor and then we’ll see how much of an artist he is.”
Ventura said that for thirty years wrestling has been the third largest spectator sport behind NASCAR and horse racing, “and horse racing only because you can bet.” In part, he said the popularity can be explained because wrestling is year-round. “The NBA gets three months off… we don’t take off for the summer.”
About professional wrestling, he said that only the finishes were planned out, but everything else in the ring was ad-libbed. In noisy arenas, he said, you could whisper the next moves to your opponent. Above all, “protect your opponent’s body like it’s yours.”
Because of the grueling schedule, wrestlers, he acknowledged, have been particularly prone to using steroids and other drugs. Ventura said “something like 57 pro wrestlers have died before age 52 – well-trained athletes,” and he blames the early deaths largely on drugs. “People live for the now, the glory, no one knew the long-term problems… and now you see wrestlers dropping dead,” Ventura said. He doesn’t believe the problem can ever be solved: “the steroids are always one step ahead of the testing… [like] human growth hormone stuff where they turn you into chimpanzees.”
“I was aghast at the President talking about steroids in the State of the Union. Unless he’s juicing up. Well, the way he walks around…” Ventura mused. He acknowledged he tried testosterone a few times. “[Steroids] do work. I was bench pressing 315 pounds and within 30 days I was up to 390… Testosterone is the one steroid your wife’ll remind you to take because your sexual prowess goes up strongly,” he said.
Ventura criticized those who say Ralph Nader ought not run for President. “Nobody owns your vote. This nonsense that he spoiled the election… Gore didn’t win in his home state. [Or] if he had won Bill Clinton’s Arkansas, he would have won the election… And that idiotic electoral college. It served its purpose long ago. How can [Gore] get 500,000 more votes and lose?” Ventura asked.
He said he initially thought the Reform Party would grow into a legitimate third party, but “Ross Perot, he had it, he killed it, it’s sad… it’s about Ross Perot and his ego… when I won [in Minnesota] he hated me because I took publicity from Perot.”
About the current election, he said the difference between Bush and Kerry is “like Coke and Pepsi” and both have been paid off by the same lobbyists anyway. “Will someone tell me how the President creates jobs without expanding government?” he asked. “I’m gonna create three million jobs, they say – well, name me one.” He said if he was running he would attack Bush “for not being a conservative when it comes to economics” since Bush has grown government spending by more than 20%.
Ventura called the California recall election “a complete misuse… [It] made a signature more powerful than a vote. How hard is it to get any idiot in a shopping mall to sign on a line?” He asked, “How many Californians are here? You should be ashamed.” He recalled that reporters would ask him how he felt about Arnold Schwarzenegger doing what he had done, and he would say, “Arnold’s not doing what I did. I ran in a real election against two endorsed candidates and beat them, not this recall nonsense.”
He talked about kids today and tattoos: “Don’t they realize it’s permanent? I can’t believe how kids tattoo themselves like that…. Wait until your kids say, mom, dad, what’s up with that?”
A question about a controversial answer Ventura gave in an interview with Playboy magazine regarding his feelings that organized religion is unnecessary to feel spiritual led to him mentioning that he read the recent best-selling book “The DaVinci Code,” and enjoyed it, and that it stopped his wife from going to church. This prompted a response from 3L Lucas Osborn, who got into a prolonged exchange with Ventura over the extent to which one can infer truth from the New Testament. “I don’t think Jesus would have been down on gay people,” Ventura said. “And you know what’s great about this subject? No one can say I’m wrong…. I believe that [you should] treat your fellow man like you want to be treated. I can be spiritual by the Charles River, I don’t need a church.”
Asked about his varied career, Ventura said, “I haven’t embraced the concept of reincarnation… until I do, I’m going to do everything possible on this planet. I get bored. I want to try something new…. This summer, I’m going to do nothing. Fish, golf, drive my new Porsche. It cost me more than my first two houses.”
Finally, Ventura was asked about his time at the Kennedy School. “There’s nothing more gratifying than to pass on your knowledge to the next generation,” he said. “I did the Hasty Pudding Show and it was the first time I ever dressed in drag. I don’t know where they get those size 13 heels. They said a transvestite store.”
Reaction to Ventura was overwhelmingly positive. One-L Hillary Gould said, “It was a really engaging and interesting couple of hours. Even if you disagree with his views, you have to admire his candor.” One student who did not attend said, “I wish I had gone.”