Archive for September 15th, 2010

Intrigue Deepens in Story of State Investigation of WWE and the Connection – If Any – to the Linda McMahon Senate Campaign

Brian Lockhart, the Hearst reporter who yesterday broke the story of a Connecticut state government investigation of World Wrestling Entertainment independent contractor classifications, has followed up with a fascinating new blog post that raises a couple of important unanswered questions.

See “Why won’t WWE provide two important details about state audit?”,

It was WWE, not the state, that revealed the existence of the audit. Indeed, we still don’t even know what agency is conducting the probe; the company refuses to clarify and the government, as a matter of policy, won’t comment on an ongoing investigation.

The second unanswered question is the date of the audit’s launch. Lockhart suggests that it might even predate the Linda McMahon Senate campaign, and that this leak was designed to link an investigation of her company with innuendo that it is a political abuse of office by her Senate election opponent, attorney general Richard Blumenthal.

The only small piece of intelligence I can add is that when Blumenthal was on Face the State several months ago, Dennis House asked him if he had ever investigated WWE. Blumenthal replied that he couldn’t comment on any such work by his office. At the time that just sounded generically coy, but the story of WWE and alleged independent contractor abuse has given everything said by everybody on this subject a possible new meaning.

Irv Muchnick

88% Say WWE Wrestlers Are Employees: Wrestling Observer Poll


–Do you think WWE wrestlers are employees or independent contractors?

Employees 88.2%
Independent contractors 11.8%

Wrestling Observer Advocates ‘WWE Study the Issues’; Pro Wrestling Torch Advocates Schedule Reform; I Advocate Regulation

Yesterday I posted this note on Twitter:

Dave Meltzer in 9/13 issue of Wrestling Observer: “I’ve long advocated WWE set up an independent agency to study the issues.” Pathetic.

The Twitterer @travlord then asked, “what about the Torch’s stance” on the subject of government regulation of the pro wrestling industry.

I asked Wade Keller, the editor of Pro Wrestling Torch, and here is what he said:

I’m not sure what our position has been over the years regarding occupational safety. We’ve certainly written A LOT over the last 20 years, but I don’t think we’ve ever honed in on a specific solution and endorsed it. My main cause has been what I think is most realistic and attainable, which is WWE mandating six weeks off twice a year for all talent across the roster, giving their bodies and perhaps more importantly their minds time to recharge, plus just touch base for more than a couple days with the non-WWE world and ground themselves. Time off while injured or not in good standing is very different than time off as part of the system that everyone partakes in. I just think that would do wonders for wrestlers long-term who after 10-15 years in the system know no other way to live or occupy themselves, and therefore they white-knuckle their way through the schedule until they collapse. As for government regulation, we’re neither for nor against it as an editorial stance, but if that worked in solving the problems, we’re obviously for it.

Keller’s proposal is a very good one. But I have a different perspective.

People are dying and that’s unacceptable, and we can’t wait for the industry leader to adopt a sensible proposal from a journalist, or for the talent to get organized enough to make it happen – the possibility of either is extremely remote. That is why I advocate toothful outside regulation of this out-of-control industry

In the old days, when wrestling presented an often comical veneer of “kayfabe” legitimacy, the industry was monitored by a crazy-quilt of the same state athletic commissions overseeing boxing (and now, in some places, mixed martial arts). Today kayfabe is dead and no one wants it back. That doesn’t mean, however, that regulation of occupational health and safety is not in order.

I’m an equal-opportunity offender: law enforcement, politicians, the mainstream media — all take their shots on this blog. Wrestling fans and their media don’t deserve a pass; they need to get out of their reality-TV cocoons. This is Planet Earth, where people should be systematically sent to their deaths only in warfare, not in service of maxed-out profits, TV ratings, multimedia marketing, and fantasy entertainment whose consequences are not a fantasy. And where public health trumps the libertarian mumbo-jumbo enabling such a system.

Irv Muchnick

How Linda McMahon Will Try to Spin the State Investigation of WWE – Why the Spin Will Fail

World Wrestling Entertainment, the billion-dollar corporation effectively bankrolling and sponsoring the Senate candidacy of its co-founder and former CEO Linda McMahon, is now being audited by the state of Connecticut for possible misclassification of employees as independent contractors.

Company PR guy Robert Zimmerman told Brian Lockhart of Hearst newspapers: “WWE has always complied with the law. Up until this election, WWE has not been fined or investigated in the past for independent contractor classification. However, curiously the state of Connecticut is currently conducting an audit of WWE’s classification of independent contractors. WWE constantly reviews its internal practices and procedures to comply with ever-changing employee laws.”

This statement by the corporate spokesman foreshadows the more aggressive line we can expect to be hearing, either out loud or sotto voce, from the McMahon campaign. It goes like this: McMahon’s opponent in the Senate race, attorney general Richard Blumenthal, is abusing his office for partisan purposes.

Muchnick analysis:

I have no information on whether Blumenthal is behind the substance or the timing of the state investigation. I would not be shocked to learn that he is, in some form. But if so, there is still a key difference between this and J. Edgar Hoover-like spying or extraordinarily invasive review and harassment of personal tax returns. What is happening now is called statecraft: where politics and government appropriately, and usefully, intersect.

WWE’s “independent” contracts have been a source of controversy for years. A lawsuit challenging misclassification by a group of WWE wrestlers (including Christopher “Chris Kanyon” Klutsarits, who committed suicide this spring) was mooted on technical grounds – because of statute of limitations issues and because the named plaintiffs no longer worked for the company.

In truth, the Connecticut audit was a long time coming, and was probably delayed only because officials were reticent to challenge a powerful home-state corporation. If it was the McMahon family’s reach for elective office that finally eroded that reticence, then so be it.

Partisan? The Misclassification Commission , whose 2008 report on independent contractor abuse spurred the type of audit we’re seeing with WWE, was the joint work product of a Republican governor, Jodi Rell, and the state legislature. The same bipartisan forces, I might add, that rubber-stamped Linda McMahon’s appointment to the state Board of Education in January 2009 even after it was revealed that she had lied on her resume about her academic credentials.

McMahon’s cries of dirty campaigning by Blumenthal would be laughable, considering that she has all but denuded the Amazonian forest with slick mass mailings that smear Blumenthal in ridiculous proportion over his “in-vs.-during” Vietnam misstatements.

Finally – Prospective Blumenthal supporters who have expressed frustration over his heretofore passive campaign are going to have to consider whether it is through developments such as this one that the would-be Democratic senator might be finding his voice. Letting surrogates attack WWE deaths and programming while he concentrates on things he knows best, such as the law? I That may work for him. And I, personally, don’t have a problem with it – even though I realize that the Connecticut media would prefer to educate the electorate through lowbrow YouTube clips and corny smackdown metaphors.

Irv Muchnick

‘Brain Damage’ Is No. 2 Trending Topic at Yahoo

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September 2010