At first glance, the motive for this particular Op-Ed might seem terribly predictable; a WWE wrestler explaining his support for Linda McMahon, the former CEO of the company he wrestles for. Except that I’m not a WWE wrestler anymore. I actually wrestle for their competition, Total Nonstop Action, after a less than harmonious parting of ways with WWE two years ago. A read through my new book Countdown to Lockdown illustrates several moments of great contention with WWE and Linda’s husband, the very colorful Vince McMahon – though Mrs. McMahon herself is written about in only flattering terms. I’m also not a member of Linda McMahon’s political party, and tend to vote for the Democrat in every race unless I have good reason not to. But as a person with a unique perspective on a candidate in a close and vital race, I take issue with recent attempts to make Linda McMahon seem unappealing as a candidate because of her background with World Wrestling Entertainment.
With several races undecided, and with so much at stake, it’s not simple hyperbole to claim that the future of the United States Senate could come down to one particular race, such as the one in Connecticut, where Democrats have seemingly hitched all their hopes to an attempt to tie Linda McMahon directly to every controversy and problem ever associated with WWE, the family business she helped shape into a billion dollar worldwide enterprise.
To be sure, the concerns expressed in regard to WWE are valid ones – substance abuse problems, content issues, the troubling trend of pro-wrestlers dying way too young. But if Linda McMahon is going to be held personally accountable for every negative aspect of her family business, shouldn’t she be given personal credit for every positive aspect as well? Like the 5,000 wishes to children facing life threatening conditions WWE has granted over the last twenty five years, through “Make-a-Wish” and other wish granting organizations. Or the “Tribute to the Troops” tour that WWE has embarked on every year since 2003; spreading holiday cheer to service-members far from home, in remote bases in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. While many Americans are quietly peeling their “Support the Troops” magnets off of cars, or conveniently forgetting about the sacrifices of so many, the WWE continues to provide very real support in both bases and military hospitals, winning the USO’s first “Legacy of Hope” award, and putting smiles on the faces of countless troops serving their country overseas and facing incredible hardships at home.
This may be Linda’s first run for public office, but she is far from a political novice, having spearheaded WWE’s Smackdown Your Vote, a highly effective campaign to increase turnout among younger voters during every Presidential election year, beginning in 2000. I was with Linda at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston, and over the course of four days, watched with great interest as you she worked in a non-partisan manner, encouraging younger voters to become engaged with the democratic process and to make their vote count. A cynic might see those ten years of involvement as an attempt to build political clout, with the knowledge that she might one day run for office. I believe that it was done with the sincere belief that voting should be looked upon as a sacred American right, and one that should be exercised by as many citizens as possible. Linda McMahon is running as a Republican, but I believe that the traits I saw in action at the 2004 convention in Boston will allow her to navigate around the partisan gridlock that has made the atmosphere in Washington discouraging to so many – including me.
Some might see my words as those of a former WWE guy, showing his loyalty, trying to get back on the good side of his former company. But perhaps others will see it as a warning to the Democratic Party to disengage from a losing battle – to cut and run from the idea that tying Linda McMahon to professional wrestling is going to win an election in November. I wonder if those in charge of shaping this strategy even bothered to attend a WWE show before launching into anti-wrestling mode; not to look at the show itself – but to look at the audience, which is comprised in large part of families; hard-working moms and dads who choose to spend their money and their time on a product that they have deemed perfectly acceptable.
I’ve seen a few of those negative ads – including the one with the now iconic kick in the crotch. Over the years, I have sometimes questioned WWE’s choices of content, and, as an author, criticized those choices freely in the pages of books that WWE published. But the content issue can be a tricky one, and one best left to personal parental choices. Some see Hansel and Gretel as an innocent childhood tale. But in terms of content, I see it as a story of child abuse, child abandonment, destruction of property, breaking and entering, child imprisonment, starvation, and death by boiling in a cauldron of scalding water. Some see pro-wrestling as an offensive and violent form of low-brow entertainment. I see it as a unique hybrid of art and sport with an ability to bond families that is inexplicable. To quote a letter I received ten years ago, from a woman with a terminally ill child: “this wrestling that everyone thinks is so bad, sure has brought a lot of joy to my son.”
I don’t expect everyone in politics, or in any particular field to like or understand the appeal of professional wrestling. It’s not for everyone. But I do expect politicians and assorted media members to understand that millions of people in the United States do love this particular form of entertainment – and that many of them (including those who live in Connecticut) vote. I agree with the Democratic argument against social conservatism – that Americans don’t want politicians in their bedrooms. Guess what – they don’t want politicians in their living rooms either, telling them what they should and should not watch, or what is and what is not an acceptable form of entertainment.
I worked for and with Linda McMahon for ten years. I like and respect her – as a business person, as a concerned citizen, as a mother of two fine children, and now as a doting grandmother. I’m sure that, if elected, she will make a fine U.S. Senator. Nonetheless, I’m not sure what I would do, come November, if I lived in Connecticut, instead of twelve miles away – across the Long Island Sound. I’m not sure if I would pull that lever Linda’s way or not. Let’s face it – there is an awful lot riding on that election. And there are some important issues on which Linda McMahon and I disagree. But if I were a Connecticut citizen, and I were faced with that choice, I would hope that I would be able to make it based on those important issues and with an honest desire to do what was best for the state, the country and the world – not on the condescending notion that involvement in a certain form of entertainment makes one unfit or undesirable for public office.