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SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

SLAM! Sports
SLAM! Wrestling







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

Wednesday, June 9, 1998

Responding to the Owen email

Eric Benner
By ERIC BENNER
Special to SLAM! Sports


A weekly
SLAM! Wrestling
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Owen Hart is dead. The best way we can keep his spirit alive is by remembering him, but the best way we can treasure his legacy is to focus on his accomplishments in the ring.

This, while perhaps not stated, was the theme of my column last week. I felt and still feel that his memory is becoming more and more tarnished with every written and spoken word. And whilst certainly it could be argued and has been argued that I'm only contributing to the mess, I feel this isn't true. I am defending Owen Hart's in-ring legacy by attacking those who would diminish it with all of this post-mortem hoopla.

Since last week, I've received a record amount of mail concerning my column about the tragedy's after-effects. The numbers continue to soar, and may hit the high hundreds or even a thousand by week's end. If the readers felt so strongly, I figured, I should address it again. I do it now because I do not want it to dominate my column this week - that would be hypocrisy, since ultimately, my goal was to get people to leave it alone, not to re-kindle this abominable flame.

So let's call this a giant reader's mailbag rather than a column. For the record, I'd say about 60% of my responses have been very positive, and about 40% have been very negative. I'm either gutsy as hell or more insensitive than Shane McMahon's on-air character, apparently. The only statement I can make to everyone is that I wrote what I wrote because I believe it. I don't think that I'm somehow more important or smarter than any other wrestling fan. I don't even think I'm a 'smart' - the very term disgusts me. I'm just a wrestling fan who enjoys writing about it. In fact, that's been one of my underlying themes since coming on-board at SLAM!.

But just as every single one of you who wrote me has a right to your opinion, so do I, and thanks to two fine individuals in Greg Oliver and John Powell, I also have the right to post my opinions on one of Canada's largest web-sites. That doesn't mean I think I'm better than anyone else. I don't think I'm better than anyone else. But I still have the right to say what I think, and I meant every word of my column last week.

That said, here's a small cross-section of the mail I've been sorting through this week.

Rob Taylor, from Attic10@aol.com, writes:
*Dear Mr. Benner, I think you have a lot of courage for printing your article because, although it may hurt, it is the truth. Bret Hart was my favorite wrestler for a great number of years, and I'm not the greatest Vince McMahon fan either, but their use of media has been horrible. I can't understand their tragic pain, but their constant attacks on WWF's mishandling of his death are petty and unjustified. I think your article had to be printed, and I hope the Harts read it. Their sorrow should remain private.*

I would like to point out, Mr. Taylor and fellow fans, that I don't think the Hart family should not be allowed to grieve. They lost a loved one. I don't think that they shouldn't be allowed to be angry. I might be infuriated in their position. And I don't hold anything they've said or done against him. They have after all, lost a loved one. I am merely pointing out that their 'grievance' in the media has only drawn away attention from where is should be, and I shouldn't have to clarify where that is.

Scott Webb, from scottw76@hotmail.com, writes:
*Just wanted to let you know that I was shocked and appalled by your SLAM! wrestling article about Owen Hart's death on June 4. Who are you to say how a family should grieve? The Hart's had (and have) every right to go to the media. And as far as people on the internet paying their respects to Owen, I think that is fine too. Whether these people knew Owen well or not, you cannot possibly know. And even if they weren't that close to Owen, there is nothing wrong with them commenting on what they do know - that Owen was a nice guy, a good family man, and a pleasure to meet. So don't try and give us this 'we're doing Owen wrong' thing. He has been given the respect and admiration he so richly desired, even if it is posthumously.*

It is hypocritical to appreciate someone only after death. My criticism is not of their posthumous admiration of Owen, not at all, but of their indifference when he was alive. If they didn't care about him, then I would say that although they could be moved, they should not be incredibly vocal about it now, since they didn't support him when he was around. If they did care about him, then where were they when he was going through gimmick after gimmick, turn after turn, unable to find a niche?

Andrew DiNunzio, from nunz18@hotmail.com, writes:
*Mr. Benner, I wish to say "thank you" to you for your candid comments about he passing of Owen Hart. I never saw the man perform live, except on television, and I never had the pleasure of meeting him. Your comments echo what I have been feeling in some ways since the funeral. Bret Hart's animosity toward Vince McMahon, while justified, in my opinion, is still over the way Vince let go from the WWF, not as much over his brother's demise. It was stunt that had performed before, successfully, and it went wrong. There is nobody to blame, and it makes no sense for the Hart family to possibly file a lawsuit. It would waste valuable time and energy on a situation that is already, sadly, overblown. Owen Hart's fall was a tragedy, but not one that was planned. He knew the risks of descending from the ceiling, and did it anyway. It was simply an accident. I wish to add my sentiments that this e-mail and your column are simply adding to a bad situation. The problem is, nobody before now has the nerve to stand up and say these things. The comments have all been against wrestling, the WWF, or the perceived devil-incarnate Vincent K. McMahon. Thank you again, sir, for being the only one to speak his mind and buck the system.*

It did take more guts than usual to pen this particular opinion, but I meant it. And I did feel guilty, reading all the mail from fans who loved Owen, cried when he passed away, and now turn to me with their anger. The truth is, I support sobbing for Owen - but from his fans! I admit that I cried during the following day's retrospective, which I watched only recently on tape, but then, I also yelled his name at the top of my lungs when he was around, too.

