Sounding Circle: Media ignores pro wrestling

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29 May 2005 @ 23:35, by Raymond Powers

Media ignores pro wrestling

By Scott E. Williams
The Daily News
Published May 29, 2005

The wrestling industry’s leaders have often bemoaned the fact that wrestling does not get the mainstream media attention it deserves, but WWE should feel lucky about it.

In the early 20th century, sports pages in newspapers covered wrestling, but various elements quickly exposed that pro wrestling was less competitive sport than performance art. Sports writers, instead, preferred the word “fake,” and serious coverage of wrestling became rare.

By the time Vince McMahon took over his father’s World Wrestling Federation in 1982, most newspaper pieces on pro wrestling were attempts at “exposing” that wrestling was not legitimate competition. However, this was something the vast majority of wrestling fans tacitly accepted, even as they suspended disbelief long enough to love their heroes and hate their villains.

A 1985 piece on “20/20” remains infamous in wrestling circles 20 years later, as a story that fully exposed the business as performance with predetermined outcomes. That piece also was the beginning of the end of the word “fake,” as media members applied it to wrestling. This happened for a couple of reasons. First, wrestler David Schultz slapped half the hearing out of reporter John Stossel’s ears. The second reason was, WWF boss Vince McMahon was starting to make the admission that wrestling promoters for years had thought would mark the doom of the pseudosport — that it was all a show.

In a weird way, this admission opened the doors for a flood of media coverage in the late 1990s that allowed reporters to deal with other aspects of the business. Earlier in the decade, however, a flood of coverage occurred that wasn’t nearly as positive.

At that time, the WWF was awash in scandal. Former employees claimed sexual harassment, and a steroid case involving a doctor who treated WWF wrestlers blossomed into a federal charge against McMahon himself. A jury in 1994 exonerated McMahon of what was left of his steroid-distribution charges after a federal judge dumped the other charges because of jurisdictional issues. Not long after, the media scrutiny of the WWF went away, with the exception of the occasional report on salacious content.

If only the media could see WWE now. Well, actually, they can, but they’re apparently not. Recently, on “Raw,” announcer Jerry Lawler made a borderline-racist remark about wrestler Viscera, whose new gimmick is that he’s a huge, black man who hits on little white women. Isn’t that hilarious? Imagine, for a moment, the outcry if this had happened on “Desperate Housewives,” or another, more mainstream show.

On the same “Raw” show, Randy Orton came out for an interview, only to be interrupted by McMahon, who told him he needed to “bulk up” before his return. Yes, in this era of congressional investigations, the owner of the biggest pro wrestling company in the world implicitly told one of his performers to take steroids, on live, national television.

Meanwhile, on “Smackdown,” WWE’s other main program, one of the top feuds is Kurt Angle against Booker T, with the lynchpin of their dispute being that Kurt keeps trying to rape Booker’s wife, Sharmell. Kurt has also repeatedly said that he is into “bestiality,” implying that Sharmell, also African-American, is other than human.

No one seems to be batting an eye at any of this stuff, and that’s a sign that the mainstream media has taken an “it’s only wrestling” approach to the goings-on in WWE. And for WWE, that’s a good thing, because this garbage is impossible to defend.

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Scott E. Williams is a Daily News reporter, a longtime wrestling fan and author of “Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore,” on sale in bookstores everywhere.

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