AP Interview: Vince McMahon says WWE unfairly taking hits from wife’s foes in Conn. campaign

By Susan Haigh, AP
Friday, August 6, 2010

Vince McMahon sick of Sen. campaign WWE smackdowns

STAMFORD, Conn. — Vince McMahon, chairman and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, says his wife’s political opponents are taking unfair shots at his company using out-of-context footage — such as old images of a wrestler committing necrophilia or McMahon demanding that a scantily clad female wrestler bark like a dog — as part of an attempt to discredit her U.S. Senate candidacy.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Vince McMahon said the wrestling empire’s detractors have left out the “soap opera elements” leading up to those moments. Also, he said credit hasn’t been given to the Stamford-based company’s efforts over the years to evolve, step up drug testing and improve its health and wellness program for the wrestlers.

“Most of the people have not even seen our show. They don’t even know what this business is about,” McMahon said Thursday during an interview in his corporate boardroom. “They haven’t been to a live event. They really haven’t watched on television at all. All they’ve seen is like one little snippet and try to make up their minds as to whether or not it’s acceptable programming.”

McMahon, known by WWE fans as the character “Mr. McMahon,” the villainous, multi-millionaire owner, has kept out of the limelight for much of his wife’s political campaign. But their company, where Linda McMahon was CEO until last fall when she began running for the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, has been an irresistible issue for her Democratic and Republican foes in the 2010 Senate race.

Vince McMahon, who said he didn’t want to talk about politics other than to say he’s voting for his wife, said he understood the WWE would be criticized in the campaign, but said he didn’t realize the extent. The attacks have become so distorted, he said, that he feels compelled to break his silence and defend the company.

“Linda’s background is helping build the business, yeah. But we’re talking about the business today and the way we’re being presented today, it’s like, unfair,” he said. “So, let us get our side of the story.”

Linda McMahon’s detractors argue it is fair game to criticize the WWE, past and present, given that she is selling herself to voters as a successful businesswoman who tamed the wrestling industry. The state Democrats have strung together old clips for various Internet ads, as well as for a group they’ve helped organize, Mothers Against McMahon. Meanwhile, one of Linda McMahon’s opponents in the Aug. 10 primary is using an old clip of her pretending to kick a man in the groin.

“Linda McMahon is campaigning on her record as WWE CEO, which includes putting her profits first, compromising the health and safety of her workers and presiding over rampant steroid and illegal drug abuse.” said Kate Hansen, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Democrats.

In response to Hansen’s comments, WWE said in a statement, “No company could compromise the health and safety of its workers, much less engage in any illegal activity and be a profitable, public company … . Anyone who portrays WWE otherwise is uniformed and uneducated about WWE and its business.”

Vince McMahon argues much has changed at the wrestling company. For example, two years ago, all of the WWE’s programming was rated PG. Cross-promotions with Playboy Magazine, for example, where WWE Divas would be prominently featured, were stopped several years ago. He said the language has been toned down, the writing has improved and the use of sexuality has been scaled back.

In 2001, McMahon appeared on stage, forcing WWE wrestler Trish Stratus to get on her knees and bark like a dog.

He acknowledges WWE received complaints from viewers after a now infamous scene featuring a wrestler simulating sex with a corpse in a casket was shown in 2002. It’s a favorite for Linda McMahon’s critics.

“If you knew the story line behind it, what have you, you might even consider that black humor, you know, dark humor, which is what it was designed to be,” Vince McMahon said. “The question is, is taste — whether or not things like that are in good taste.”

“Guess what? We never did it again,” he added.

That doesn’t satisfy Hansen.

“There is no context in which sex with corpses and abusing and degrading women can be considered acceptable, and there’s no circumstance where marketing this content to kids can be considered anything other than irresponsible — that’s what Connecticut voters will have to consider when they choose their next U.S. senator,” Hansen said.

WWE countered in its statement that it markets to all ages; 77 percent of its viewers are 18 and older. Each week, 16 million people watch WWE programming.

The company also says that its critics are focusing on “minutes of footage of questionable taste from the tens of thousands of hours of programming.”

Treatment of wrestlers and steroid usage is another criticism. WWE acknowledges five wrestlers under contract have died over the years, under various circumstances. As with the WWE programming, Vince McMahon said how drugs and wrestlers’ health have been addressed have also changed, such as prohibiting the use of drugs other than for legal, medical purposes, and concussion management.

“When you look at our wellness program now, it’s extraordinary, compared to anything else that’s out there. It certainly blows away anything, if there is anything else, in entertainment,” Vince McMahon said.

“That’s what we evolved to,” he said. “I think I can be criticized, the company can be criticized at any time for any thing, with hindsight being 20-20.”

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