This is the second of a three-part series examining (as the title suggests) the biggesit public-relations gaffes in wrestling history over the past three decades. Here's part one.
As a reminder, this isn't just a list of wrestlers doing stupid things (we'd be here all week), but rather incidents that were played out in the non-wrestling media and took a serious toll on the performer, promotion or -- in some cases-- the entire wrestling industry. Feedback welcomed, as always.
Hey, Yo... It's Open Letter Time
Background: There are no shortage of Scott Hall stories to tell, although this one seems to be the most damning example of his substance abuse. Plus, it came at a time when Hall was still employed by World Championship Wrestling and attracted a bit of mainstream attention - not only for his out-of-the-ring escapades, but also because they had him doing an alcoholic gimmick!
More like Razor Rum-on.
The Incident: Scott's then-estranged wife (they've since divorced) Dana Hall couldn't seem to convince WCW boss Eric Bischoff that her ex had a serious problem. So, in an early attempt at a social media campaign, she wrote the following letter and sent it to the press and wrestling websites:
OPEN LETTER TO ANYONE WHO CARES
WCW is helping Scott Hall destroy himself - does anybody care?
WCW recently stated on the Oct. 5 Nitro show that they "did not condone Scott Hall's behavior, and that Scott Hall is a very sick man."
Although WCW states this, why are they allowing him to retain his status (which he so sorely abuses) to clearly break policies (stated as a breach of contract), and taking every opportunity to exploit and humiliate his very real sickness, as "entertainment"? My question to them is "What are they going to do about it?"
Are they going to get him the serious help he needs?
If this is just a storyline and "not real", then how can they explain Scott's recent arrest, and the very public displays of intoxication other than in front of the camera?
Although "recent" events on the show have been staged, the storyline they are portraying is in fact the terrible truth. Scott has had an ongoing addiction problem for 20 years, resulting in the destruction of his marriage and family. Is this entertainment? Scott's stumbling around and vomiting on stage may be "fake", but what he is doing in "real" life is the same thing. Wrestling has just become "real" in the case of Scott Hall.
Scott may be "acting" out his addiction problem now on TV, but there have been many times in the past that he was truly under the influence and WCW allowed him to perform. This storyline is just a cover-up for their irresponsibility's and their failed attempts to try to rehabilitate Scott. Now they have decided to exploit his very real problem with his addiction to drugs and alcohol as a means of entertainment to the fans for profit and ratings, only to stand by and watch him destroy himself.
These stagings of a matter so serious are deplorable, disgusting and inexcusable. The wrestling industry is so twisted and sick, and clearly without conscience. It does not need to be this way. WCW has overstepped the line in this case, as far as I am concerned.
This is not entertainment. This is not funny anymore. The storyline needs to come to a conclusion. This man has two young children, who need him to get 100% well. They are being terribly affected by their fathers' behavior as well as the WCW's enabling and exploitation of it.
His children and family members (with whom he chooses to have no relationship with) do not deserve this pain and embarrassment for the public's "entertainment". Scott is obviously not rehabilitated. A 40-yr old man "keying a limo" is a definite "cry for help". Now he has added a felony to his list of on-going unacceptable, disturbing incidents. Scott has obviously lost all judgement, dignity and sense of what's right, and WCW has taken advantage of that.
This can no longer be denied or ignored.
What kind of message is this display of something so serious sending to children whether it be staged or not??? Doesn't Scott have a responsibility as a public personality and role model to behave in a decent manner? He is clearly abusing his status, intimidating and disrespecting people, breaking laws, hurting his family...and WCW is allowing this.
WCW clearly has had several reasons to fire him, but instead they made a meager attempt to try to rehabilitate him, and it quite clearly did not work, so they are just using him for as long as they can. It is inevitable that as long as Scott continues on this path, he will ultimately destroy himself. Is this what the fans want to see?
Scott needs to be urged in any way possible, by everyone, to turn his life around. He has already lost so much. It is very sad, especially to his children who need this man to be well, to be a father to them.
