It seems in today’s growing Social Media and online presence landscape, wrestling podcasts are like opinions. Everybody has one. But this past May, a married couple from Atlanta, Georgia, Amanda and RJ Gilbert, launched Watch Your Head Wrestling, a podcast devoted to a very intriguing and unique look into the world of professional wrestling from the standpoint of mental health. From the mental conditions brought on by years of physical abuse in the ring, to those mental illness brought on by addiction or by nature, Watch Your Head has looked into the circumstances of such legends as The Dynamite Kid, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Miss Elizabeth and the Von Erich family. Last Word on Pro Wrestling caught up with the Gilberts to discuss this refreshing new take on a wrestling podcast.
Watch Your Head Wrestling, A New Podcast
Wrestling podcasts are a dime a dozen these days, with the majority seeming to focus on ripping apart the WWE. But you two picked a topic that is very unique in a sea of wrestling shows. How did you both decide to use mental illness in the industry as your impetus for Watch Your Head?
RJ Gilbert: It happened rather organically, we wanted to do a podcast and our top 2 topics were mental illness and pro wrestling. Both are extremely important to us and along the way we decided to combine the two and make something we feel is thoroughly unique.
It also seems to be very topical – with more attention being given to head shots and concussion protocol, we’re seeing more and more wrestlers coming forward with depression stories. Was that something that struck a chord or was it something that just kind of developed alongside it?
RJ: It definitely struck a chord with us, there are several incidents in wrestling’s history where you see the injuries and the disregard for athlete’s health, and then see what could be considered the results of that and realize that the entire thing could have been completely avoided if people had been aware. The mission of the podcast is to spread that awareness and hopefully keep people from taking those risks with their health.
You chose a doozy of a debut entry into the podcast world, with a look at the Von Erich family “curse” – but it definitely is a family riddled with mental illness tragedy, with so many suicides. What drew you to their story as your opening subject?
RJ: I had heard the basic outline of the story before and had read accounts from people in the industry so I knew we could find relevant information, what we didn’t realize was how tragic the story was if it was looked at from the perspective of mental health and once we started seeing it that way, there was no way to avoid talking about it. We felt that a lot of people hadn’t heard their story and a lot of the ones who had hadn’t heard it the way we felt we needed to tell it.
You’ve gone on to look at the situations around such legends as Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Miss Elizabeth, Jimmy Snuka and Dynamite Kid. What are some of the stories or details you discovered working on the podcast that you weren’t aware of before?
The most important thing we’ve discovered is the value of a support system. You see the people like Elizabeth and Dynamite and Snuka who had problems almost from the beginning, but by the time anyone tried to help them, it was too much for anyone to handle to bring them back from their self-destruction. In the case of Jake, however, we see DDP and his group go to the extreme lengths necessary to save his life and we see how much effort it takes to save someone at that point in their lives. You can take any one of those accounts and apply a fraction of Page’s effort to when things started to go wrong and you can begin to see a completely different outcome. If a support system is established early on, tragedy is a lot easier to avoid.
Is it refreshing to see wrestler’s talk more openly about it now? Scott Hall has been very talkative lately of the severe depression that his accidental shooting of a man that cause that man’s death early in his career, more so than any point in his career. And then you’ve got Jervis Cottonbelly who had a near suicide moment but has turned it around to be a very vocal advocate the past year.
Amanda Gilbert: I think that it is very refreshing. It’s absolutely amazing when you see people who have a platform that use that platform for positive things. I believe that it will give people a voice who were afraid to share their experiences and also continue spreading awareness.
I have decided to write about my recent #mentalhealth emergency. Too many of us suffer in silence and my goal is to shed light on & de-stigmatize a serious health problem. I hope you'll read it with an open mind & heart.https://t.co/d5EvbBzaZQ
— Gentleman Jervis ? (@GentlemanJervis) April 16, 2018
How has the reception been to the podcast so far?
RJ: I’d say the response has been phenomenal. The verbal feedback has been nothing but praise and we continue to see our reach spread farther than we had anticipated when we started doing this. We already felt like our message was important, but when you see people from other countries and continents tuning in for every new episode, you know how important that message is for everyone.
Any “spoilers” on who you have planned for upcoming episodes? Any stories you’re looking forward to getting into?
Amanda: Lately we’ve taken a break from “heavier” topics but our next endeavor will be showcasing the 9th Wonder of the World. Chyna was a huge influence on me growing up and I feel she deserves to be shown in a positive light. We’ve wanted to talk about Chyna for quite a while now but it’s a very emotional topic for me personally.
RJ: We have something major in the works though. Something we’ve been planning from the beginning…
Amanda: A series with multiple parts.
Obviously you two are just starting out, the podcast is only six months old, but I assume you’d like to start giving wrestlers a platform to discuss their own battles with mental illness. Are there any you have checked off as being “dream guests” so to speak to share their stories?
RJ: Of course, we’d love the opportunity to give wrestlers or anyone who has been involved with the industry a chance to speak out. As far as dream guests are concerned it would have to be a tie between DDP, Mick Foley or Lita. It would be incredible to get their thoughts and perspective on events that most fans may or may not know. However, the incredible thing about having a podcast is that you can give a voice to someone who may have never thought about sharing their experiences before and it can actually get out there and affect real people. I feel like I’d enjoy that just as much as any of the three I just mentioned.
If any professional wrestlers read this interview and are interested in getting in touch to tell their story, how can they do so?
Well, in closing, as a fellow sufferer of mental illness, I’d like to thank and applaud you both for tackling an avenue that few are comfortable walking down and shedding some light on topics that aren’t usually addressed by wrestling media. Keep up the great work!
RJ: These are hard conversations to have, but the world will benefit from having them. We’ll continue to make our voices heard despite that, but it’s up to them to keep the conversation going once we shut the mic off for the day. Hopefully by us breaking the silence, they can find it easier to talk about the next time they have an opportunity.
You can download and listen to Watch Your Head Wrestling on iTunes and other great podcast homes.