How Many Second Chances Do Wrestlers Like Jeff Hardy Get?

After his third arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol, it's worth asking whether or not wrestling enables wrestlers like Jeff Hardy by welcoming them back after scandal.

Jeff Hardy was arrested in Volusia County, Florida yesterday on multiple charges and was booked at 12:45 this afternoon. According to the police report, he was driving under the influence of alcohol on a suspended or restricted license. It’s the DUI that stands out, as its his third in less than 10 years.

Initially, I wasn’t sure I was going to file anything on this — Fanfyte isn’t known for news, and I generally do not like writing about the personal lives of wrestlers. But I spent some time scrolling through Twitter and saw a loud chorus of people hoping that Jeff Hardy would heal up and return to All Elite Wrestling, a sentiment I found myself at odds with.

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Don’t get me wrong: Jeff Hardy has been an integral part of my life as someone who follows professional wrestling; I am well aware of his struggles to gain and maintain sobriety. I’m looking forward to my fifth year of sobriety this year, so I get it. Trying and failing and trying again and failing again and trying again until it sticks is a process that is much more grueling than anybody who doesn’t deal with addiction can know.

So, yes, I wan’t Jeff Hardy to get better. Last year, Hardy was released by WWE after bailing on a house show match and refusing rehab. This, obviously, triggered well wishes and trolling, the assumption at the time being that Jeff was struggling with addiction again. His wife’s tweet the same day and his brother Matt’s comments on Twitch painted a somewhat muddied picture of a wrestler who maybe got one over on WWE, exiting a deal he was no longer happy with for the greener pastures of AEW, his obvious destination when his non-compete clause was up.

As fun as it was to imagine Jeff as a charismatic thief in the night, I always had trouble buying into the narrative. Matt’s comments sounded more concerned than confident — “He’s good and he’s gonna be okay,” “Just keep him in your thoughts,” I think he’s fine, everything’s gonna work out.”

Also, his release just felt weird. He walked out on a match in-progress, and the company’s response was to offer him rehab. His place on the card is arguably less essential than Sasha Banks or Naomi’s, but Jeff messed up a show while he was out there performing, which has to be an order of magnitude higher than walking out before the show, and he was only let go when he was refused rehab.

At the risk putting together a puzzle I don’t have all the pieces for, WWE’s offer of rehabilitation suggests that they wanted to keep Jeff, at the very least to stave off a lucrative reunion of he and Matt in a company replete with new talent for them to wrestle. They let him go, but they extended a hand first. Very un-WWE, especially in an era of merciless roster-cutting.

Then Jeff Hardy signed to AEW.

I don’t know whether or not AEW has a wellness policy, or to what extent it offers support to contracted talent, but Hardy’s issues are a known quantity, to the point that they’re almost a part of his legend. Regardless of his head when he signed or when he last wrestled, an arrest of this nature is the risk you take with Hardy.

When he was fired from WWE in 2003, it was for drug use, refusing rehab, and no-showing events, among other things. He returned to WWE in 2007 and, in a interview, said “I didn’t need rehab,” continuing that he failed drug tests “because I just didn’t care.” From that point forward, WWE never shied away from exploitings Hardy’s problems for the sake of a storyline — See Jeff’s legend.

He was released by TNA in 2006 for no-showing the 2005 Turning Point pay-per-view, claiming to have overslept.

During his second TNA run, Hardy infamously showed up to Victory Road unable to wrestle Sting, visibly drunk. It’s as rough as wrestling gets. TNA sent Hardy home from Impact tapings for five months, writing him him out of storylines.

And then there’s his most recent exit from WWE.

These work issues are punctuated by a 2009 arrest for trafficking prescription pills and possession of anabolic steroids, in 2019 for public intoxication, and 2018, 2019, and yesterday for driving under the influence.

You could charitably call these events red flags. They’re more like klaxons, or a lighthouse, or an air raid siren. Jeff Hardy has a documented history of issues with pills and alcohol stretching back to  2003! That’s 19 years! But Jeff’s a different breed, like a siren trying to lure promoters to their doom when he’s not singing PeroxWhy?Gen songs. Coincidentally, PeroxWhy?Gen formed the same year Hardy was first released from WWE.

If you’re wondering how Jeff Hardy keeps finding work, it’s this: he is a uniquely talented and popular wrestler whose fans have always seen him and his brother as underdogs in wrestling, the parasocial nature of this relationship having long been encouraged by both brothers. Jeff has a number of classic matches, short but memorable reigns with WWE’s top titles, more than a few critically acclaimed angles, and God knows how many t-shirts sold.

In short, Jeff Hardy is a draw, and as long as that remains so, there will be a home for him.

That’s too bad, because at this point the conclusion I keep coming to is that professional wrestling is enabling Jeff Hardy.

Whether or not I’d point the blame at specific bookers or promotions is a harder thing to suss out — again, I have suffered alcohol abuse disorder, but no matter how shitty the experience was, my gender identity, my landlord, my school, my job, a concussion, having to sell a ton of my records and books for less than they were worth, being separated from my dog; all of that balls itself up into an excuse. But they aren’t the reason; none of that forced me to drink any more than wrestling does Jeff Hardy.

But what wrestling does do is continuously look away when Jeff Hardy does something that’d get someone with three-fourths of his talent drummed out of a major wrestling promotion. I’m hardly an ambassador for the carceral state, but, generally speaking, 262 Vicodin pills, 180 soma pills, and 555 milliliters of anabolic steroids is a bad thing for a wrestler to get caught with a little over half a month from dropping the World Heavyweight Title.

But the consequences, personally and professionally, for Jeff’s issues have always been light. He served 10 days in jail and paid $100,000 over the drug trafficking charge, and his bond for yesterday’s arrest is $3,500. Professionally, his seesawing from WWE to TNA garnered him much-hyped debuts in both, the narrative since 2007 being that he was battling his demons.

That’s basically a way of saying “we are going to exploit this,” and they did. In the same 2007 interview where the first words of his printed are that he didn’t need rehab, he explicitly stated that he didn’t want to be known as someone who beat their demons. WWE has never been shy about exploiting either of the Hardys’ personal lives, but with Jeff they had him fake an overdose, get taken to task by a straight edge wrestler, and fight Sheamus in a bar fight. It’s trifling, overdose angle aside,  but if you know Jeff Hardy, if you like Jeff Hardy, these angles are like poking a bruise.

So, wrestling wants Jeff Hardy because he’s easy to make money with, and Jeff Hardy doesn’t mind wrestling so much because it’s an inoculation from the consequences of his actions. There’s always enough money to pay the fine, there’s always enough clout that fans will always be excited to see him.

And that’s the problem. I’m not saying to throw Jeff Hardy away or unravel his legacy, but it is beyond time to come to the realization that his career and his issues are chasing each other like a dog chasing his tail. Do the folks wishing Jeff Hardy a recovery and return to the ring realize this?

Do they realize that there being three DUIs on someone’s record suggests a record of drunk driving beyond the times he was fortunate enough to get caught?

Yes, I do mean fortunate. You don’t have to be Scruff McGruff to know that a DUI can end in injury or death for the driver and who the driver hits, so it is good that Jeff Hardy got caught and bad that the consequence is change to him.

Which is where Tony Khan comes in. Whether or not Jeff Hardy shows up to Dynamite this Wednesday, he has to refuse to let him wrestle. Frankly, he should get released. Beyond that, WWE and Impact Wrestling and MLW and GCW and every promotion beneath them should unilaterally refuse to work with him.

The same way you can’t rehabilitate an abuser by allowing them to occupy the same spaces, have the same friendships and social status, and refuse to atone for what he’s done, you can’t expect an addict who once said “I failed numerous drug tests because I just didn’t care to wrestle anymore. A sense of me believes that it might have been a way out [of wrestling],” to do anything else but continue the cycle of addiction.

If Jeff Hardy always has a home, what reason does he have to change his behavior, to seek the help that he’s adamant he doesn’t need, to seriously pursue a course of action that may actually get him to the level of health and clarity his fans want for him?

None. Absolutely none.

But this is wrestling, and Jeff Hardy is a draw. So long as that’s true, there will be a promoter willing to gamble on him, regardless of how bad that gamble is.