Earl Oliver, from jumpcity@earthlink.net, writes:
*Mr. Benner,
I think it behooves you to get your facts straight before you publish them.
The rigger in the Owen Hart stunt was not the one who prepares Sting's equipment. That person is still contracted to WCW. The rigger in the Hart incident was a former ring-crew member of WCW and that is all. He was not even a long-term employee, according to Eric Bischoff.
This information has been available in the media for at least a week.
I also think you are giving the Hart's a bum rap. The Hart's have every right to be angry and every right to speak their minds. They also have a legitimate basis for a lawsuit and I suspect they will prevail. Proper precautions were not taken and as a result, Owen Hart is dead.
Vince McMahon has been covering his ass since the day this happened and in the process has been telling lies concerning his conversations with Owen's widow. He showed self-serving clips of the funeral on television after being specifically asked not to by Martha Hart and then responded to her comments with more self-serving lies.
You should read your own paper.*

Mr. Oliver, not to be confused with our Greg Oliver, is a fairly well-known internet personality in the realm of wrestling.

Sir, you have a point. There are facts, available in the media, which I did not pick up on. Frankly, there have been facts about everything, some more or less corroborated, others less so. Many facts contradicted each other. Some were downright nonsensical. When I got back, I had about three days to go over week-old news to generate and performed before, successfully, and it went wrong. There is nobody to blame, and it makes no sense for the Hart family to possibly file a lawsuit. It would waste valuable time and energy on a situation that is already, sadly, overblown. Owen Hart's fall was a tragedy, but not one that was planned. He knew the risks of descending from the ceiling, and did it anyway. It was simply an accident. I wish to add my sentiments that this e-mail and your column are simply adding to a bad situation. The problem is, nobody before now has the nerve to stand up and say these things. The comments have all been against wrestling, the WWF, or the perceived devil-incarnate Vincent K. McMahon. Thank you again, sir, for being the only one to speak his mind and buck the system.*


It did take more guts than usual to pen this particular opinion, but I meant it. And I did feel guilty, reading all the mail from fans who loved Owen, cried when he passed away, and now turn to me with their anger. The truth is, Isn't on Vince McMahon's shoulders... it was in no way, shape or form his fault. It was just a tragic accident. You showed a lot of courage by telling it like it is, in the Calgary Sun no less! BTW, I'm a little ticked that the Sun didn't put up Vince's reply to Martha's accusations. It's only fair that they report his side of the story with the same intensity as they did Martha's. Keep up the good work.*

There will always be situations where it is very hard to side with one person over another. In this case, saying that Vince McMahon may be right and Martha Hart may be wrong is something most people simply won't do. In addition, admitting that perhaps neither party is truly right or wrong also seems something very hard to do. How can you attack the statements of a widow like that? It's tough. I understand the plight of anyone in a position to print McMahon's side.

Dave Goldberg, from anticlique@hotmail.com, writes:
*You know I think you are wrong on your opinion of Owen and all of the web pages and all of the support. I made a tribute page for Owen Hart because I was a huge fan of Owen Hart, he was a role model to me on many levels and he entertained me. If there were people who didn't like Owen and they are just doing this out of a guilty conscience, that is wrong, but when it comes from people who loved Owen on any level there isn't anything wrong with it. I have no problem admitting I was a huge fan of Owen's for years! I'm not making up some garbage, because there are only a few individuals in this whole damn business who I have a lot of respect for and Owen Hart was one of them. I want to say that I never spoke of how Owen passed on because I felt it was distasteful to do that. I just wanted to remember Owen Hart not the way he passed away, but the man. If you want to complain about something, complain about these hack reporters who continue to piss on Owen's memory, but I don't think you some columnist who barely know Owen Hart has the right to tell me I'm wrong for honoring one of heros! Also I would reevaluate my opinion of Owen Hart over yours. A mid-carder whose career is going no where? I don't think so! This wasn't Bob Holly! Would a mid-carder get to appear in a PPV main event and/or get many standing ovations or even constant straps. I think you're the one disgracing Owen Hart's memory so please stop!*

Why do I keep getting mail saying that Owen was a PPV main-eventer? No, at the time of his passing, he wasn't. End of story. When was the last time he head-lined a PPV? Against Brother Bret? That's all I can think of. Lately, he had been running the losing side of programs against Steve Blackman, Dan Severn, Ken Shamrock, and a less popular Triple H. He was fortunate to be on the receiving end of a bone when he teamed up with Jarrett to win the tag team titles - something which would never have happened without the regular ringside appearance of the WWF's new beauty queen. Face it, he was a mid-carder. Was that just? Of course not. I'd been hoping he'd repeat his performance in the Royal Rumble for years now, because that was the only way he'd see a title shot. But just as Bret Hart has been deemed not worthy of the main event in WCW, so had Owen in the WWF. We may not like it, but it's the truth.