He has lost so much already. I cannot, as the only responsible and fit parent they have, allow his children in his presence unsupervised under the circumstances. Can you imagine how hard it is for them to understand this mess and why their dad chooses to be sick, and not get well, for himself and for them? They need and deserve a "well" father - not a dad who's a wrestler.
Scott will never be able to get well as long as he is a "wrestler," and exposed to all its sickness. It has fed his addiction and allowed it to grow for years, and now they are feeding off it. This is wrong any way you look at it.
I am begging everyone on behalf of his children, to help get Scott to a place where he can see this, and put himself in God's hands and find a way out of this living hell he has created for himself - a hell that the wrestling industry has greatly contributed to through the years and now chooses to exploit. This cannot be allowed to continue. My children and I have no peace in our lives as long as Scott remains sick and is enabled.
Addictions and wrestling have destroyed our marriage and our family, and are continuing to destroy my children's future, and their father - Scott Hall.
Something can, and needs to be done by the people who hold power in this situation and those who claim to be his friends - for the sake of his children.
Please speak out, as I feel in my heart it is the right thing to do.
The Aftermath:As many of us know, Hall is still battling demons to this day. He's an addict and could likely be one for the rest of his life. Dana even wrote a follow-up letter open earlier this year when it was clear Scott still wasn't getting help. Still, the letter reinforced to the press the idea that all wrestlers are druggies, and made WCW to look like a bunch of jerks for not solving the problem. Regardless of who's right and wrong here... it still remains a sad and unfortunate situation.
"This is as real as real can be."
How I prefer to remember Owen: A great wrestler, Canadian and father.
Background: In the heat of wrestling's infamous Monday Night Wars, WWF and WCW would try anything to top each other. One of these ideas involved dressing up Owen Hart in the Blue Blazer gimmick he'd played a decade earlier. This time, however, it was a spoof on the traditional "superhero" characters that were prominent in the 1980's.
The Incident: Hart was supposed to descend from the rafters into the ring and trip over his cape to further the parody of the Blazer character. However, as we now know, the stunt went horribly wrong. A nautical clip that held Hart's harness in place broke off during the descent and Hart plunged some 78 feet to his death.
The Aftermath: Wrestling lost one of its most talented performers (and on a personal note, one of my favorites and one of the only wrestlers I enjoy meeting ). Vince McMahon caught lots of flak not only for compromising the safety of one of his performers, but continuing on with the pay-per-view after Owen died in the ring. The Hart family, led by Owen's widow Martha, sued the WWF for negligence and received a reported $18 million in an out-of-court settlement. The lawsuit forever divided members of the Hart family (who were a tad dysfunctional to begin with), with some literally taking their grudges to their graves. And wrestling's reputation, already shaky, took another major blow...
Vince Racist... I mean, Russo
Background: Vince Russo, the controversial writer whose pen has touched many of the top wrestling storylines of the past decade, was just about to bolt from the World Wrestling Federation to rival World Championship Wrestling.
The Incident: Before changing jobs, Vinnie Ru granted an interview to the website WrestleLine.com and made some interesting comments:
"You will never ever, ever, ever, ever see the Japanese wrestlers or the Mexican wrestlers over in American mainstream wrestling. And the simple reason for that is, even myself, I'm an American, and I don't want to sound like a big bigot or racist or anything like that... but I'm an American. If I'm watching wrestling here in America, I don't give a shit about a Japanese guy. I don't give a shit about a Mexican guy. I’m from America, and that’s what I want to see."
The Aftermath: Well, Rey Mysterio for starters. I realize he's not Mexican, per se, but if it weren't for him and his success, WWE's push into the Latino market probably would have never happened. Anyways.... Russo's comments didn't really cause a stir at first, until he took over/destroyed WCW and booked the company's luchadores in the following sensitive manner:
Oh, and in February 2000, Sonny Onoo -- one of those Japanese guys that would never, ever (EVER!!!) get over in a million years --filed a lawsuit, along with several other minority wrestlers, accusing WCW of having discriminatory practices. Wanna guess which comment from the past the media played up when covering the lawsuit?
