The Linda McMahon campaign for Senate in Connecticut is deader than one of the scores of World Wrestling Entertainment performers who expired under the age of 50 on her watch as a top executive of WWE and its predecessor company.
The Senate race was over as soon as Linda’s tightly controlled $50 million “self-funded” media campaign got caught in a spontaneous moment, and she wound up fumbling simple questions about her position on the minimum wage. In their first debate, her Democratic opponent, Richard Blumenthal, then held his own; in the second and third, he buried her in questions about her role in the occupational health and safety record of her workers, and related matters.
Since Vince McMahon, Linda’s husband, is an impetuous loose cannon, I don’t doubt that he launched the “Stand Up for WWE” campaign – culminating in a cut-rate-ticketed “Fan Appreciation Night” and TV shoot in Connecticut – with the goal of boosting her campaign, which is on life support. The WWE dirty tricks department will have to reach deep into its bag to come up something heinous enough about Blumenthal to turn around the poll numbers, which include a nearly 2-to-1 margin of female voters against the female candidate. But it’s a conundrum: one of the reasons Linda2010.com ran out of gas was that people there got sick and tired of her wall-to-wall attack commercials on TV and almost daily junk mail.
Now that the electoral handwriting is on the wall, I think there’s another purpose behind “Stand Up for WWE” besides saving the unsaveable Linda. The Senate campaign has exposed company business practices in a way that even the 2007 Chris Benoit double murder/suicide could not. The state of Connecticut is already investigating WWE for abuse of the independent contractor classification in its employment of benefit-free wrestlers who work nonstop around the year. (They also are restrained from taking their services elsewhere, or even suing WWE for wrongful injury or death.)
And after the election, there will be calls to reopen the Congressional investigation of WWE that ground to a mysterious halt just before Linda McMahon, complete with a doctored resume including a false line about a degree in education, began her short and undistinguished public-service career with a nomination to the state Board of Education in January 2009.
Well, anyway – I just made a call to reopen the investigation. Now it is up to others, including wrestling fans, to join me in holding prospective senator Richard Blumenthal’s feet to the fire on some of the issues that are helping get him elected, after an opposition campaign funded by wrestling industry profits scared him to within an inch of his political life.
The general public, of course, will tend to be quick to turn the page and let the McMahons slink back to corporate profiteering obscurity. The most intelligent wrestling fans, however, are uniquely equipped with the information on how the pandemic of wrestler deaths is a serious public health nuisance, one resonating throughout sports and society. It’s time to broaden out the discussion from the shorthand of “wrestlers and steroids,” and talk about the whole cocktail: the abuse of painkillers and other prescription pharmaceuticals – as well as the brain trauma syndrome in football in particular, which has risen closer to the top of the agenda thanks to the tireless work of ex-wrestler Chris Nowinski, with an assist from Mike Benoit, Chris Benoit’s father.
Some people think pro wrestling is a bad joke and maybe they’re right. But joke or not, I know there’s nothing funny about needless death in scripted junk entertainment; I also know that the implications of the phenomenon say something ugly about American society in 2010. In their heart of hearts, most people reading this agree. Let’s all of us do something after November 2 about reforming the out-of-control pro wrestling industry.