Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Why Linda McMahon's WWE Wrestlers Won't Unionize: The Bret Hart Story

Last night, on USA cable’s Monday Night Raw, Connecticut U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon’s husband Vince – the chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment – announced that Bret “The Hitman” Hart would be the guest host of Raw next Monday.

Hart is a retired wrestling legend, and his falling out with the McMahons was about as thorough as it gets. He departed bitterly in 1997. A year and a half later his younger brother, Owen Hart, was killed when his harness failed during a stunt entrance from the rafters at the start of a pay-per-view show. Brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith (“The British Bulldog”), one of the worst of the many steroid abusers in the business, went into cardiac arrest and died in 2002 at age 39, becoming yet another wrestling statistic.

Chris Benoit, of 2007 double murder/suicide infamy, had been trained by patriarch Stu Hart and begun his career with Stampede Wrestling in Western Canada, the Hart family promotion.

Bret Hart retired from wrestling because of the lingering effects of a concussion suffered after he jumped to rival World Championship Wrestling. He later fought back from a paralyzing stroke. He also wrote a rather brilliant autobiography, which became a bestseller in Canada (my review is at http://muchnick.net/hitmanreview.pdf).

In retirement, like so many others, Hart said repeatedly that wrestlers need a union. But he never did much labor organizing when he was a main event star for WWE, which then was an oligopoly and today essentially is a monopoly. And now he’s back, exploiting and being exploited yet again, as part of an “angle.”

I tell Bret Hart’s story not to mock him, but to make the point that what the McMahons’ version of “sports entertainment” needs is not the pipe dream of a union, which will never happen, but toothful regulation by an independent government authority.

On June 29, 2007, Bret Hart and I were both panelists on CNN’s Nancy Grace, talking about the Benoit horror. Hart said steroids had nothing to do with it. I said not so fast. I also said Hart was a “one-man Zelig of death in wrestling.” (The clip is viewable at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXmw7Fmhwgg.)

Not long afterward, Benoit’s toxicology report was released. It showed a testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio of 59-to-1. Folks, that’s 59 times normal and more than ten times outside the boundaries of most mainstream sports steroid testing.

WWE’s assurance that Benoit had “passed” his Wellness Policy drug tests turned out to be another one of its dodges. In fact, his tests had come up positive – obviously – but they were excused by a “therapeutic use exemption.” The logic was as circular as it was self-serving. Benoit’s system had been so messed up by decades of anabolic steroid abuse that he was no longer producing enough male hormones on his own, and was being prescribed off-the-charts quantities of injectable testosterone. And this just so happened to allow him to maintain the cartoon physique his job demanded.

Irv Muchnick

No comments: