Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Idiot Box

By Devin D. O'Leary

JUNE 28, 1999:  With all the controversy surrounding Hollywood's role in promoting a "culture of violence," one has to wonder how long televised wrestling can escape the glare of showboating politicians seeking to divert the spotlight from genuine social ills. The level of sex, violence and profanity in professional wrestling has skyrocketed in the last five years -- as have the Nielsen ratings. There are those, including many long-time grappling aficionados, however, who have decried this downward spiral. Two recent events have conspired to give pro wrestling its biggest black eye, which could result in some massive changes in the industry.

The May 23 death of WWF wrestler Owen Hart in Kansas City has served to highlight the excesses with which pro wrestling has become synonymous. Hart, known in body slam circles as The Blue Blazer, was killed in a stunt gone horribly wrong during a live pay-per-view match. Hart was to descend from the rafters of Kansas City's Kemper Arena on a cable. Apparently, the quick release on Hart's safety harness came undone, and the wrestler plunged more than 70 feet to his death. Fans of the wrestler were shocked when the performer was hustled out of the ring and the show continued as normal.

Hart comes from a long line of professional wrestlers. His brother is WCW champion Brett "The Hitman" Hart, and his father is Canadian wrestling pioneer Stu Hart. Now Hart's family is suing the World Wrestling Federation and its chairman, Vince McMahon, for wrongful death. According to Owen Hart's parents, the young wrestler was uncomfortable doing the wire stunt, but was persuaded to by the Federation. Mrs. Hart recently told reporters that, "Professional wrestling has become a showy display of graphic violence, sexual themes and dangerous stunts."

On the "sexual themes" front, pneumatic female wrestler Sable took last week's TV Guide cover story as her opportunity to announce that she is also suing the WWF. The popular female wrestler (real name: Rena Mero) is seeking $110 million in damages, asserting that the Federation wanted her to participate in a lesbian storyline, expose her breasts on TV and appear in sexually degrading photos. After Mero repeatedly refused to have her dress torn off on national television, the WWF stripped her of her championship belt late last month. Although Mrs. Mero has posed nude for Playboy, she told TV Guide there is a big difference between posing in a men's magazine and being forced to strip in front of millions of screaming fans, many of whom are children. In her lawsuit, Mrs. Mero charges that wrestling has become increasingly "obscene, titillating, vulgar and unsafe."

Obviously, wrestling's bent toward bad behavior agrees with someone. Of the top 10 cable TV shows for the month of June, seven of them are wrestling programs. The top-rated cable series, WWF's "Monday Night RAW" reaches over five million homes. With one death and two lawsuits on its hands, though, wrestling may finally be forced to clean up its act.

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