Co-written with Damian Smith
Imagine if someone ran for Senate on the strength of their experience as CEO of a billion-dollar company. Now imagine if, as an aside, their employees kept ending up dead. They would routinely die of heart attacks, drug overdoses, suicides, and strokes before the age of 50. Imagine if their company had a "death clause" in their contracts that prevented employees and their families from suing the company. Imagine if they had gag orders to prevent family members from speaking out against what could be fairly called the most dangerous working conditions in the United States. Imagine if this candidate was so sociopathic, that they would look at this billion-dollar business built on broken bodies and death as a source of pride and even as a motivator for why they deserve the power of public office. And lastly, imagine the media happily joining in with the sociopathology and giving them a free pass. Welcome to the race for Senator of Connecticut, where Republican Linda McMahon is self-funding her campaign on the bodies of the dead wrestlers who have built the billion-dollar empire that is World Wrestling Entertainment.
Just this fall alone during her campaign we have seen the deaths of wrestlers Eddie Fatu aka Umaga at 36, Lance Cade at 29, Luna Vachon at 48 and Jorge Gonzales at 44. In recent years we have seen the death by heart attack of wrestling legend Eddie Guerrero in 2005 and the suicide of Chris Benoit, which took place after he murdered his wife and child in 2007. To call the response to these tragedies cold-blooded would be an insult to reptiles. Here is WWE spokesperson Rob Zimmerman:
Ultimately... stars in any form of entertainment should be held personally responsible for their own actions. Prescription drug overdose is a problem not only with former WWE talent, but society as a whole according to the Centers for Disease Control, as it is the second leading cause of unintentional death (particularly among younger people) in the U.S.
This is like a tobacco company executive saying, "Well, LOTS of people get cancer."
As for Linda McMahon, the wife of WWE founder and impresario Vince McMahon, she was blasted by Lance Cade's father after brushing off a reporter's questions about his death saying, she "might have met [Cade] once." McMahon has also brushed off suggestions that the WWE is a serious business with a body count by repeatedly saying that the whole thing is a "soap opera" that "isn't real."
Well, Mrs. McMahon, the results of matches may be pre-determined, but the risk is very real. The injuries are all too real. Darren Drozdov was made a quadriplegic because a routine move went wrong. Bob Holly suffered a broken neck in a similar fashion. Reconstructive surgery and painkillers are as normal part of professional wrestling as shaved torsos and fake tans. And wrestlers play hurt or they don't get paid. They don't have much of a choice. Unless you're Linda's son-in-law, multiple-time champion Triple H, there are no guaranteed roster spots and no guaranteed contracts. Taking too long to heal from an injury is simply career suicide. If you sprain your ankle in Denver on Saturday but have to be on television in L.A. on Monday, there aren't many options. There is no union to fight for healthy safe work conditions in the WWE. Wrestlers are expected to do a minimum 200 shows a year crashing through tables, bouncing off steel and falling hard on a concrete floor. If you're hurt during a match, but you can somehow move, the show must go on. Sometimes, even if you can't move, the show still goes on. This culture of playing through pain results in a culture where saying your prayers and eating your vitamins means praying for health and popping Vicodin.
To hear Linda and Vince McMahon talk about their "family business," you'd think they were florists. You'd never imagine that the day after the great "Flyin'" Brian Pillman was found dead in his hotel room, Vince would drag his grieving widow on television for an interview and force her to call her just-dead husband a drug addict. It's hard to imagine that this mom-and-pop operation forced Owen Hart to wear a ridiculous costume and descend from the rafters at a pay-per-view -- a stunt which resulted in Owen falling to his death in front of tens of thousands of horrified fans. That night, as always, the show went on as planned.
Linda McMahon believes she should be elected to the United States Senate because she is the CEO of a company that happily exploits young men and women during the best years of their lives, and with few exceptions, cares little for the collateral damage. Her campaign web site claims that she wants to "put people first." This certainly doesn't mean the people who work for her. The website also tells us that Linda is not a career politician. The McMahons have left a trail of dead and broken bodies in their wake on their way to becoming billionaires. They don't seem to understand that they've become successful by seeing the people in their employ as less than fully human and therefore disposable. Linda McMahon may not be a career politician, but she already embodies everything wrong with both political parties in Washington, D.C.
This article was first run at thenation.com.