The Juice Is Loose, Alright
Background: WCW was in its dying days, and its stars were on a tour of Australia.
The Incident: Former Cruiserweight Champion Juventud Guerrera was arrested for running around naked and screaming in the hallway of a hotel. He also assaulted several officers that tried to arrest him. Did I mention that Juvy was reportedly under the influence of PCP at the time?
Luckily all he bared in this photo was his chest.
The Aftermath: The Australian press had a field day writing about some naked, ecstasy-dropping wrestler being arrested. WCW sent Juventud home (and yes, Matt Hardy, he was ACTUALLY sent home in this case) and fired him. The future Mexicool ended up paying about $1,800 in fines.
McMahon vs. Costas
Background: Vince McMahon had launched the XFL to... well, less than critical acclaim. The media was calling for the upstart football league to fold after its very first game. Add to this that pundits were criticizing McMahon for his overall lack of decency and fair play, and you had one grumpy CEO.
The Incident: By the time Mr. McMahon arrived on the set of Bob Costas's HBO Real Sports Program, it was clear that he was pissed off and ready for a fight. Vinnie Mac was further agitated when Costas asked him some very pointed questions about the state of his business. Hey, at least he didn't ask whether wrestling was fake (see part one for more on that)! As you can see in the following clips, McMahon didn't take kindly to Rapping Roberto's questions, and came perilously close to striking the guy.
The Aftermath: Shockingly, McMahon was asked back by Costas a year later and the two had kissed and made up. Still, it didn't help the image of WWE (by then a publicly-traded company) and had shareholders questioning whether the company's owner was absolutely batshit insane. No less an institution than Sports Illustrated called the interview one of the 10 most embarassing TV and radio moments in history.
WHAT (the hell)?
One can of Whoop-Ass he should be condemned for opening.
Background: Stone Cold Steve Austin agreed to part ways with WWE. However, he wasn't wished well in future endeavors, possibly because he no-showed a June 10 appearance on Monday Night Raw and refused to do what Vince McMahon ordered him to do (job to Brock Lesnar in a match with no build-up). Quite literally, Austin and wife Debra took their ball and went home, flying back home to San Antonio as Raw was getting ready to air.
The Incident: Police were called to said home just five days later, where they found Debra badly beaten. Austin was first asked to leave the home, then charged with domestic abuse two months later. In November of that year, Austin pled no contest and was put on one year's probation.
The Aftermath: Austin's reputation took a huge hit (deservedly so) in the public eye, leading to a divorce between the couple later that year. WWE mentioned the incident on its WWE Confidential program the same week they buried Austin for his behind-the-scenes actions. Stone Cold found his way back to wrestling in early 2003, although he retired from active competition a few months after. He still works with WWE on occasion and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009.
To Swerve And To Hold
Background: With creative having seemingly NOTHING better for either guy to do, WWE decided to pair Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo as a mid-card tag team. They gained momentum after adopting the homosexual tag team gimmick, which traditionally has meant so much money at the box office (please note sarcasm). By summer's end, Chuck proposed to Billy and a September wedding was set. Thinking that the storyline was promoting same-sex relationships, and conveniently ignoring the fact that (a) Billy and Chuck are HEELS and (b) that the last 50 years of professional wrestling has been little more than a series of awful stereotypes -- GLAAD even supported the move publicly. WWE reaped tons of free publicity for their "wedding episode" on SmackDown, including appearances on The Today Show and ESPN.
Bonus Background: In 2002, the Raw and SmackDown brands were far more separate than they are now. In fact, there was a running feud between Raw GM Eric Bischoff and SmackDown GM Stephanie McMahon.