Virginia Edhelstone, from gindru2@webtv.net, writes:
*"No mail today", I hope that didn't mean you didn't want any e-mail, because I really want to tell you how much I enjoyed your column. It is right on the money. I think Bret Hart should be ashamed of himself for some of the things he has said publicly. It has been reported, prior to Owen's death, that they weren't close. Not that that means he can't mourn for his brother, but he is using his brother's death to slam Vince McMahon. That's exploitation. The only point I'd quibble with you about is the part about McMahon's decision to continue the ppv. I think that whenever something huge, shocking and devastating occurs you can't use hindsight to judge people's behavior. The suits at wwf had to be in shock, whatever decision they made would have caused an uproar in some circle. The show had to continue because Owen would have wanted it is bogus bullshit, but I don't really think that is what they based their decision on Maybe money maybe the logistics of handling the crowd. Who knows? But nothing of that magnitude has happened to them before, it's not fair to judge a decision made when they were in shock. But God yes, we can do without all of Owen's "new" fans. Excellent column.*

Thank you for the kind words. And I do concede the PPV point. They should have let it continue, as they did. The fans in attendance would not have shared the opinions I have two weeks after and hundreds of miles away. However, I think that saying they had a duty to the fans to continue with the show would have been more honest than saying they were actually doing it for Owen. I think that was sort of my point in the beginning, but there's a lesson for all of us in expressing oneself clearly.

Jason Goetting, from rockpig@home.com, writes:
* The death of a loved on can cause people to grieve in different ways, you have no business lambasting the Hearts for the way they choose to grieve. Granted that Owen was not the be all end all of the WWF?n's decision to continue the ppv. I think that whenever something huge, shocking and devastating occurs you can't use hindsight to judge people's behavior. The suits at wwf had to be in shock, whatever decision they made would have caused an uproar in some circle. The show had to continue because Owen would have wanted it is bogus bullshit, but I don't really think that is what they based their decision on Maybe money maybe the logistics of handling the crowd. Who knows? But nothing of that magnitude has happened to them before, it's not fair to judge a decision made when they were in shock. But God yes, we can do without all of Owen's "new" fans. Excellent column.*

Thank you for the kind words. And I do concede the PPV point. They should have let it continue, as they did. The fans in attendance would not have shared the opinions I have two weeks after and hundreds of miles away. However, I think that saying they had a duty to the fans to continue with the show would have been more honest than saying they were actually doing it for Owen. I think that was sort of my point in the beginning, but there's a lesson for all of us in expressing oneself clearly.

Jason Goetting, from rockpig@home.com, writes:
* The death of a loved on can cause people to grieve in different ways, you have no business lambasting the Hearts for the way they choose to grieve. Granted that Owen was not the be all end all of the WWF, but he is part of the greatest wrestling family in existence, maybe that's why people who didn't know him are upset about it. They're grief is out of respect for Owen and his family, if you can't understand that, then you have something wrong with you. You have no clue if the stage hands handling the stunt were competent or not, the investigation is not yet complete, so maybe you shouldn't comment about it, seeing as your facts are clearly false. There was only on stagehand from WCW involve in that stunt, and he was not considered to be one of the better ones within WCW, as for the others, they are all being investigated to see just how competent they really are. I would suggest that you take your head out of your ass when you make a feeble attempt at writing an article on this subject.*

You're right, I have no right to tell the Harts how to grieve. But when they personally attack an individual in a public forum, it becomes something other than grieving. Tell me, is anything appropriate as D

Renee Richer,incalae@hotmail.com, writes:
*Grats on writing a sensed article. You write with a great sense of objectivity, something that hasn't been all that present in this matter.*

John Roman, from jroman@toua.net, writes:
*That was by far the best piece I have ever read and I agree with everything you said. Thanks.*

dvbunte, from dvbunte@email.msn.com, writes:
*Thank you.*

No, thank you. Thank all of you for your wonderful mail. It's a tribute to Owen Hart that so many of you cared enough to write so much to me. Even, no, especially those of you who disagreed with me, as well as those of you who supported my column - thank you. We'll all miss Owen, and you're right, we all grieve in our own way. Maybe mine is to continue the watch-dog role I play here at SLAM!, even in the events following his passing. Who knows? All I know is I'll miss him, and I think that out of respect to Owen, I'll close the topic of his death on this final, happy note. Good-bye, Owen.

This isn't this week's column, just a mailbag so that the column can take on a new focus this week, instead of furthering this one. See you soon.


Send email to ebenner@hotmail.com.



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