By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Sometimes, when it’s late at night, I’m lying in bed, and I can’t sleep, I wonder about people dying. I can’t be the only one to do this, right?
Oh, I am? Sorry.
Anyway, it makes me ponder legacy. I do it with family members, friends and even celebrities – people about whom I’ll never truly know anything. Still, I think about what the public’s reaction will be in certain cases. Will the tributes to the deceased be warm? How good will they be? Could they be better? Will most people even understand the impact said person had on a life or an industry or a family?
Some may call it morbid, but I err on the side of reflective. Hey, you say “tomato,” I say, “yeah, I don’t know why I do this, either.”
And believe it or not, before I ever even typed a single letter of a single word for this very website, there was always one person I’d consider when my mind would go to these places in lieu of sleep. That guy?
THINKING ABOUT VINCE
I would think about the impact he had on his industry and wonder how the outpouring of gratitude would be received by the mainstream. It’d have to be a “breaking news” alert on ESPN – and maybe even cable news, to boot. The ensuing episodes of Raw and Smackdown would be can’t-miss because emotions would run wild and wrestling is at its best when emotions run wild (or, well, when Hulkamania does, at least). I was already formulating pitches to non-wrestling websites for what I could write, were Vince McMahon to ever not exist.
One pitch in particular was something I wrestled with for months and the thesis was this: No other figure in any corner of American sports and/or entertainment has left as big an imprint on his or her industry than Vince McMahon did on his. I wrestled with it so often because I wasn’t entirely sure I was right, but I also wasn’t entirely sure that I was wrong. He pissed a lot of people off along the way, and his ethics, in so many different ways, have been questionable.
But damn it if he didn’t take this whole pro wrestling thing to heights that not a single person ever once dreamed it would go. And he didn’t do it without having to fight his way out of a few uncomfortable corners. He clawed his way to the top by any means necessary and once he got there, he was never content with sitting still. What was once the top became obsolete. What the new top became morphed into something bigger. At one point, it felt like WWE would never stop growing, never stop somehow achieving even more success.
Then again … well, there was, say, Jackie Robinson, who broke barriers in much deeper waters at a much more significant time in both American and athletic history. So, yeah. Maybe I was giving McMahon a little too much credit.
But you know what?
A TARNISHED LEGACY
It doesn’t even matter anymore.
That’s because as we learned over the last few weeks, there can be no honest eulogization of Vince McMahon without the words “alleged sexual misconduct” popping up in at least one or 30 paragraphs. And I don’t mean that on just a human level – of course, for now, at least, I’m talking about this on a professional level as the guy who so many credit with revolutionizing the pro wrestling business gave up all his duties at WWE Friday afternoon (in typical corporate news dump fashion) and did the one thing not a single soul ever thought he would do, which is retire.
It didn’t come without prelude, as we all know. The backdrop here is that McMahon was allegedly caught paying off women he slept with or had sexual relations with, and so on and so forth. The story first appeared in the Wall Street Journal, but while I admit it could be my cynical journalistic mind, my guess is more stories are on the way and those stories are most likely going to be worse than the ones we’ve already read. On top of that comes today’s news that McMahon’s payouts should have been listed as company expenses.
Thus, McMahon’s resignation.
Only time can prove that guess right or wrong, but for now, we’re left with the very public and very unexpected demise of Vince McMahon right before our very eyes. He’s been an asshole to so many people (or at least so say so many people), but he was pro wrestling’s asshole and there has been enough respect paid from enough Very Important People to allow us all to kind of shrug our shoulders at the bad and, if nothing else, just respect the good he brought to the wrestling business.
Not anymore. After decades of building an empire, the last month has completely brought his reign – and his legacy – to its knees. That hypothetical think piece I had been planning while dozing off to sleep countless times is no more …
SO MANY SIDES
Or, is it?
After the harassment claims and the millions of dollars paid out as hush money, Vince McMahon has caused a much more invisible problem with his moronic actions. That problem? His already-complicated legacy is now almost impossible to fully, accurately and fairly articulate. You saw the Smackdown crowd go nuts for the guy when he strutted down the aisle on the very day the initial report against him broke. Shoot, Stephanie McMahon couldn’t even get two minutes into her welcoming speech on this past week’s SmackDown before everyone insisted on chanting “Thank you, Vince.” To say there are still masses and masses of people who support him through thick and thin is an understatement.
But then you also have the group of people who hear “sexual misconduct” and the rest of the sentence, paragraph or story does not matter one bit. And I get that. Some things are unforgivable, and some things overshadow everything else, no matter what accomplishments are achieved in any form of sport, entertainment and everything in between. Case in point: I can’t watch DeShaun Watson throw a football the same way ever again, and I feel safe in assuming that I’m not the only one who feels that way.
Which side is right? And before you rush to answer that question, remember how three-dimensional this issue is. In a lot of ways, it’s analogous to the age-old debate that shines a spotlight on separating the art from the artist. One of the most popular examples of as much is Woody Allen and his films. If you’re a gigantic fan of Annie Hall, but then found out, decades after it was initially released, that Allen might not be the most ethical step-father, will you still love Annie Hall?
Can you look back on the heyday of WWE/F, when Hulkamania was running wild and pro wrestling was growing from the little engine that could into a fully loaded Amtrak station, know that McMahon was at the center of that success, and still appreciate the way WrestleMania revolutionized the business? In light of all this mess, can you still be entertained by McMahon taking the worst Stunner of all time back in April? Knowing that McMahon wasn’t the only executive caught up in these alleged sexual misconduct scandals and other high-level people don’t look great coming out of this … does that make you want to not support this company? Does it make you feel guilty for supporting it for so long?
