Written and Illustrated by Koriander Bullard
On January 15, 2017, ex WWE wrestler Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka passed away, just twelve days after a court dismissed murder charges against him, stemming from the 1983 murder of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino. While his family went into appropriate mourning, showing much poise and grace via social media, and the wrestling world handled the loss on an individual basis, one entity was left without a blueprint on how to handle this issue.
The internet is rife with armchair bookers and angry wrestling fans, who weekly chastise the WWE for various reasons. But while everyone wants to talk about “the biz” aspect of the WWE, few really understand a situation like this from a real life business standard.
Let’s look at the big picture for a moment. The WWE is a publicly traded company, peddling several family friendly shows and a product line for ages four and up. The Attitude Era and the Ruthless Aggression Era were the only points in the company’s history where they actively did not try to air shows for families. This period lasted from late 1996 to mid 2007 in an almost eleven year segment of raunchy storylines and an eventual TV14 television rating for flagship program Raw. The rest of the company’s history is filled with mostly clean wrestling shows, save but for Diva segments and the occasional “rock the boat” character. Current televised shows are rated TVPG suggesting parental guidance during viewing, with the exception being TV14 and TVMA programs exclusive to the WWE Network, a subscription based, on demand platform, which reminds viewers about parental controls and an itemized list of reasons to use them before the latter shows air.
With that said, image is everything. Their current line-up again is aimed at families with small children. This creates a myriad of problems during an event like this, as the company now has an ethics issue to juggle.
Raw airs on Monday night, opening with a silent tribute card, showing the life dates of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and a random picture from their archives. Midway through the first hour, the WWE airs a tribute video, showing the highlights of Snuka’s career along with select photos and tweets from his surviving relatives, many of whom are also current employees of the WWE. The McMahon family joins The Rock in honoring Snuka’s career, while the video closes with a tweet showing Tamina holding her father’s hand as he passed and once again, his life dates.
A child in the crowd has a smartphone with him, a common sight these days. If he’s not old enough for one, he may lean into his mom or dad and ask who Jimmy Snuka was. It’s likely at this point that someone is either using the WWE app to pull up Snuka’s matches during the commercial break, or they’re using Google.
If the latter is happening, then we have a problem.
Going to Google pulls up several articles about the death of Nancy Argentino, the fact that the murder was never closed, and the fact that all three times this case has come up, Snuka has been brought in as the only suspect. The second or third link is usually Wikipedia, where we find out that while Snuka was never convicted of murder, he was to pay the surviving family $500,000, which he has now gone to his grave without paying. Articles detailing how he was alone with her in the motel room when he called the ambulance, as she laid on the floor, covered in cuts, bruises and a wide assortment of injuries, indicating she had lost a physical fight with a man heavier than she was. More and more ugly case details light up the smartphone, along with lengthy stories about Snuka’s drug history, and by the time the commercial break is over, we are left with a family scrambling for an answer for their child while also trying to sort out their own emotions.
This is where the WWE now has been placed into an uncomfortable predicament.
If they continue to honor the legacy of Jimmy Snuka, wrestling fans will claim that they are glorifying a former drug addict and murderer, who as of this writing, still has several action figures on the market under the “Legends” brand name. His face still is plastered on a litany of t-shirts and toys for children ages 4-10, which means that to acknowledge him, means that the parents of these children now have to explain drugs and homicide in a formula that a child would be able to handle, a feat no parent these days really wants to achieve. These people do not want their children to cheer for someone who may have committed a heinous crime, and they do not want the parental responsibility of explaining anything to their children at all.
But if they don’t honor the career of Jimmy Snuka, then the WWE will be considered to be shady anyway. It will seem like they are trying to keep his name a secret, as if they were hiding a killer. Or in another unsavory light, it will appear as though they are destroying this man’s history without knowing for certain if he was or was not a killer. Until proven in a court of law that he killed her, this man has gone to his grave innocent in the eyes of the law, and evidence or not, that is another scenario the WWE now has to contend with in each of their decisions.
Not acknowledging anything means withholding information from children, but acknowledging everything means glorifying a criminal as a children’s hero.
Fan opinion is also not helping. Fans are accusing the WWE of “pulling a Benoit” by withholding a collection of his matches for a special section (as of this writing) simply because “some whore” died. And yes, we are that callous as a nation, folks. Because Nancy Argentino died as Snuka’s girlfriend, fan accusations are that she deserved to die, she was a “whore” and that because she was female, she was likely trying to “sleep her way” to the “top” and that Snuka should be exonerated whether he killed her or not, simply for the fact that people enjoy his matches so much, they would gladly have let him set fire to a church full of the disposable gender without prosecution, if it meant they could enjoy his matches without censorship. The disgusting things fans have said about a woman dead for going on 34 years does not surprise me, as the same was said of Nancy and Daniel Benoit the instant the WWE decided to withhold Chris Benoit’s matches from circulation after their deaths in 2007. And with the fact that the average fan is quick to vote away women’s rights and freedoms, I’m not surprised women are seen as this disposable in society anyway.
