World Wrestling Entertainment (aka WWE) is a giant, publicly traded behemoth of an entertainment company (as of this writing, their stock price is at $17.73 a share and trending upwards — TheSportster does not provide financial advice. We’re just sayin’). As such, public image is an important part of their business. Not only do they need to keep in the good graces of their audience, but of that of their shareholders, which is why accentuating the positive, as they say, is best for business.
Also, equally important is downplaying the negative — or, in some cases, pretending like it never existed in the first place — things such as company scandals, drama with former talent, employees getting arrested, etc… You know, the same stuff the NFL has to deal with on an hourly basis. Most of these situations are dealt with properly, of course, but then swept under the rug in the hopes that nobody lifts up the rug and goes “Ewwww! What the hell is under this rug?!” Because then, not only do you have some ‘splainin’ to do, but now you’ve got to go out and buy a new rug.
So, with that in mind, here are eight things WWE never gets tired of showing off, and eight things WWE would just as soon have you forget.
16. Showing off: WWE’s charity work
WWE is a very charitable company. Between their work with the Make-A-Wish and Susan G. Komen Foundations, their anti-bullying campaign and their charity for pediatric cancer (Connor’s Cure), WWE does a lot of work for a lot of good causes. That does not even begin to mention their support for the U.S. armed forces. Of course, from a public standpoint, supporting charities is always a good public relations move and drawing attention to said support could be seen in a cynical light. But, first of all, WWE has been doing charity work like this since its inception. Secondly, does it really matter why they are doing it, as long as some good is being done?
So, good on ya, WWE. Keep up the good work.
15. Hide: Wrestler deaths
When you hear about WWE in the mainstream news, it’s rarely about how John Cena granted his 800,000th Make-A-Wish request. It’s more often than not regarding a wrestler passing away at a relatively young age (sometimes even while performing). The most famous instance of this, as we all know, is when Chris Benoit died after allegedly killing his wife and child. This followed the death of Eddie Guerrero due to heart failure, and years before that, Owen Hart died in an in-ring accident.
It’s not to say that WWE attempted to hide these clearly public deaths (even Chris Benoit got a live tribute episode of RAW after he died) — hell, in Eddie’s case, his death was storyline fodder for like, what, a year or so? But, in the big picture, WWE wants to remove the stigma that those that perform for them risk brain injuries and premature death. It’s why they have their Wellness Program and now take concussions very seriously. But, while they aren’t hiding it, they sure as hell wouldn’t mind if we all focused on other stuff. Stuff like…
14. Showing off: Honoring diversity
If you watched WWE programming this past October, you probably noticed a number of segments honoring Hispanic Heritage Month. They not only celebrated the achievements of former WWE stars like Tito Santana, Pedro Morales and the aforementioned Eddie Guerrero, but also wrestling celebrities like Roberto Clemente and Richie Valens. They did the same in February for Black History Month, as well. It is fair to say that WWE has presented a diverse roster and is proud to celebrate it. Let’s not forget the support that they showed to Darren Young in 2013 when he became the first ever active WWE wrestler to come out as gay. The WWE firmly supported Young in social media, as well as press releases since Young made the announcement.
They haven’t exactly had the best track record for characters that honor different cultures and ethnicities (we’ll get to that), but when it comes to honoring their past achievements, they do a pretty good job — and they do a good job of letting you know it, too.
13. Hide: The WWE’s various company scandals
It’s a situation you rarely hear WWE bring up at all, unless it’s on one of those “history of WWE” documentaries. In 1993, Vince McMahon was on trial for drug trafficking in regards to distributing and encouraging the use of anabolic steroids to his performers. There was also a sexual harassment lawsuit and a whole bunch of others… look, we actually covered a lot of this last year – go check it out.
Now, clearly, Vince McMahon was not convicted, never went to prison, is still married, and still is firmly in charge of the biggest wrestling company on the planet. But, these trials and these scandals did happen. I know. I just Googled them. Just now, just to be sure. WWE and the McMahons certainly don’t deny these things happened (the trials and the scandals, not the accusations), but, boy howdy, can’t we all just talk about something else? Oh, I know! Remember when….
12. Showing off: Their history (the good stuff)
There was a point in the early days of Vince’s WWE that the company rarely acknowledged their past. Why would it? First off, they were in the process of breaking away from the territory system of his father and starting their own identity. Secondly, it was all about the future, baby! Stars like Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper and The Rockers and The Red Rooster and… um…. anyway. The point being, nostalgia wasn’t a selling point then.
Now that decades have passed and the kids who grew up during the Attitude Era and earlier are older and have kids of their own, celebrating their history is a big deal — and a big revenue stream. People subscribe to the WWE Network to relive those classic events. Documentaries about classic stars sell like hotcakes on Blu-Ray and iTunes. Even Virgil makes a few bucks for an autograph here and there. And don’t get us started on the Hall of Fame.
11. Hide: The failed exploits – wrestling and non-wrestling alike
Say what you want about him, but Vince is nothing if not ambitious. Outside of the WWE, he attempted a number of other ventures that, well, to say they didn’t fare very well would be generous. His foray into bodybuilding, the WBF, pretty much was DOA from the get-go. His attempt at a football league, the XFL, was one of the most hilarious disasters in both sports and television. His attempt at a TV news channel to cover the daily activities of the federal government, X-SPAN, was, to be honest, an Onion article (gotcha).
Let’s not forget his attempt at selling a protein supplement, ICO-PRO — “YOU GOTTA WANT IT!” (nobody wanted it). On the wrestling end, the WWE’s revamp of ECW as well as the original NXT (essentially WWE Superstars + Survivor + The Price Is Right) both didn’t do so great.
Finally, we wonder how investors felt when McMahon attempted to give away a million bucks on live TV – and failed.
10. Showing off: Their production values
Okay, this is an interesting one, as it’s an element of WWE that they rarely discuss, but should. Say what you want about the actual content of a WWE show — the wrestling, the mic work, the stories, whatever. Even the most jaded wrestling fan (or even non-fan, for that matter) has to admit that the shows (and the video packages that accompany them) just look good. From the video quality to the camera work, to the sound, to the use of special effects, this is a video production team that is at the top of their game.
Take a look and compare episodes of WCW Nitro and Monday Night RAW when WCW was ahead in the ratings. Actual content aside, look at how much cleaner RAW looked and sounded. A lot of this — then and now — is the fact that is thanks to longtime TV director Kevin Dunn (I know, I know – go have fun in the comments) and also to the dedicated production team that has been with the company for decades.
They don’t often brag about it, but WWE knows how to make themselves a nice lookin’ TV program.
9. Hide: Backstage “drama”
As I was putting together this list, one of my colleagues shot me this message: “Apparently Sin Cara and Jericho got into a fight backstage.” I looked at my article and then at the list I had put together for this piece and thought “well, isn’t this convenient?”
Companies like WWE know that wrestling fans haven’t been under the illusion that pro wrestling is “real” for decades now. In fact, fans are privy to what goes on behind-the-scenes more than ever before. But, while more people might know what a “booker” does or what a “push” is, there’s still a world of backstage politics going on that companies like WWE simply aren’t in a hurry to make public.
Of course, there’s been the rare time when WWE has used real-life animosity as fodder for stories, but generally only when the news is already out in the open. As they should, WWE would rather worry about the feuds and contract signings inside the ring, not behind the curtain.
8. Showing off: Crossover appeal
Pro wrestling fandom doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Fans who began watching as kids have grown up to work in all facets of the entertainment industry, including other sports. So, when a pro athlete imitates a wrestler’s signature taunt or celebrity is seen in public wearing a John Cena shirt, WWE is certain to spotlight it on one of their shows. And you can bet your replica WWE championship belt that if one of those celebrities shows up in the crowd at a WWE show, the camera will be on them eventually.
WWE has always had an inferiority complex when it comes to the rest of pop culture. Getting mentions in USA Today or ESPN (that weren’t related to a sex/drug scandal or wrestler death) has always been important to Vince and Co., and any time the world of entertainment references them without being asked will always take front and center.
7. Hide: When stars get in legal trouble
Of course, WWE isn’t going to publicize when one of their talent runs afoul of the law. That, of course, would be dumb. Fortunately for them, it really doesn’t happen all that often. Nowadays, when WWE issues a release on a talent suspension, it’s usually due to a violation of their wellness policy (okay, so that does seem to happen a bit more frequently lately). When it comes to criminal activity outside of the company, however, it takes quite a bit for WWE to even mention it, much less take action.
Earlier this year, WWE announcer Jerry Lawler and his girlfriend were arrested in a domestic violence case, causing the company to indefinitely suspend him per their zero-tolerance policy on domestic abuse (the charges were eventually dropped and Lawler was immediately reinstated). On the other hand, in 2013, Jack Swagger was pulled over and arrested for suspicion of DUI and possession of marijuana. Not only did he not receive any punishment from WWE (he was sentenced to six months probation, avoiding jail time), but his main event push at the time continued undeterred.
6. Showing off: Stars with famous friends
As we mentioned before, WWE loves being in the same conversation with the rest of sports and entertainment. While they’re always on the lookout for famous folks who are already fans, sometimes they have an even better “in,” such as when one of their stars is already friends with a celebrity.
This doesn’t happen too often, as the last thing these WWE stars want is for their celebrity pals to feel like they’re being used. Still, when you have a guy like Mojo Rawley who is friends with a guy like New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski, you’re probably going to make some sort of attempt to reach out.