Those questions might initially seem easy to answer, but then …
You head online and you see someone like Matt Hardy tweet this:
“I don’t care how this tweet ‘ages’ to be honest. Without WWE & VKM, I don’t have the life & wealth I have now. I am grateful for the opportunity I was allowed & given. I DO NOT condone ANY sexual misconduct & IF @VinceMcMahon is found guilty, I will condemn it.”
I mean, yeah. I don’t blame Matt Hardy for writing that. Those thoughts have been echoed among other wrestlers online and if that’s the stuff we’re seeing online, you have to think some of the personal, non-public conversations among each other are even more supportive. That also doesn’t mean Matt Hardy (as he said) condones any of the things McMahon is being accused of doing. It just means WWE and McMahon gave Matt and his brother a bunch of opportunities to make a bunch of money and they did just that. That’s life stuff. If you can provide for your family as a result of a business, you’re damn well going to thank the business and the people leading it.
Vince McMahon changed a lot of people’s lives for the better – just ask those people. Vince McMahon also changed a lot of people’s lives for the worse – just ask those people, too. I’m not talking booking decisions, unifying titles or trying to push Roman Reigns down everyone’s throats; I’m talking about the old story that he gave Mr. Fuji 10-grand in cash once he heard the guy had fallen on hard times … but I’m also talking about the way he would pull the trigger on firing people weeks after they uprooted their lives to live in Orlando.
It’s the good. It’s the bad …
ONE LAST TROLL
It’s the complicated.
And the complicated makes this all that much more annoying to ponder. On one hand, I want to ask the supporters – and even the wrestlers like Matt Hardy who so publicly back McMahon – what the guy would have to do in order for them to say, “OK, yeah, he really messed up.” On the other, I want to ask the unwaveringly committed McMahon detractors how they don’t think it’s possible to look back on the guy’s career and think it was one of the most important careers in the history of the industry.
Is there room for nuance?
Not these days, but especially not for a scenario like this. For better or for worse, Vince McMahon’s legacy now isn’t just going to be that of a pioneer in the wrestling business; it’s also going to be that of a man who got away with heinous things for decades before the dominoes started to fall. Perhaps that’s how he would have wanted it anyway – never easy, hard to understand and a bitch to unravel. In some respects, it’s one last way to gleefully not give the people what they want.
Because truthfully, what people want, is to know that the guy most responsible for their wrestling fandom is a guy who doesn’t have to pay someone millions of dollars to not talk about the sexual abuse he committed years ago. Instead, what Vince McMahon gave those people is a flawed, power-hungry sexual deviant that thought money could serve as his body armor for as long as time.
Or, in my case at least, he gave me one less person to think about when I’m up late at night, unable to sleep, contemplating legacies – for better or for worse.
>>That’s because as we learned over the last few weeks, there can be no honest eulogization of Vince McMahon without the words “alleged sexual misconduct” popping up in at least one or 30 paragraphs.<<
So again….he has a consensual sexual relationship, AND AGAIN, THE WOMAN KNEW HE WAS MARRIED YET NO ONE HAS SAID A NEGATIVE WORD ABOUT HER, and THAT is suddenly a huge issue. Odd, considering he's been accused of numerous sexual assaults, including rape, in the past and paid them off. Ignorant, actually, no odd.
The legacy of Vince McMahon isn’t complicated. He took a solid regional business and turned it into a mainstream national and then global business that played an outsized role in both the rise of PPV and the rise of streaming, and took that company public to become a self made billionaire. He also was like far too many men of his generation who used his position to both have extramarital affairs and to force women to perform non-consensual sexual acts and paid for their silence in both scenarios.
That’s not complicated or even difficult. That’s something that shouldn’t even cause raised eyebrows. With the exception of the Snuka murder case, there’s nothing about Vince’s legacy that stands out except for just how far he brought his particular industry.
If it was simply a “consensual sexual relationship” then no money would have needed to been paid. Somebody is either demanding, or offering, payment for silence. And unless the women that Vince paid off were demanding money-for-silence, then no negative word should ever be uttered about them. EVER.
If Vince had simply written them a check from his own account, this may have never happened. No matter how it’s looked at, the only person at fault here is Vince. And I won’t miss him for a millisecond.
@MJoseph – if you even now still believe this is about just that one incident with the paralegal, then I have some magic beans I would like to sell you.
“If it was simply a “consensual sexual relationship” then no money would have needed to been paid.”
That’s unbelievably naive. Of course there could be a consensual sexual relationship outside of a marriage where the person demands money to not spill the beans to the spouse that’s being cheated on. Seriously, how can people not understand that?
TheGreatestIgnorant never realizes how his comments make him the laughing stock of this site. If this guy truly believes what he is saying here, and not trolling, he shouldn’t breed. Sheer stupidity.
As usual, it’s another personal attack from a borderline illiterate shitstain who can’t address the point at hand. If you’re too fucking stupid to understand the concept of an NDA for a consensual relationship that involves at least one of the parties being married to someone else, then you should do the world a favor and go play in traffic until you lose.
Honest question. Are you capable of being an adult and making your points without cussing out and insulting everyone you disagree with?
Nobody said anything about an NDA until you needed to make something up to justify some other ignorant thing that you said. An affair is not “consensual” if one party entered it with the intent of blackmailing the other party.
Neither is it consensual of one party abused their position of authority to coerce the other party to engage in said affair.
“Seriously, how can people not understand that?”