By Jeff Lutz, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@JLutz82)
Vince McMahon is embarrassingly bad at knowing when to stop.
In 1999, McMahon somehow allowed the Over The Edge pay-per-view in Kansas City to continue after Owen Hart fell from the rafters to his death. Eight years later, he dedicated Monday Night Raw to the memory of Chris Benoit, who was found that day to have died along with his wife and young son. During the show, it was reported that the investigation was leading toward, and eventually proving, a double murder-suicide perpetrated by Benoit himself.
Now McMahon, the WWE Chairman and CEO, has an opportunity not to cancel out those two regrettable decisions, but to either establish a new pattern of sensitivity to tragedy and crisis or at least, just this once, to do the right thing. The longer McMahon, in response to the spread of coronavirus, waits to cancel WrestleMania, scheduled for April 5 in Tampa, the more selfish and unable to learn from the past he appears.
McMahon made another tough call in 2001 when he opted to hold Smackdown in front of a live audience in Houston two days after 9/11. That decision has been lauded, especially within the company, as a unifying move that began the healing process following our country’s most seismic tragedy. There’s little question that was an inspiring night.
It’s likely McMahon is feeding himself the same logic he used to justify not only holding a public gathering in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but also for continuing a wrestling event in front of fans who just watched a performer die in front of them. After 9/11, our country needed to begin emotional recovery, and after Hart’s death – well, I can’t think of any real reason for that choice. But McMahon has always prided himself on WWE’s stance that the show must go on.
This time, the show can’t go on. The United States is not in a time of healing, but instead doing everything it can to avoid hurting in the first place. By April 5, the United States will either be moving toward its peak in coronavirus cases, at the peak, or beginning to come down from it. None of those scenarios should be compromised, even for WWE’s biggest event of the year.
No, especially for the WWE’s biggest event of the year, which is held annually in front of close to 100,000 fans, many of whom travel overseas to attend.
This would be a much easier argument to make if WWE hadn’t recently celebrated putting its fans in danger. On Raw from Salt Lake City last month, WWE praised a live audience that braved a snowstorm, defying recommendations from the National Weather Service and local officials. Surely, WWE wouldn’t be tone-deaf enough to act as if holding WrestleMania as scheduled would be a service to its fans, right?
Then again, it’s not difficult to envision McMahon and those within WWE, a company that loves to favorably skew its own history, telling us in a few years that WrestleMania was what helped the country psychologically rebound from a global pandemic. Or something crazy like that.
Holding WrestleMania without fans is not a viable solution. WWE can’t spend decades making its grandest event a week-long fan experience, then keep fans away just to make sure a Goldberg-Roman Reigns match happens. That would be treating the outcomes of a predetermined sport as if they matter, and they don’t. They matter even less during a worldwide crisis.
It’s difficult to know if wrestling at all is a smart choice during these times. Bodily contact between people who travel almost constantly doesn’t seem wise, but hopefully many brilliantly educated people, independent of WWE and its financial interests, are involved in those decisions. It’s smarter to make choices that may seem overboard rather than under-do it and suffer major consequences later.
The decision whether to cancel WrestleMania is reportedly in McMahon’s hands, at least for now. The governor of Florida, Rob DeSantis, recommended an unenforceable 30-day ban on public events, and telling McMahon he can’t or shouldn’t do something will make him that much more determined to pull it off. McMahon should make the right decision now, or Florida officials should soon take the decision from McMahon, who has consistently proven he is incapable of making the best one.