Monday, June 21, 1999
SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column
McMahon, you are not in-Vince-ible
Let's be clear about one thing. Ratings didn't kill Owen Hart. A faulty harness didn't kill Owen Hart. Wrestling fans demanding a more dangerous spectacle didn't kill Owen Hart.
Vince McMahon's ego killed Owen Hart.
That's why it's critical that the Hart family is successful with its wrongful death lawsuit against McMahon and his World Wrestling Federation.
McMahon must be stopped.
On the surface, that doesn't sound too hard. Just look at how the case is going to be portrayed on the news every night: young, grieving, photogenic widow of two young, grieving, photogenic children takes on unscrupulous, lying weasel of a wrestling promoter who was once on trial for steroid trafficking and whose ex-employees have a shockingly high mortality rate for their age group.
Gee, who do you think is going to win?
The WWF won't go down without a fight, though. McMahon's company has proven to be remarkably resilient in the face of prior legal and social challenges.
In 1992, allegations surfaced that some of his front-office employees were trading homosexual favours with wrestlers for preferential treatment on the booking sheets, while at the same time, TV newsmagazine shows were running exposes of the steroid abuse in the wrestling business.
McMahon weathered those storms by shedding some of the named employees and instituting a strict drug testing policy. As that was passing from the headlines, he was indicted by the Department of Justice on three counts of possession and trafficking of steroids. But Vince squirmed his way out of that too, thanks in part to some dumb prosecutors who botched a fairly easy case.
That ordeal had barely ended when the US Congress decided to seriously look at tougher regulations against television violence. As the Wrestling Observer newsletter put it, the WWF voluntarily decided in the summer of 1994 to cut out most of its gratuitous violence: "On television there will be no more crotch shots ... choking with two hands, eye-gouging, foreign objects including the use of chairs, tables, flagpoles, tennis rackets, etc. or anything that falls under the dubious category of overly aggressive behaviour."
By that time, however, the WWF's business was on the skids. TV ratings, arena show attendance and pay-per-view buy-rates were down. Some of its most popular wrestlers were defecting to the rival World Championship Wrestling. There was even talk in the wrestling industry that the WWF might go broke.
Now, just five years later, one of the WWF employees who was allegedly pressuring wrestlers into gay sex is not only back on the job, but now gets camera time; the "overly aggressive behaviour" wiped off TV five years ago is now the selling point of the WWF (along with sex). The steroids are back, according to Rena "Sable" Mero's lawsuit - which also brought back the allegations of sexual harassment.
And five years later, the WWF's ratings are through the roof, its merchandise is selling like heroin in downtown Vancouver and wrestling is the coolest thing in pop culture.
Of course McMahon has no qualms about getting his employees to do dangerous stunts, like dangling Owen Hart from a single-release cable. Why should he? He's beaten criminal charges filed by the government. He's recovered from every downturn the industry has seen. He's managed in the past two years to attract widespread media attention to his company while burying all its past scandals (and prematurely dead wrestlers). And he's making gobs of money in the process.
But Larry Matysik, McMahon's former promoter in St. Louis, said just a couple of weeks ago that McMahon is the most unethical person he's ever met. "He's not a human being. It's all about money and ratings and he won't change a thing," Matysik charged in a radio interview.
Which is why the Harts have to bring Vince McMahon's wrestling empire down hard. The only way to clean up the wrestling business is to drive McMahon out of it.
Michael Jenkinson can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
His homepage is at http://www.the-newsroom.com. His work, which originally appears in the Edmonton Sun, has graced our pages on numerous occasions, including: