What Matters About Owen Hart’s Widow’s New Suit Against Linda McMahon and WWE

The latest intrusion of reality into Linda McMahon’s wrestling-scripted Senate candidacy in Connecticut is a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Hartford against Linda, her husband Vince, and their World Wrestling Entertainment for appropriating the likeness of the late WWE wrestler Owen Hart in a new DVD compilation.

A few comments.

  • Nearly a decade ago Martha Hart, Owen’s widow, settled a wrongful-death lawsuit against WWE for $18 million. Owen Hart had plunged to his death from the arena rafters in Kansas City in 1999 when his harness failed during a stunt entrance. (WWE later collected around half the settlement sum from the harness manufacturer.) But this new piece of litigation is about intellectual property — and nothing gets in the McMahons’ kitchen quite like the notion that IP might be for thee, as well as me.
  • Of course, campaign watchers might actually use the occasion to reflect on the death itself. Owen Hart not only was a source of ongoing intellectual property; he also was a a disposable independent contractor. See “’The Question – Senate Candidate Linda McMahon (Still) Can’t Answer It,” January 10, https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/01/10/%E2%80%98the-question%E2%80%99-%E2%80%93-senate-candidate-linda-mcmahon-still-can%E2%80%99t-answer-it-complete-7-part-series-as-a-single-post/. See especially this passage in the standard WWE talent contract: “WRESTLER, on behalf of himself and his heirs, successors, assigns and personal representatives, hereby releases, waives and discharges PROMOTER from all liability to WRESTLER and covenants not to sue PROMOTER for any and all loss or damage on account of injury to any person or property or resulting in serious or permanent injury to WRESTLER or resulting in WRESTLER’s death, whether caused by the negligence of the PROMOTER, other wrestlers or otherwise.”What a wonderful model of political leadership and accountability.
  • Owen Hart’s fatal accident occurred at the start of a pay-per-view show, which went on. Vince McMahon later explained, ludicrously, that he feared a riot by fans if the show were canceled. Eight years later, in June 2007, McMahon had no such fear as he gave the green light to a live TV tribute to Chris Benoit. With deadpan tears, McMahon shielded his own wrestlers and his audience from knowledge – which became public before the broadcast was over – that Benoit had garroted his wife, snapped their seven-year-old son’s neck, and hanged himself.
  • In the So What Department, Martha Hart may or may not be pure as Ivory soap. The brilliant memoir by Owen’s brother Bret Hart describes this wrestling clan’s implosion and bickering over money and responsibility following the gruesome industrial death of patriarch Stu Hart’s youngest son. In the book, Bret aptly and honestly compares his family’s and his own behavior to that of panelists on the Jerry Springer Show. (My  review of Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling can be viewed at http://muchnick.net/hitmanreview.pdf.)
  • Unfortunately, Bret Hart, like almost all of them, needed to be back in Vince McMahon’s good graces more than Hart needed to tell the truth. When he returned to WWE for the honor of making Vince (and himself) more money – this time in a script of beating up his once and future boss at WrestleMania – the wrestling commentary site Cageside Seats called Hart “a conflicted sellout.” But even before that, Hart was a wrestling carny with a wrestling carny’s instincts. See, for example, his apologist’s stance in his appearance with me on CNN’s Nancy Grace after the murder-suicide of his close friend Benoit – the lead clip at my YouTube channel (http://youtube.com/WrestlingBabylon).

Irv Muchnick

2 Responses to “What Matters About Owen Hart’s Widow’s New Suit Against Linda McMahon and WWE”

  1. 1 Adam June 22, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    It’s interesting to see that talent contracts refer to the wrestlers as wrestlers instead of “superstars” or “sports entertainers.”

  2. 2 Keith Harris June 23, 2010 at 4:20 am

    Martha may not be pure as Ivory soap, but she certainly comes across a lot purer and whiter than the professional carnies that made up the family she married into. Her opinions on Owen’s death and WWE have remained consistent, which is more than can be said for the rest of the family. I can’t blame Martha for getting upset over WWE releasing a Hart Family DVD which Owen is a focal part of and where I’m sure his family absolves WWE of all blame in his death, like Bret did earlier this year in an interview with CTV:

    “Clearly, my brother Owen’s death was just a bad accident. You can’t hold Vince McMahon directly accountable for that. It was someone underneath who didn’t know what they were doing.”

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