I live 2,927 miles from Greenwich, Connecticut, home of Linda McMahon – this according to Google Maps, one of the bêtes noires of Richard Blumenthal, the man who defeated her last year for a U.S. Senate seat.
So I have no idea what Linda talks about these days behind gated doors with her husband Vince, the chairman of The New WWE (née World Wrestling Entertainment) and with their daughter Stephanie and her husband Paul “Triple H” Levesque. But I can imagine all of them enjoying a good laugh over the corporate announcement earlier this week that Levesque and his WrestleMania Sunday ballet partner, Mark “Undertaker” Calloway, were “fined” an undisclosed amount for the steel chair the former delivered to the latter’s head during their match in Atlanta.
“Pursuant to WWE’s Concussion policy, the stunt of using a folded metal chair shot to the head is prohibited,” the website release deadpanned. I wonder if the script writer had to restrain himself from adding the old gag: “Especially without their knowledge.”
There’s nothing funny about the reality of long-term brain injury in contact sports and “sports entertainment,” about the findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of dead WWE guys Chris Benoit and Andrew Martin, or about the likelihood that CTE is seriously mixed up in what a Connecticut political reporter last year delicately called the wrestling industry’s “high mortality rate.”
But gallows humor will have to suffice for the moment. That’s because almost everyone reading this already thinks he’s so smart that he’s in on the joke.
While Mr. Stephanie McMahon Levesque either does or doesn’t write a check of indeterminate sum, transferring a tiny percentage of his WrestleMania payoff from the couple’s bank account to Vince and Linda’s billion-dollar company’s, we still have no explanation for the lower-profile head chair shot that took place nine days before WrestleMania at a WWE show in Champaign, Illinois. In that particular pas de bourreé, Stephen Farrelly (“Sheamus”) gave and Bryan Danielson (“Daniel Bryan”) received.
So far as we know, nothing happened to Farrelly and Danielson. The backstage agent or “producer” of the Illinois show, Dave “Fit” Finlay, was himself fired shortly thereafter, but only for the coincidental sin of having pissed off a WWE sponsor, the Army National Guard, by allowing wrestling villain The Miz to interrupt the national anthem. Dave Meltzer, publisher of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, is confident in his conclusion that the head chair shot was not Finlay’s firing offense. Meltzer also points out, compellingly, that WWE didn’t take even its dubiously toothful disciplinary step against Levesque and Calloway until the company confronted what Meltzer called (on his subscribers’ discussion board) a “shitstorm” of media inquiries.
More from here later on the ambiguous fates of Finlay, Farrelly, and Danielson. Let’s stick with the central theme: WWE, which has lied serially about its awareness of head injuries and elimination of chair shots, just brought this stunt back not once but twice – the second time with the boss’s son-in-law and in a way that once again directed more focus to the act’s magic-show execution than to the act itself.
For, you see, a number of self-labeled “smart” wrestling fans are now lecturing me that I should have taken pains to note that Levesque’s hit on Calloway doesn’t count, or doesn’t count quite as much – or whatever the hell they are arguing – by virtue of Calloway’s having possibly succeeded in sticking up a hand between Levesque’s chair shot and his own noodle. Which would make this a second-degree “protected” head chair shot rather than a first-degree “unprotected” head chair shot. It seems that WWE doesn’t even have to waste energy mounting a defense; voices claiming to advocate an end to its death-mill working conditions are happy to do the corporation’s bidding without even being asked. (If WWE itself regarded such a defense as anything more than risible, then do you think it would even have bothered with the charade of announcing fines two days later?)
I don’t know if Levesque and Calloway pulled this stunt entirely on their own, or with a nod and a wink from “Mr. McMahon,” and I don’t care. As The Rock would say, “It doesn’t matter.” (But again, a Meltzer point: The WrestleMania pay-per-view production crew cued up an instant replay of the spot; no one seemed abashed by it at the time.)
What matters is that out-of-control entertainment values, once again, have trumped occupational health and safety.
That’s why I’m hoping that, in addition to looking out for my privacy against the predators of Google, Senator Blumenthal – a co-sponsor of a Congressional initiative for football helmet safety – will find a way to do something meaningful to regulate a brick-and-mortar (and flesh-and-blood) menace close to home.