WWE’s Reckless Approach to Covid-19

There is something ugly as sin happening in the carnivalesque world of professional wrestling, or more specifically World Wrestling Entertainment, the top dog in the industry. Run by 74-year-old billionaire Friend-of-Trump Vince McMahon, WWE has decided to resume live programming this week in the midst of the coronavirus, instead of doing safer bulk pretapings. The reasons for doing so appear to be dicey as hell. The owners say that they are doing it for America. Their actual motives are much more suspect.

ESPN has some sort of murky partnership with WWE, interviewing its sports entertainers on SportsCenter as if it’s a legit sport, and never looking at the dark side of the business. The network uncritically ran WWE’s justification for going back to live programming:

We believe it is now more important than ever to provide people with a diversion from these hard times. We are producing content on a closed set with only essential personnel in attendance following appropriate guidelines while taking additional precautions to ensure the health and wellness of our performers and staff. As a brand that has been woven into the fabric of society, WWE and its Superstars bring families together and deliver a sense of hope, determination and perseverance.

What propagandistic nonsense, or, to use a word from McMahon’s youth, “malarkey.” The actual reason WWE is changing to live programming, as reported by actual-wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, is to fulfill contractual requirements to the USA and Fox networks to broadcast only three pretaped shows per year. This decision is driven by McMahon’s eternal efforts to keep his stock artificially inflated with smoke and mirrors. According to insiders, he’s concerned that the contracts with USA and Fox could be reopened if he doesn’t deliver the goods.

Even more fitting for this scandal-ridden company is that the decision to go to live-event programing comes after news this weekend that an unnamed on-air personality has tested positive for Covid-19. The company was quick to assert that this employee infected nobody, never had contact with anyone, and that everything was completely fine—nothing to see here. But there’s no reason to take anything WWE says at face value. McMahon’s care for his workforce is legendarily abhorrent, with a staggering death toll among its stars over the decades due to drugs, suicide, and one in-ring disaster. If any other sport had WWE’s body count, there would be congressional panels decrying its existence.

In addition, McMahon is taking advantage of Florida’s lax laws concerning Covid-19, enacted by their blithering goon of a governor, Ron DeSantis. WWE will be filming its live shows in the corrupt sinkhole of Orlando, where McMahon has received an “essential business” label from the friendly Florida government. It would be difficult to imagine anywhere more dangerous outside of New York for WWE to set up shop. As Alex Nazaryan of Yahoo News tweeted, “Florida now has twice as many coronavirus cases (20,601) as South Korea (10,537). About 30 million more people live in South Korea than in Florida.”

It’s difficult to imagine a more rancid and more dangerous cross-pollination than that of Trump, DeSantis, and the WWE. Sure enough, the same day that McMahon announced that WWE would be doing live tapings in Florida, former Trump cabinet official Linda McMahon’s (former WWE executive and Vince’s spouse, of course) committed her Trump reelection PAC to spending $18.5 million in Florida in 2020.

When Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings was asked about WWE’s maintaining live tapings, he said, “Originally, they were not deemed an essential business. With some conversation with the governor’s office regarding the governor’s order, they were deemed an essential business.”

Then, late Monday night, it was revealed that last Thursday DeSantis signed an executive order deeming all “employees at a professional sports and media production with a national audience—including…athletes, entertainers, production team, executive team, media team” as essential. This all stinks to high hell. When you strip it all away, a billionaire Trump backer gets an anti-labor sweetheart deal at the behest of a Trump-lickspittle of a governor. It is a microcosm of a corrupt system in a state of profound decay.

Now the matches will continue, without crowds and with the illusion that just the three to seven people in the ring are present, their bodies all over one another like a frat party of germs. The reality is that when one considers the tech crew and medical professionals on-site, it’s more likely to be dozens in attendance and in close quarters at a time when social distancing is the difference between life and death. Even the announce team, which could easily fulfill their duties at a remote location, are being told to fly to Orlando to take care of business. And again, this is all happening after someone in the company tested positive for Covid-19.

This is a scandal, and the powder-puff WWE journalism from mainstream outlets is not nearly sufficient to hold McMahon’s feet to the fire. The one positive to all of this is the possibility that maybe now, at long last, professional wrestlers will see the value in organizing themselves into a union. The matches may be scripted, but there is nothing fake about the real-life injuries, painkiller addictions, and now coronavirus risks that come with being part of Vincent Kennedy McMahon’s traveling circus.

Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com