It’s been said that if you show a person what they want, they will be drawn to you. It’s also been said that if you tell someone what they’d like to hear, they will like you. In many ways, these persuasive tools can be used effectively and for good purpose. Yet I’ve seen these persuasive tactics be used all too often in today’s society for the wrong reasons. How did Donald Sterling – a determined racist – get away with his degrading ways for so long? The answer is that – when you show people an image that suggests you care as Sterling did with many of his charitable donations – people are drawn more to what’s seen as a positive trait than what lies beneath. Anyone could make a mistake, but in Donald Sterling’s case the charitable donations were really an extremely vain attempt at appealing to others who would look past his dark side. Also, what’s this about telling someone what they’d like to hear in order to get them to like you? If you pay attention to politics, you probably understand. Nobody uses straw man philosophies nor tries to use rhetoric to appeal to the people better than a determined politician. Anyway, where am I going with all of this jibber jabber about persuasion and how actions can sometimes be used to manipulate the truth? The answer: I’m going straight at the WWE, whom I believe functions in a similar way.
A few nights ago, I watched the E:60 documentary short “The Scott Hall Story.” In more ways than one, it’s pretty sad to watch. The story details the rise and ultimate fall of a great superstar, who probably robbed himself of greater things by his own personal problems. About halfway through the documentary, it’s mentioned that Scott Hall has been to rehab 10 times. What follows is a statement by Stephanie McMahon Helmsley, who we all know is Vince McMahon’s daughter and Triple H’s wife. I found her statement very hard to believe. She said – in regards to WWE financing Scott Hall’s multiple rehabilitation attempts – “It’s [reaching out to help others in need] the right thing to do…Once you’re part of the WWE family, you’re a part of us forever.” I don’t disagree with the first part of her statement – of course reaching out to help someone in need is the right thing to do. As for the second part of the statement – about always being a part of the family – let’s look at this a bit deeper.
Factually speaking, there are parts of the statement that can be supported by evidence. The WWE does have a wellness policy, which has probably improved its image of taking care of athletes. Also, as the documentary points out, the WWE was willing to spend in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Scott Hall. I’m sure that the WWE wellness policy has helped wrestlers at times. Yet while these things are generous at face value, I believe it’s fair to ask one question: why?
It’s no secret that many professional wrestlers have short lives. It’s also no secret that – despite their physique – the pressures and lifestyle of being a professional wrestler lead many (including Scott Hall) into disarray. These facts weren’t as prominent to the public twenty years ago, but have become much more of a concern since the Attitude Era ended. One could say that the WWE strengthened its wellness program after all of this as a result of deeply caring for wrestlers. Yet at the same time we must understand that this is an organization that was willing to punish a man – Owen Hart – for refusing to play up an angle in which he did cheat on his wife and children. That’s a conversation for another day, but let’s just point out that a company which calls itself “family friendly” probably isn’t living up to its moniker when it’s willing to punish a man for being loyal to his own. Back on point, I’d have to believe that it’s likely that a great motivation for strengthening the wellness program was to give off the impression that the WWE cares more for its wrestlers. Some good could come of it, but a program that serves as means to create an impression probably isn’t nearly as effective as one which is set up with a sincere fervor to help others. I’m not necessarily saying that people in the WWE wellness program don’t care about others, I’m saying that it was developed for all the wrong reasons.
If the WWE Wellness Program was strengthened for all the wrong reasons, it would theoretically make sense that the foundations of its objectives aren’t what they should be. By this, I mean to say that the motivation for providing wellness to an athlete may be grounded more in a goal of creating what looks good for business than in what’s best for the ailing individual. Like Donald Sterling - who was bent on being a racist yet still donated to charity (because it made him look good) - the WWE may remain disinterested in wrestlers who can no longer create profit or good publicity for them yet update their wellness program (because it makes WWE look good).
As I mentioned, it’s very generous of WWE to pay in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance Scott Hall’s drug treatment. My only question is this: why so much money on Scott Hall? If he was to seriously improve, I’d say give him whatever money he needs. However, the man clearly – and unfortunately – hasn’t learned how to avoid the same problems that continually send him to rehab. If he’s not going to help himself, why fight a losing battle when there are clearly others out there who could benefit from the same financial contribution? I don’t want to accuse anyone of anything before walking in their shoes, but I seriously wonder if his close connection to WWE Executive President Triple H has anything to do with it.
Stephanie McMahon Helmsley said that “once you’re a part of the WWE family, you’re a part of us forever.” Is this why the WWE has a long history of not offering health insurance coverage or retirement benefits to the wrestlers who’ve made and continue to make their business a success? It doesn’t sound like the WWE really has a long term interest in many of their wrestlers. As an example, let me bring up a name many of us have forgotten: Robert Horne.
In the 1990s, Horne wrestled for the WWF as Mo. Along with Mabel – aka the late great Nelson Frazier – Mo formed one half of the tag team Men on a Mission. The team had a very brief run as WWF Tag Team Champions. Mo didn’t work for WWF long, and his employment with the company pales in comparison to his tag team partner. Yet, for all that Mo may not have been, he was a performer who helped bring crowds to their feet and worked hard in an effort to help the company succeed. Simply because of the fact that he once worked for the company, Mo should be recognized and taken care of if what Stephanie McMahon has to say is true.
Fast forward nearly twenty years and you have a rather unfortunate series of events. Robert “Mo” Horne has gained a tremendous amount of weight and is suffering from kidney failure. In a 2013 article written by Jerry Wiseman of the Charlotte Pro Wrestling Examiner, Mo stated “The WWE has made money from my likeness for 20 years and will continue to do so after I am dead and gone. They donate millions from a corporate account to help people in the ghetto and they have spent hundreds of thousands on rehab for people. I asked them for help and they sent me a couple of small boxes of merchandise worth maybe a couple hundred dollars to auction off…Maybe I should turn into an alcoholic or a drug addict or get arrested for DUI since that seems to be the kind of people they (WWE) are quick to help. I’ve never had a drug problem but I have been dealing with kidney failure for seven years and three on dialysis but they (WWE) are not willing to help anyone with legitimate medical issues.” Some – like Sean Morley (Val Venis) – might be quick to criticize Horne by saying that he expresses an undeserved sense of entitlement. Indeed, we can fault Horne for many things. First of all, I don’t know what caused kidney failure for Horne; but if it was his weight then that’s something he could’ve taken care of himself (as someone who struggles with his own weight, you can trust my authority on this). Also, the argument can be made that Horne should have known what he was signing up for before he signed his contract. If all of this information about lack of health insurance and retirement benefits was in the contract, Horne would’ve benefited from reading and understanding the fine print before giving his signature. However, the point here is NOT to agree on whether or not Horne was right or wrong to feel WWE should pay him. The point is that it shows WWE might care about some things, but clearly not everyone is part of the family.
If I sound like I’m ignoring some good things about WWE, I admit I don’t know everything. However, I know enough to be sure that there’s an effort by WWE to display one image while a different image is reportedly painted behind closed doors. It’s not just the wellness policy that gets WWE in hot water with criticism. I respect the fact that Shawn Michaels shares his Christian faith, but an eyebrow gets raised when several different wrestlers and insiders speaking in shoot interviews question his sincerity. I would’ve credited Linda McMahon’s attempts to empower women while running for Senate, if not for the fact that I have a distinct memory of watching her husband force Trish Stratus to bark at him like a dog. The WWE may have some good things going for them, but not enough to be comfortable with the idea that they don’t have to put on a face. That’s the way every organization should be – though many of them aren’t – and I hope that WWE can at some time work its way over there.