So what can the WWE do in light of the Snuka trial?
Let’s be clear. Very few public companies have had to deal with the type of PR nightmares the WWE has had to endure since the 1980’s. The NFL in contrast has only been dealing with similar controversies for less than a decade. The WWE has had to put up with this for much longer while still pandering to an all ages audience. World Class Championship Wrestling is one of the only other companies that has had to deal with blow after blow in terms of dying wrestlers and crime on the same public, televised level as the WWE, and they have been out of business since 1990.
Pure and simple, there is no blueprint for a company to maintain a squeaky clean image during these times. No blueprint for the WWE to go by in case someone dies, someone has a drug past or someone is dragged into court for murder. Each case has been treated case by case, and the company has had to figure out how to handle these issues without a safety net.
As of this writing, the WWE is doing the only middle ground things they can do, out of respect and out of a need to keep face.
As soon as Snuka was arrested in 2015, the WWE placed his legends deal on suspension, and suspended his name from the Hall of Fame. They kept neutral, pending a court of law.
They ran a tribute video to Snuka the Monday following his demise, allowing room for fans and wrestlers alike to mourn if they chose to.
None of his matches have been pulled off of the WWE Network or censored in any fashion.
No further tribute packages have aired as of this writing. (01/17/2017)
This has been the approach the WWE has taken in recent years with wrestlers who died amid controversy. Chris Benoit, Woman, and Dino Bravo, each of whom died under contentious circumstances, all have their matches aired mostly uncensored on the WWE Network, albeit with warnings about sensitive content and parental controls. They are never named on the black warning screens, but fans figure out quickly that they are on the list of controversial subjects in the company’s history and are no longer surprised to see the card. The only noted censorship comes from a few of Chris Benoit’s matches featuring muted chants, but the Network no longer censors signs made by fans to cheer him on on recently added tapings.
The WWE has chosen with Jimmy Snuka and with several other controversial wrestlers, to play their matches as they were, barring music copyright dub overs, keeping the legacy of what they did inside the squared circle alive. However, they do not bring up what happened outside of television, keeping their private lives off of the Network in respect to their surviving families.
On the slippery slope of this ethics issue, the WWE may not have a blueprint to go by, but they at least have found middle ground. And considering the children watching, that may be the very best thing we can ask for at this time.
Written and Illustrated by Koriander Bullard
NXT TakeOver: Toronto back on November 19, 2016 marked the return of Mickie James to the WWE after a six year absence. But even the most die hard of wrestling fans may not have realized she was missing, what with her stint in TNA and more recently Global Force Wrestling. The reaction was universally mild among wrestling fans, and with many good reasons.
For starters, the last several years of her career has been marred by a lackluster performance. It’s hard to champion the 37 year old when a bulk of her career exists on Botchamania reels. There’s only so many rest holds, sloppy, loose choke holds and porn star quality screams a fan can sit through before reaching for the remote or heading to the latrine.
Another reason is because she represents a dark era in WWE’s history that is dying a slow, agonizing death: the era of the “Diva”. For as much of the Bella Twins and Mickie James as the company might want to shove down our throats, the fact of the matter is that these starlets represent a time in which women were supposed to be sloppy, eating up precious television time with whining and who-is-sleeping-with-whom story lines and nobody female was deemed anything more important than a disposable sex toy.
Wrestling fans today, surprisingly straight, male ones, do not want this. They want the current women of NXT and Monday Night Raw.
They want Charlotte, the tall, lanky child of Ric Flair, who is going above and beyond to outdo her father in terms of submissions. They want Bayley, a fresh faced heroine with a sunshine attitude and positive image, who serves as a great hero for little girls, but can also wrestle with the ferocity of the standard male brawler. They want Sasha Banks, an outstanding athlete with the heart of an underdog. They want Naomi, Becky Lynch, women who represent the future of professional wrestling with the same fire and tenacity as their male counterparts. Fans enjoy these women wrestlers because they make them believe in wrestling all over again.
Mickie James and the Bella Twins do not fit this mold.
From day one, the three have made it very clear. They do not love wrestling. This was supposed to be a temporary move before moving to more contemporary Hollywood choices, such as singing and acting. Wrestling was supposed to be a stepping stone, not the final destination. And yet time and again, when the modeling gigs dry up, the songs fall off of Billboard and the letter of film rolls drops from a B role to the bottom of the alphabet, wrestling provided this generation of Divas a safety net to fall back on.
This leads me to the top thing that bothers wrestling fans about these leftover Divas.
They don’t really respect their positions.
