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  July 13, 2000



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SLAM! Wrestling Editorial: Blind loyalty hides the dark side
By JOHN F. MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling

Over the past four years, pro wrestling has enjoyed a boom in its business in North America. Record buyrates, huge Monday night ratings and sellouts at major arenas have become the norm, especially for the WWF. Nobody can deny that wrestling is hot.

Just don't ever make the mistake of thinking it's an ethical business. It isn't. And don't think the people running it are principled. They're not.

Since joining SLAM! Wrestling last year, I've written several articles criticizing the business and those who are in charge. As a result, I've been flooded with hundreds of e-mails from irate fans, promoters and wrestlers: "For someone who professes to love pro wrestling, you sure say a lot of negative things about it", "You seem intent on bringing the wrestling business down" and "Why are you always so negative?"

Wrestling fans, God love 'em, are among the most blindly loyal fans in all of sports. They've joined hand in hand with wrestling management in chastising members of the media who dare to question the moral and ethical infrastructure of pro wrestling.

Wrestlers and promoters have told me that I "simply don't understand the wrestling business." It's a similar charge levied at any reporter or member of the media who writes something critical about pro wrestling. A charge I've heard all too often.

Phil Mushnick knows what I'm talking about. Mushnick is the New York Post columnist whose columns on the WWF-steroid scandal in the early '90s lead to the U.S. government handing down an indictment against Vince McMahon. Mushnick is the one who acts as a wrestling watchdog, pointing out gross racial stereotypes, obscene acts of violence and sexually degrading scenes on RAW is WAR and Nitro. He's the one who speaks out against the practices of promoters like McMahon, WCW's Eric Bischoff and ECW's Paul Heyman.

And he's the one who's been called everything from a coward to a liar by the wrestling establishment and fans. He just doesn't understand the wrestling business, they say.

Yet, despite his sanctimonious and holier-than-thou tone, Mushnick has made some of the most poignant, dead-on accurate observations about the wrestling business found in print journalism.

After Brian Pillman's death in 1997, Mushnick wrote "The problem is mainstream media don't look hard enough at pro wrestling. Imagine if middle-aged pro-baseball players dropped dead on a regular basis, this would be page one stuff and a federal inquiry would be launched."

Pillman's was just another in a long line of drug-related deaths in wrestling that was ignored.

The drug problem in this sport is very real. It's very ugly.

Yet, promoters turn a blind eye to it, offering the feeble argument that what wrestlers do on their own time is their own business. Promoters have washed their hands of the drug issue. They don't want to have anything to do with truth. The sport, is after all, a con. Promoters extend that con to real life issues within pro wrestling. They don't deal in truth. They deal in fabrications and lies.

Wrestlers, as Bret Hart so astutely pointed out, are nothing more than circus animals. They're forced to jump through hoops and once they've lived out their usefulness, promoters take them out back behind the barn and put a slug into them.

This is a reality that I, as a reporter on the inside covering the sport, have come to understand. It's also a reality not lost on a wrestling 'outsider' like Mushnick.

Following the death of Bobby Duncum Jr. last year, he wrote, "Pro wrestling's hot. Red hot. The wrestlers, while real human beings, are expendable and interchangeable. Their real-life deaths mean nothing."

A more concise description of the state of pro wrestling, I don't think I've ever read. In one simple paragraph, Mushnick brilliantly captured what pro wrestling has become: a macabre body count of dead bodies.

Phil Mushnick understands.

Think I'm being over dramatic? Think it isn't true? Think I'm making a big deal over nothing? Think that wrestlers aren't anything more than pieces of meat?

Think about this. Earlier this year, ESPN's Jim Rome had Vince McMahon on his "Last Word" program. The interview at one point centred on the Owen Hart tragedy. When Rome questioned McMahon on his decision to continue the pay-per-view, McMahon defended is actions saying that Owen Hart would have wanted it that way.

Just last month, Rome had Bret Hart on his program and after replaying Vince's comments, Rome told the viewing audience that McMahon's comments were the most cold-blooded, arrogant and insensitive thing he had ever heard.

After hearing that Bret's salary had been cut in half after injuring himself in a WCW ring while working for the company, Rome correctly pointed out that wrestlers are at the mercy of promoters, that they need some kind of union and that they're continually being asked by management to perform stunts they are not qualified to do.

Jim Rome understands.

Three weeks ago, Jim Cornette was on Dave Meltzer's 'Wrestling Observer' Internet show where he was labelling Vince Russo and WCW a bunch of corrupt, immoral cowards. Conveniently, he had no similar condemnation for his former employer McMahon or the WWF.

I phoned the program to question Cornette on this. I cited the Owen Hart debacle as a prime example of the WWF being just as unethical as WCW. He labelled my comments 'distasteful' and said I simply don't understand the wrestling business.

