The day before Thanksgiving I was fortunate to be able to interview Smashing Pumpkins singer and songwriter Billy Corgan. He loves his day job as a rock and roll legend. But Billy is a huge sports fan, and one with a hankering for getting involved in other projects. We talked about his new wrestling company, Resistance Pro, the Cubs, and other things.
Andy Frye: Thanks for talking with me. Where are you?
Billy Corgan: Berlin. Sorry to call a little early, but I’ve got a gig in a little bit.
AF: No problem. So how did you get into wrestling with Resistance Pro and the Baron Brothers?
BC: They (promoters Jacques and Gabriel Baron) were running another wrestling company, and reached out to me. Scott Hall, who was helping them promote had dropped out of a show and they asked me to help promote the show, get involved, help sell some tickets.
And afterward they asked me what I thought and I told them very honestly where I thought there were opportunities and weaknesses. Later (Jacques and Gabriel) went onto to set up their own wrestling company, and that’s how I got involved as a partner.
AF: I’ve heard you played sports in high school.
BC: Yeah, I was a basketball guy and a baseball guy. The funny thing about me that most people never really understand is that, at heart, I'm really a jock. I’m much more of a jock mentality than of a musician mentality. I love sports and I love competition and I never get bored with that.
A second story body slam from Resistance Pro's "Black Friday"
And the crowd chanting "Holy Shit!"
AF: Your wrestling league, Resistance Pro, has an emphasis on concussion awareness as a centerpiece. Did you suffer concussions yourself as an athlete when you were younger?
BC: It’s a bit convoluted. Yes, I had concussions when I was a kid playing football, and I got concussed playing basketball in an elbow-to-the-head kinda thing. So I know what it feels like and what it feels like to hear “just go rub some dirt on it and get back in there”.
I'm friends with Chris Nowinski, the former WWE Wrestler of Sports Legacy Institute [and author of Head Games:Football's Concussion Crisis]. I knew Chris when he was an active wrestler got to know him since he was a Pumpkins fan. And I saw what he went through when he had to retire from wresting from a concussion-related injury. He was really hurt.
And so, Chris and I have stayed in touch all these years and he’s asked me to sort of help out. So when this came about I reached out to Chris and said, “Hey I’ve got a cool idea. What if we become the first wrestling company that works with you (SLI) to make concussion issues part of our safety and the safety of our talent?”
Because, I believe that wrestling needs to come into the 21st century. And I think there’s a lot of good that can come out of it. Injuries are injuries. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Can you do things to lessen injuries? Yes. Definitely like no chair shots to the head, and stuff like that. But awareness is key.
AF: You’ve probably heard about the NFL wanting to expand to 18 games, and about Dave Duerson’s death earlier this year. Do you think the public and sports world has concussions on their radar?
BC: When the general public realizes that concussions are very, very serious, especially long term, I think there will be a huge shift. I think it’s starting already. For example, Chris told me that 60 percent of the concussions (in sports) happen in practice. So, yeah, now you’re seeing high school sports and the NFL take notice, and that’s a culture change.
And in the pro wrestling world we had the death of Chris Benoit, who by his own hand murdered his family. That was horrible. When the autopsy showed that his brain…he had the brain of an 80 year old man… That shifted what goes on in wrestling and that was a big, big deal in wrestling.
In football, unfortunately we haven’t had enough tragedies to where the general public says, “OK, enough of this”. And for me, just as a fan, when you see guys like Jim McMahon –a guy I grew up watching— and guys like that saying their having trouble remembering names, that’s not how I want my heroes to go out. So maybe there hasn’t yet been that big a-ha moment.
AF: Is football, with so much going on, so big that the issue maybe isn’t getting the attention it needs?
BC: Football is huge. I think what will end up happening is, that players themselves start to recognize the long term risks (of concussions) and it will be up to them to say something and make a statement about whether or not they want to take those risks.
I’m a football fan. I love watching the games. I just don’t want to see these guys in wheelchairs, or taking their own lives. So maybe at some point there is more evaluation, more stringent testing. Like in our situation, we’re going to pre- and post- screen all the wrestlers for concussions.
I’ve heard a statistic that the average lifespan of an NFL player is 20 years less than the general public. If that is true, then that’s a shocking statistic.
If the risk is not gonna go away and football is not gonna go away then it’s our duty to do the best with what we have. We (Resistance Pro Wrestling) have doctors we’re working with who will fly in, do screening. They want the data. And so if a wrestler is, say, vomiting or having problems a few days later, we’ve at least done the screening and kept tabs on each of the talent to better get an idea of what’s happening, and not just look the other way.
More body slams from "Black Friday". And masks!
AF: I know you're a Cubs fan. You hear about new Cubs GM Theo Epstein, and the moves he’s made already to change things. What’s your thoughts of 2012’s prospects?
BC: My opinion as a Cubs fan has been pretty consistent for a while. Which is, that the Cubs should build a winning organization. They should be able to compete with every team in that market, year in and year out, just like the Cardinals do. What you’ve seen, basically since the Bartman incident has been a real headshaker. What you want to see as a Cubs fan is a culture shift to build a good team, a good farm system, a good public outreach, and a culture that’s insistent on winning and doing things right all around. The go-for-broke in one season thing just, generally speaking, hasn’t worked out as well.
AF: What about the feeling that –maybe, in some fans’ opinions—that sentimentality or the need to get a “Cubs man” or past player in the club house in the past hasn’t worked to the team’s favor?
BC: For me, well, I don’t buy that. My biggest argument is, “Who the Cardinals batting coach?” Mark McGuire’s had how much controversy in the last 5 to 7 years?
AF: A lot.
BC: Right. But they stood by their guy, stood by their guy…and they just won a championship. I think loyalty does matter on a certain level.
AF: And how is it being in Europe, touring, and trying to keep abreast of your sports as a Chicago sports fan?
BC: Well, you know I do my ESPN.com check every day and try to read in between the lines. When you're in public life, you have a tendency to not really listen to what people say, but try to hear what they are really saying.
AF: Do you have any favorite sports websites, or news resources you favor whether it’s Grantland, ESPN Page 2, The Fourth Period or even Deadspin that you like to read and keep up on?
BC: Um, I don’t know. I think I’m old enough to enjoy sports but keep what’s in the sport media in perspective. I found myself looking at the commentary on things like the NBA lockout and such, but I think sports culture has gotten to a level where there’s so much hyperbole that I can't get into it so much.
I mean, I love sports. I’m a lifelong sports fan. But without perspective, for example a lot of people are out of work right now, we’ve got banks failing…Without that kind of perspective, it always makes me a little uneasy. Not every guy who hits a home run is a hero. Not every disaster that happens to an athlete necessarily says something about sports at large.
Billy and Smashing Pumpkins are finishing out their European tour in promotion of the band’s newest album entitled Oceania. Resistance Pro has its next bout scheduled at Excalibur in Chicago on Jan 13, 2012.
You can read my earlier ESPN Page 2 piece about Corgan and Resistance Pro here.