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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, June 4, 1998

Owen coverage: Sensational, insincere, tabloidish

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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I was hoping to start my post-vacation column with something along the lines of "it's good to be back," but given the news I heard at the airport, that certainly would not be appropriate.

The day after I returned from Mexico, some four days ago, I wanted to capture the essence of my reaction to the tragedy by writing my column early. I did so, but then I decided that it wasn't really much fun, so I scrapped it and started writing about something else.

And now, on early Friday morning, I've changed my mind again. If my column is to be anything close to a record of what wrestling is about, then this one has to be about Owen Hart. Don't fret, though, I know you've all probably read entire books worth of stuff about Owen's tragic passing. As a result, and perhaps as usual, I have a slightly different take on the situation.

I condemn the handling of this situation, of Owen's death and its aftermath, and I condemn everyone for it.


Everyone who has had anything to say about Owen's death has said something inappropriate, and everyone who has written something about it has written something inappropriate. Myself included.

Let me first say that this is a man's life we're talking about. A man has died. This alone is a sad fact. But the fact of the matter is, although I may have met Owen a few times, I didn't know him. And neither did most people. Yet, on the internet, people are going on and on as if they did. People who never cared about Owen's performance or his career are in tears. If these people are truly saddened by his passing, then they should have supported him more when he was alive. He was a mid-carder in the WWF because he just wasn't that popular. His future, especially given a planned retirement in two years, was limited. The fans who packed the building cared little about his antics, for the most part. And yet when he's gone they're up in arms!

It's sensational, it's insincere, and it's being done tabloid-style. I haven't felt like this about anything since Princess Diana died, when a slew of people who had never met the woman went crazy. It isn't that I don't think they had any reason to do so, it's that I don't think they should be allowed. It's simply rude.

Imagine if a loved one or close friend of yours passed away. Would you want strangers on the internet to carry on as if they had known him and they had lost a great friend? It would be an insult to your own grieving. That's what's going on here.

I tried, I tried very hard to avoid dealing with this in a column, but this has to be said.

Unfortunately, though, it doesn't stop there.

The manner in which even those close to Owen have handled this whole travesty has been just that - a travesty. I apologize for even bringing this up, but by going public, in the media, the Harts have made the media their chosen grieving grounds and they're free-game to be responded to.

My first problem is with all this animosity toward Vince McMahon. The fact is that they don't like him and they're lashing out at him. It has nothing to do, in merit at least, with the actual event.

Owen Hart, a sacrifice for the ratings? His particular stunt had been done dozens of times, and I don't think people would have been tuning in in droves just to see what Sting has done dozens of times and several other WWF wrestlers have done in the past well.

Vince McMahon, Owen Hart's killer? Again, this is hog-wash. No expense was spared in the execution of the stunt. The riggers were certainly competent - they were the same ones who did it for Sting!

As I recall reading, in an interview with Jerry Lawler, Owen was putting on his cape, which had to go on after the harness was in place, when he accidentally triggered the quick-release and fell to his death. What this is is a tragic death, not a sacrifice for the ratings, not some kind of conspired murder, not the doing away with Owen. It could have happened to Sting. Or the Undertaker. Or Shawn Michaels. But it happened to Owen because that's how the chips fell, and we have to accept that.

But instead of accepting it, what we're doing and what the Harts are doing is focusing on every aspect of this event except for the event itself, Owen's death. They are taking away the focus from where it belongs and placing it right back on Vince McMahon, which I think is good for no one.

A law-suit? You have to be joking. No one forced Owen Hart to do the stunt, at least not at gun-point. There was no negligence. The suit is more about unsettled grievances than anything else. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the Harts are bad people, just that they're not doing themselves any favours by starting all this, and that it would be easier on everyone, themselves especially, if they just let bygones be.

Vince McMahon, though, is not out of the water yet. He may be a victim, but he's also guilty of posthumous wrong-doing, in my opinion. The show must go on? Owen would have wanted it? That's hog-wash. Out of respect for what had happened, they should have stopped the show then and there. Claiming that the deceased 'would have wanted it' is the cheapest thing a person can do, since it would be disrespectful to Owen for anyone else to have said 'no, he wouldn't.' The truth of the matter is that they took advantage of that little catch-phrase to do what they do best, and that's rake in the cash.

They didn't exploit Owen's death, but they didn't exactly pay their respects as much as they could have. And this entire column is based on the facts which I happen to know to be true. I've also heard a lot of things which I am assuming are not true simply because they are horrible and I don't want to hear them or address them.

This will be the last I have to say about this, and I hope that I stop hearing about it, too.

Let's stop focusing on the death and its circumstances and start focusing on the circumstances of Owen Hart's life. I know it's how I'd rather be remembered.

No mail today. R.I.P. Owen Hart, 1965-1999.

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