Here's what I understand about that evening in Kansas City:

Owen Hart plummeted 75 feet to his death on a WWF pay-per-view. The WWF sent EMT's down to ringside to pry Owen's body off the canvas and carted him to the back. The WWF continued on with the pay-per-view. They did not inform the live audience so as not to spoil the desired crowd responses they wanted for the rest of the show. McMahon later told Michael Landsberg on TSN's 'Off The Record' that the thought of stopping the show never even entered into his mind. He then decided to speak for Owen on Jim Rome's program, saying Owen would have wanted the show to continue.

Cold-blooded. Heartless. Calculated. Insensitive. Obscene. That's the only way the actions of McMahon and the WWF on that night can be described. That's what's truly distasteful.

That's what I understand.

Did the WWF kill Owen Hart? Of course not. Was it an accident? Absolutely. Do they regret what happened? Yes.

But, the death of Owen Hart, the alarming death rate among pro wrestlers, the drug problem that plagues wrestling, the way wrestlers are either fired or have their pay cut when they get injured -- it's on all the hands of Vince McMahon, Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman. This is on their conscience.

Wrestling is not an unsoiled business. It's a dirty one. No amount of whitewash will ever sanitize it. No matter how much polish and shine people put on the corporate image of the WWF and WCW, the strong stench of corruption emanating from Stamford and Atlanta will never subside. It isn't surprising to see promoters and owners pass themselves as great humanitarians.

But the fact that fans would even foster the pretence that wrestling and its promoters have an ounce of integrity is downright laughable.

The reality, as I see it, isn't that we, the media, don't understand the wrestling business... it's that we understand it all too well.

Reader Feedback

  • July 6:What's next for WWF & ECW?


  • You know, there's one thin I can't get out of my mind, with all the talk and anticipation for the acquisition of WWF RAW by CBS for broadcast on TNN.

    If CBS likes WWF so much, why will RAW be on TNN? According to all the numbers, the ECW show had average ratings of only 0.85 or so, and yet was STILL the highest rated show on the network. Do they really expect TNN is CAPABLE of getting a show whose ratings are at least 4.0? And as for having HEAT on MTV... I just don't get it.

    More specifically, why isn't RAW on network television? IS there some rule on CBS that they can't show wrestling on the main network, the way that NBC used to have WWF's old Saturday Night Main Event?

    From what I understand, what WWF gets from the deal is a new drama series (which WILL be broadcast on the network no doubt), a network for XFL football, and an extra bunch of promotional appearances at CBS-affiliated locations.

    Sorry, but how this appears to me is that the ones who deserve the credit for enabling McMahon to be at this point, his wrestlers, will be all but ignored, while the untried and untested get all the glory, attention and guaranteed salaries. And here I thought you don't drop the one that brought you to the dance.

    David Scott
    Good article on the WWF/ECW/TNN/USA issue, however there's one issue you didn't cover (it didn't really fit in though), but is an issue which has bothered me. I haven't been kept totally in-the-know on everything about it, but how do you think WWF on TNN will effect the WWF's programming content? From what I understand, ECW has faced some problems with "the network" over content on their shows. I'm not sure if this is an angle, or if there is some reality behind it, and also, exactly what content they had problems with. The WWF has been known to have some problematic angles, and i'm wondering whether the WWF's success will be so huge that TNN/CBS/MTV won't care.

    Just as a side issue, do you think that this move will effect ratings at all?

    Thank you for your time Chris, and I hope to hear from you. Keep up the good work.

    Steven R. Evenden
    aka. Psycho Steve
    Hello, I read your latest column, "What's next for WWF and ECW" and I agree, it will be very interesting to see what happens. I think ECW will be the biggest loser in all of this. It's too bad, because their ECW on TNN show is picking up.

    I noticed that a lot of people send you email about current storylines, and angles they think should be dropped. I'm going to list a few predictions instead.

    1) Jeff Jarrett becomes a face very soon. The New Blood will soon declare Goldberg the chosen one and turn on Jarrett. This one is pretty obvious. If Jarrett loses at the Bash it could happen right away, setting up a Goldberg/Jarrett feud in the next few weeks delaying the super feud that will go down between Scott Steiner and Goldberg. From a business perspective it also makes sense. Jarrett's merchandise is doing well even though he's a heel. He's got the slapnutz catch phrase that the fans like and he hasn't been a face in a long time. I say it'll work.

    2) Gorgeous George is thrown into the ECW vs TNN storyline. I predicted this would happen when she first appeared on ECW on TNN. What happened this past show demonstrates that it will almost surely happen. Gorgeous George can be to ECW what Sable was to WWF.

    3) WCW's ratings will go up when wwf WWF to TNN (obviously), and their shows will improve. Russo will be gone from WCW before the end of the year and possibly rejoin the WWF. WCW will need to go through a reshuffling yet again and their shows will become stale. If they survive this and get their act together and hire the right people then they will be the top pro wrestling company in 2-3 years.

    Those are my predictions, what do you think of them?

    Harry

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