The Incident: If you haven't watched the following segment before (or don't know what happens next), I would urge you to watch this, particularly the second part. If you can get past the not-so-subtle gay bashing and focus on the plot development... WWE has (seriously) pulled off few things better than this in recent history:
The Aftermath: Well, GLAAD was kind of pissed that WWE pulled this whole "You thought we were actually tolerant of same-sex relationships? PSYCH!" act. They even issued a statement to the press saying "WWE lied to us two months ago when they promised that Billy and Chuck would come out and wed on the air." Having said that, the spoilers were online for a few days previous; GLAAD could have technically retracted their statement before the show aired. The mainstream press also condemned WWE for fooling them.
Necrophilia Is Running Wild!
Background: You know what? I could get into tons of background here about Triple H, about Kane, even about Katie Vick. But I don't think it would do a damn bit of good in trying to understand what followed next.
The Incident: Triple H, attempting to draw the ire of Kane, dressed up as the Big Red Machine, then simulated having sex with Katie Vick. Who the hell is Katie Vick, you may ask? Kane's fake girlfriend, who was killed in a car crash when they were teenagers. And did I mention that the simulated shagging took place in a coffin with a mannequin?
I.... I can't bring myself to attach a YouTube clip of the vignette I've just described. Look it up yourselves, if you want. Instead, I'm enclosing Triple H talking about how ridiculous the whole ordeal was and how Vince McMahon directed the sketch from behind the scenes:
The Aftermath: For some reason, people didn't find the skit entertaining. Go figure. WWE went into damage control mode the night after the
segment aired, with executive producer Kevin Dunn stating in a news release: "
While the subject matter is sensitive, on balance this was an attempt at dark humor capitalizing on the popularity of programs such as CSI, Six Feet Under and X-Files." Now.... I'm not an expert on any of those shows, but I don't remember Agent Mulder ever dry-humping a mannequin inside at a funeral home.
The First Lady Of Wrestling Dies
Easily the most beautiful woman ever linked to professional wrestling.
Background: When everyone thinks about the glory days of professional wrestling, one name that invariably is left out is Miss Elizabeth. Yet it can be argued that without her contributions to the business, Macho Man Randy Savage wouldn't have been as popular, young female fans wouldn't have had a role model, and one of the greatest feuds of the 80's (Hulk Hogan versus Randy Savage) would have been a lot less exciting. Elizabeth left the World Wrestling Federation in 1992 after a wildly-successful stint, then moved onto World Championship Wrestling. After WCW folded, she and boyfriend Lex Luger left the business.
The Incident: On April 30, an ambulance responded to Luger's 911 call stating that Elizabeth wasn't breathing. She had overdosed on what was later discovered to be a mixture of painkillers, nausea medication and tranquilizers. Complicating matters was the fact that and Luger was involved in a domestic dispute with Elizabeth only 11 days earlier.
The Aftermath: Elizabeth's death was ruled accidental, although that was after the media had a field day talking about the surprising death of one of wrestling's most popular acts in the 80's. Luger was charged, however, with several counts of drug possession found in his home and later paid a $1,000 fine as well as five years probation. WWE went to town on the incident, airing a series of segments on its Confidential show that condemned Luger.
Hot Rod In Hot Water
Background: Rowdy Roddy Piper had been largely out of the wrestling business since WCW closed down two years earlier. He published a book that condemned wrestling promoters (including Vince McMahon) before being hired back at WrestleMania XIX. But an interview he'd done during his book tour would come back to haunt him.
The Incident: Well, here it is. A segment on the HBO series "Real Sports" that just happens to talk about wrestlers dying young. Keep in mind that by the time this aired, Hot Rod happened to be working for WWE again, and was more or less ragging on Vince McMahon for having little regard for human life.
The Aftermath: After the 80's wrestling legend painted wrestling as a callous business that killed its own (The Rowdy One later claimed the show took things out of context), Piper was fired by WWE. To make matters worse, WWE released a terse statement on its website saying that Piper was a "sick" man in need of help. Of course, he's returned back to the company several times since then and was even inducted into the Hall of Fame less than two years later, so this particular PR gaffe didn't do any permanent damage.