Oh sure, they say they “love this industry” but keep in mind, there is an over tired WWE writer with a Sharpie marker and a cue card, trying to make these females seem as much in love with wrestling as the new breed. But there’s only so many takes you can film where you try aimlessly to direct their eyes to look wider, more innocent, slip them the eye drops or otherwise dangle a check above the camera lens before you give up on making them seem more caring, and the fans just feel how superficial these Divas really are.
And that angers me.
For generations, wrestling fans had to watch as real women wrestlers were pushed aside or demoted to the status of “sideshow freaks” and never respected as real athletes, because they posses vaginas.
Growing up, I watched amazing athletes like Jacqueline, Victoria and Molly Holly have to pull twice their weight in work, just to get a spot on television, let alone a match. At one point or another, their talents as wrestlers were thrown away, and they were seen as precious more than just pretty faces. Each had to fight their way out of “Valet Land” and prove they were more than eye candy, only to have all of their hard work again tossed aside, so that some blonde bimbo in a bikini could prance around a gravy bowl. We had Ivory reduced from a spirited competitor reduced to a comedic jab at parental coalitions while Terri’s ever decreasing wardrobe ate up valuable screen time. Preceding them, there was Sherri Martel, Luna Vachon and Medusa. Each of them could wrestle, and each could wrestle men and rather well I might add. But for every match any of them had where they fought a man and won, it was a match pushed aside so we could focus on whoever had the cutest dress, pouted the prettiest or looked the most helpless at ringside.
Throughout history, real women athletes, such as The Jumping Bomb Angels, Rockin’ Robin, Wendi Richter, Mae Young and a veritable list of who’s who had to bite, scratch and claw their way to television, only to be chucked aside as a “special attraction” and nothing more.
The NXT class knows all about this, and it shows. They know the privilege of being on television at all, and they cherish every spot they get. Every time the young wrestlers get a main event spot or a top promoted segment, they move like this is the last chance that entire division will ever have on top.
And the sad thing is that they’re not far off. Every match could be the last time the NXT women get the spotlight. Every match could mean the end of their short run. Every week could be the last week they have, because the closed minded misogynists that relegated their predecessors to valet status are still working behind the scenes and aren’t going to retire any time soon. They see Triple H struggling to keep their stars shining, and they respect that. And they show that respect by wrestling like it’s the last night they will ever have alive, let alone in the WWE.
History has shown them why they must fight for survival. At one point between 1999 and 2002, the WWE had a promising future for women’s wrestling. Trish Stratus, Lita, Jacqueline, Ivory, Molly Holly, Jazz and Victoria were all determined to fight at their best and bring their branch of the sport to new heights. By 2003 we had seen a women’s cage match overtake Raw, and the future looked bright.
… And then came the Diva Search. And in a flash, it was all gone.
2004-2014 marked a decade where real women's wrestling was considered to be offensive and taboo. Gone were the properly dressed athletes in hard hitting brawls, replaced with scantly dressed, whiny, self-entitled Divas, botching their way through matches, phoning in their appearances and participating in vapid love triangles written to make all women seem like leeches.
And for as much blame as the WWE has been handed over these years, the truth is that many of the Divas performed just as badly outside Titan Towers once they were released. Many a TNA PPV has been marred by a lazy Gail Kim or Mickie James contest, in which the fans used the bouts as an excuse to visit the concession stand.
Which brings me back to NXT Take Over Toronto. While Asuka did her best to make it look like Mickie had the upper hand, the fans didn’t buy it. Mickie had stalled and used enough rest holds to make Larry Zbyszko proud. The crying, long winded screaming and overall performance just couldn’t keep the crowd vested into her, and Asuka’s win was a well deserved victory, greeted with a pool of men wearing the younger wrestler’s mask and proudly holding up signs in her honor, a sight usually reserved for male veterans in the squared circle. After the champion vacated the ring, Mickie stood, crying, expecting a standing ovation, but instead got a cool “just get the F out” response from the fans.
The excuse for the epic amount of stalling from Mickie?
Oh, she just had a baby not too long ago.
Oh really? Jazz had twins. She was back on the Indy scene in no time, and never needed an excuse for any of her bouts. So why should Mickie get a pass if Jazz doesn’t?
So if the fans did not like the dark Diva decade, why bother bringing any of it back? Especially if we can see by the clutter on the WWE Shop page that none of it sold?
The WWE needs to face facts. Times ave changed, and we are in the process of evolving. The harder you push for the Divas, the harder the fans will push for the NXT women. It’s time to retire the Divas for good, and elevate the women wrestlers.
But with Mickie’s recent return to Smackdown Live this past Tuesday night as the start of a groan worthy three year contract to the WWE --with a rumored future story involving her fighting the talentless Nikki Bella for a title soon to be off the shoulder of current Smackdown Women's champion Alexa Bliss-- it looks like the WWE is not prepared to join us in the new era anytime soon. This foolish decision will either turn out to be an easily corrected mistake, or the company’s ill conceived move to throw away their own future for the sake of nostalgia.