This isn’t a new phenomenon, however. One of those most well-known bits of wrestling and Hollywood intertwining was the feud between real-life friends Jerry Lawler and comedian Andy Kaufman — a feud that was so successful that it even made its way onto the set of Late Night With David Letterman back in 1982.
5. Hide: History of former stars on bad terms
Leaving WWE doesn’t automatically make you persona non grata with the company. Ric Flair left the company twice and he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame just as many times, including once while he was working for another company. They even helped promote Mick Foley’s book while he was also employed elsewhere. Even if you leave on less than favorable circumstances, you’re usually welcomed back if there’s money to be made.
But, if you leave on bad terms. don’t expect to be remembered fondly while you’re gone — if remembered at all. It took seemingly forever for WWE to induct Randy Savage into their Hall of Fame, and even then, it wasn’t until after he died. The Ultimate Warrior eventually returned for his induction, but not before WWE put out a documentary designed to tarnish the guy’s entire legacy. We’re honestly surprised WWE even admits CM Punk even existed. They’re just now remembering that Hulk Hogan used to work for them.
Vince and WWE don’t hold a grudge forever, but, while they’re holding it… hooooo boy. Look out.
4. Showing off: Stars with non-pro wrestling achievements
The stigma of pro wrestlers not being “real” athletes is one that’s been fought pretty much since people began to suspect the results weren’t exactly on the up-and-up, which is why WWE never misses an opportunity to point out a wrestler’s past in other sports. Baron Corbin used to play for the Arizona Cardinals. Dolph Ziggler was a legend in Kent State’s wrestling program. Kurt Angle won his Olympic gold medals with a broken freakin’ neck, you guys!
We’re not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with this, of course. Most of the time, it helps build up a wrestler as a credible threat. It’s one thing to call Mark Henry the “world’s strongest man.” It’s another when he’s actually, legitimately held that title. When it comes to the past of their wrestlers, WWE is open about a lot of things. About others… well… not so much…
3. Hide: Histories of current stars from other companies
For the majority of its history, WWE has made it a habit of not really acknowledging other wrestling companies. Even during the Monday Night Wars, this was a regular practice (it’s part of the reason the DX “invasion” of a WCW Nitro taping was so effective). Every now and then, references to smaller companies that were friendly with WWE were mentioned — such as ECW and Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling, for example. But you rarely, if at all, heard about, say, Chris Jericho’s history in WCW when he first debuted.
When Sting finally made his long awaited WWE debut, the company essentially made it seem like the former WCW champion had been in a coma for the last decade and a half (except for that time that Ric Flair went off script, which was hilarious). AJ Styles finally made his debut in the “big leagues” and other than a passing reference or two to his time in New Japan Pro Wrestling, his previous career was largely ignored.
Essentially, when WWE says that a star has wrestled “all over the world” (even if they actually have wrestled all over the world), it usually means they were in TNA.
2. Showing off: Stars crossing over to mainstream
Lately, it seems like John Cena is everywhere. He’s a regular guest host on NBC’s Today show. He’s the host of Fox’s reality competition American Grit. He’s even hosted ESPN’s Espy Awards, an event previously hosted by celebrities like Alec Baldwin and Joel McHale. That’s not even mentioning the number of movies he’s made.
But, it’s not just Cena, either. WWE stars have been a regular staple on late night talk shows and reality programs. Chris Jericho was not only a contestant on Dancing With The Stars, he also hosted a short-lived game show on ABC’s Downfall. Of course, any time one of their own appears elsewhere on television or in the movies, you can be sure it’ll be mentioned numerous times on WWE TV, as well they should. It gives WWE extra publicity and it gives fans a chance to see a side of their favorite wrestlers they wouldn’t see otherwise. Everything is fine and dandy with The Miz appearing on Conan, as long as he’s not talking about….
1. Hide: Insensitive/offensive former storylines
It’s tough to keep your audience’s attention 52 weeks a year. After all, there’s a lot of entertainment options out there. One of the things wrestling has going for it is that it can be wholly unpredictable. Sometimes, however, that quest to get your audience to say “did they just do that?!” can sometimes lead to “oh, gees, they did do that. Yuck.” When this happens, WWE finds the best course of action is to just kick it under the bed and pretend it was never there in the first place.
It could be an angle as offensive as the “Katie Vick” story that combined the hilarity of murder with the entertainment value of simulated necrophilia. Other times, it’s just because an angle drops dead in the water the minute it happens, such as the “Daniel Bryan has an affair with his physical therapist” angle. There are even angles that are the victim of both insensitivity and horrible timing — we’re looking at you, Muhammad Hassan.
WWE doesn’t really have a lot of shame when it comes to a lot of these — Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio once had a match over the custody of a child and they still talk about it to this day. So, when an angle is ridiculously bad (for whatever reason), they pretty much will just pretend it never happened and move on.
But, we remember, WWE. We remember!
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