Monday, December 14, 1998
SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column
Loyalty interfering with opinions on TSN
There are many characteristics that define most wrestling fans, and the most obvious one is their innate need to defend the sport from criticism, and conversely, to cheer vehemently, when it is mentioned by the mainstream media. Past events such as articles in Rolling Stone, the NBC expose, or the media circus created by the cameo appearances of Mike Tyson, Jay Leno, Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman have raised awareness about professional wrestling. Fans are always ready to critique every mention of Goldberg, Stone Cold, or even the word "clothesline", by the mainstream media, ready to pick out any tiny mistake.
While the loyalty of wrestling fans is a quality that they should not be ashamed of, it does often lead to moments of idiocy and poor judgement. The latest event or controversy to elicit such responses is TSN's decision to edit out choice moments of WWF Raw, which lead to an article by one "Hardcore" Chris Gramlich (TSN has no respect for wrestling fans, Dec. 10, 1998). The controversy reached a climax when the much anticipated crucifixion of Stone Cold Steve Austin was censored out of the previous Raw. [EDITOR'S NOTE: We've got the video clip. (3.3 MB)] Mr. Gramlich's article blasted The Sports Network for having "no respect for wrestling fans", citing many points to support his argument.
Unfortunately, like many fans, he has let his loyalty interfere with his judgement. Gramlich has written several excellent articles for SLAM! Wrestling, such as the November 12th article on Mick Foley, but when TSN committed the ultimate sin of censorship, his response was written in haste and with lack of judgement or strong supporting arguments.
The first argument in Gramlich's article was the lack of consistency in TSN's scheduling of both Raw and Nitro. He argues that the network has often substituted other, lower rating drawing sports such as curling or billiards. In Gramlich's world, TSN would show Raw and Nitro prime time every night, and replace Sportsdesk with analysis of Goldberg's latest squash match. What Gramlich fails to recognize is the fact that the "S" in TSN stands for "sports". TSN is in the business of presenting sporting events across Canada, and it can be argued that programs such as Raw, being sports entertainment, shouldn't even be on their schedule. When you strip away the loyalty of wrestling fans, of even the hardcore marks, there is (hopefully) the understanding that the wrestling is not a "real" sport. Sure, the performers are some of the best athletes in the world, and what they do is definitely a gruelling physical activity, but the outcomes are all predetermined. The only true winners and losers in the sport are the fans and promoters. There is no denying that. True, TSN did sign a contract to televise both Raw and Nitro, they have also signed contracts to broadcast the 1998 Briar and the UEFA cup semi-finals. TSN's schedule does not centre around the latest shenanigans of the nWo.
Wrestling does draw a larger audience, but isn't there anybody in Canada that applauds the network's commitment to sports, regardless of financial gain? That is a quality that should not be disregarded in today's society. Gramlich's statement that "TSN will gladly take the advertising dollars and the ratings it receives from wrestling" doesn't hold water when he also argues that TSN shows wrestling late at night when fewer viewers can see it. The producers of Raw and Nitro do put in a lot of effort into their product, but so did the producers of PBA Bowling.
Gramlich also argues that Off The Record, the station's premiere talk show, is hypocritical in its treatment of wrestling. In Gramlich's own words, "Off The Record constantly brings in wrestlers and federation owners to strengthen their ratings" while "host Michael Landsberg doesn't show wrestlers the same amount of respect or courtesy when they appear on his show as he does 'real' sports stars". Wrestling is definitely the biggest draw for OTR, but to argue that the show does not respect wrestlers? How can Gramlich argue that point when OTR's few one-on-one episodes featuring Steve Austin, Eric Bishoff, Vince McMahon, for a whole hour, and, for several episodes, Bret Hart? The only non-wrestlers that have appeared on that show for one-on-one interviews were heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis, and if I recall correctly, five-time Cy Young award winner, Roger Clemens. These last two are among the biggest athletes in the world, and they are put into the company of the likes of Easy-E. Off The Record obviously respects fans enough to give the wrestling industry more attention than it does to hockey, Canada's national obsession.
Next, Gramlich condemns TSN for editing out Austin's crucifixion. Gramlich has the blind tenacity to ignore the obvious Christian symbolism. Granted, the Undertaker's insignia does resemble an ankh more than it does a cross, but the action of binding Austin's limbs in that particular position is still an outright reference to Christ. Gramlich fails to recognize that the character of the Undertaker does carry religious overtones such as the Undertaker's monks, his many resurrections, and most recently, the attempted sacrifice of Austin a few weeks prior. No one can deny that the honchos at Titan are milking this to create controversy with right-wing religious groups. Austin's crucifixion may not have involved "nails and a crown of thorns", but it was still close enough to serve as a publicity stunt to enrage certain people. TSN has a moral obligation to broadcast under the guidelines of Canada's broadcasters, which prevents them from showing images that are deemed inappropriate at any time of day, including midnight (which, by the way, is in Eastern Standard Time, and equivalent to 9 pm, prime time on the west coast).
TSN, and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters are doing what they deem best to protect the viewing audience and maintain Canada's moral standards. It does not make any sense for Gramlich to argue that our stricter standards make it "funny how Canadians often seem so morally superior to the States when it comes to issues of censorship and the like but more often than not fail to stand behind their own beliefs". How can having stricter morals make us less moral than the U.S.? And for that matter, how does following through with these standards make us fail to stand behind our morals? With one single statement, Gramlich has contradicted and rendered useless his original argument!
In addition to Gramlich's misinformed arguments, he argues the hypocrisy in Raw being censored while "Xena, Warrior Princess" was allowed to show crucifixion. What Gramlich conveniently overlooked was that the crucifixion in Xena was "performed" by Romans led by Julius Caesar. From my latest recollection of history, Julius Caesar was a man that actually existed, and he did lead the Roman Empire that regularly crucified prisoners. History tells of Caesar attacking a band of pirates that had held him hostage, and crucifying every single one of them. The events of Xena were interpretations of an actual historical event. History tells us that Caesar was indeed, as depicted in "Xena, Warrior Princess", captured by pirates and held for ransom. When Caesar was released, in both real life and in the television show, he promptly returned with a fleet of Roman Legionnaires to attack, capture, and crucify his captors. The crucifixion scene in Xena was based on historical events, depicting a real event, and a crucial element of the show's plot. What the Undertaker did to Austin on Raw was a cheap imitation of the crucifixion of Christ, designed only to stir controversy and increase ratings.
The Sports Network, like any other law-abiding Canadian networks, was doing its job. Wrestling fans are crying murder at a station that has done more to help promote the sport in Canada than any other. It wasn't very long ago that Canadian viewers were unable to watch Raw, or Nitro. In fact, today they still cannot watch the WWF's Sunday Night Heat, or any ECW broadcasts. But when they are deprived of a ratings plot such as Austin's crucifixion, they gather in masses and carry torches to TSN's offices. Wrestling fans are taking this issue out of proportion. What many they are complaining about is based purely upon their own inferiority complex on which they have crucified their favourite sport. Journalists such as Chris Gramlich are only showing how much of a mark they are, letting their loyalty to the sport interfere with their judgement.
Dennis Chung is from Markham, Ontario. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org