AS I SEE IT 3/15: Thoughts on the past week
by: Bob Magee Without question...this has been the most stressful week in the history of this column, and of its writer as regards the wrestling business.
The events of March 3rd that showed the public face of Ring of Honor, Rob Feinstein, implicated on camera in a pedophile sting by the organization Perverted Justice and Philadelphia NBC affiliate station WCAU Channel 10... made life extremely difficult for anyone covering wrestling.
In the last week...I've been ripped because I wouldn't run immediately with the initial reports on the Perverted-Justice.com website, showing the chat log used by the organization to show that Feinstein was seeking sex with what he thought to be a 14 year old. Given the nature of the situation, I chose to wait until the story aired that night on the of WCAU's 11:00 pm newscast, where the faces and names of Feinstein and two other males were clearly and unquestionably shown.
As a result of that, I've been referred to by some loud voices as "supporting pedophiles", "naive", a "sheep", and being "soft on Rob Feinstein" (and those are some of the nicer sentiments that have been expressed by them). Oddly enough, I've also been accused of devoting too much time to the story by others who claim it "shows the worst side of wrestling". I neither support pedophiles, am naive, or a sheep...nor could the story be ignored. But given the nature of the story, it had to be reported...and reported in a particular way.
Let me say this clearly and unmistakably: the way that PWBTS covered the story was the right way to do so. If the same incident happened again involving someone else, I'd do everything exactly the same way.
PWBTS, the flagship site of this column, waited until Rob Feinstein's face was shown on camera before reporting the story as fact. We choose not to go with the story simply because a website that very few people had previously heard of had stated that they had a chat log of Rob Feinstein, who they had caught in a sting operation. Even some of Rob Feinstein's worst critics stated that they were skeptical of the chat log at first. Accordingly, caution seemed to be the right route to take.
Then the story appeared on WCAU NBC 10...a story that many prayed was false...and were horrified to see was unquestionably true. Less than an hour after the story broke, an story on Feinstein's implication in the sting was posted on PWBTS by Sister Midnight.
The 10 days that followed this story up to the day of the March 13th Wrestlemania Weekend shows featured a great deal of concern by those who has been planning to attend the show and the afternoon "showcase" event. Roddy Piper, scheduled to appear for a Q&A/autograph signing, as well as NWA-TNA's Abyss, pulled out of the March 13th event; and Bobby Heenan pulled out of scheduled April Ring of Honor appearances in Chicago Ridge, IL and St. Paul, MN (interestingly, in an online interview, Heenan made the statement that Feinstein was "innocent until proven guilty"...one wonders what would have happened had any of the writers who've been attacked online had made such a statement).
People were justifiably repulsed by what they saw on March 3rd, and many wondered if attending the March 13th show meant that they were giving financial support to Rob Feinstein.
Along with the vast majority of individuals that were sincerely concerned, there were also those that had personal and business issues over the years with Rob Feinstein who seemed to be reacting almost gleefully with the news, that took the situation and ran with it all over the Internet, one of whom went so far as organize an campaign to contact the venue where last Saturday's show was held in attempts to get the show cancelled by the venue. Other rumored disruptions had included threats of protesters at or outside the venue. While these never materialized, there was a noticeable increase in security within the venue just in case.
Given the above, some who are paranoid might wonder about another situation that DID occur (reported by Mike Johnson) when Dusty Rhodes's flight booking was "somehow cancelled". The promotion managed to get Rhodes onto another flight, with promotional staff getting him into the building to a loud and happy greeting from fans in the venue's lobby area. Rhodes was booked to replace Roddy Piper.
The saga continued as Ring of Honor made available paperwork mid-week to several websites, stating that official ownership had been transferred from Rob Feinstein to longtime ROH/RF Video employee Doug Gentry. There were those who doubted the legitimacy of this transfer and claimed that this was all a smokescreen to somehow allow Feinstein to rejoin the companies at a later date.
Then, because ROH's attorney Jeffrey First did not file this paperwork with an agency called the Bureau of Corporations (an agency that the unnamed writer of the article thought was the proper Pennsylvania agency for such paperwork, along with claims he'd been told this was required by an unnamed individual from the Bureau), the legitimacy of Feinstein's removal was again questioned...with claims that the attorney was incompetent or outright lying to the writer.
As it turns out, research posted online yesterday shows that the attorney was 100% correct...and that he was not required to file these documents with the Commonwealth. According to research done by Mike Rome, the only time the paperwork of a "business corporation" (the type of corporation Ring Of Honor and RF Video are incorporated as in Pennsylvania) must be filed with the state of Pennsylvania requires is the initial one...when they are founded. Such companies are not required, nor are they expected, to file any further ownership papers with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania after the initial filing.
In layperson's English, the attorney was 100% correct, and deserved none of the abuse he received...nor did his failure to file these papers with an agency he had no need to file with prove any deep dark secrets. For your own reading, the information to document this can be found by readers through this link.
As all this was going on, a number of the members of the Ring of Honor locker room (including Christopher Daniels, Danny Maff, AJ Styles, HC Loc, CM Punk, Samoa Joe, and Alison Danger, many of whom are known to be the parents or relatives of young children), expressed their support for the company through public statements should have been enough proof for fans. A number of the statements specifically condemned Feinstein's actions in no uncertain terms, also making clear that if he ever were involved with the company again...that they would not be.
According to Dave Meltzer in this past weekend's Wrestling Observer, Ring of Honor itself was reported to have had the most concern about Styles, given his role as a major star with the company...and the fact that he's a born-again Christian. Styles made a public statement indicating that "just because some priests and ministers commit similar acts, it doesn't mean I stop going to church", which served to quell these fears.
It turns out that these workers were operating on more than just faith...and had a logical reason for for trusting that Feinstein wasn't going to profit from the company in the future.
The truth about who's making money from Ring of Honor...or at least financing it to a large degree... is much more benign than some would have had you believe. But it's also somewhat more confusing than than some would have had you believe as well.
After all this...confirming stories I'd heard prior to the Feinstein scandal regarding a silent partner investing in Ring of Honor, news came out late this week that may help clarify where much of the money comes from to operate the company...and it isn't the person that many thought or feared still might be.
It's been made public online by numerous sources late last week that this silent money behind Ring of Honor is the owner of a Philadelphia area ticket brokerage. It's been further suggested that he may have been significantly bankrolling the promotion for the better part of a year, and was even noted by Dave Meltzer in this week's Observer as having paid initially for the expensive lighting system that ROH uses for live shows.
This would explain a statement made by a ROH staffer last week quoting the "money behind the company" as being able to tell Rob Feinstein after the incident that "either you resign...or I pull the checkbook".
It would also strongly suggest why all of Ring of Honor's regular locker room was willing to stay with the promotion.
It would further make some sense of a statement to me from ROH booker Gabe Sapolsky who said to me earlier in the week that Rob Feinstein had been a "figurehead" for some time.
Rob Feinstein's actions were his own...and even Perverted-Justice.com, the website that set up the sting on Feinstein, stated in the days after the sting that the staff of the companies he had been involved with should not be held responsible or criticized for his actions.
But the one thing that Ring of Honor can be criticized for is the poor way that the situation was handled by the company in terms of public relations. Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer this past weekend stated that the company had hired a crisis management team to deal with the situation, a fact that I'd also heard at the show Saturday. Well, either the recommendations of the team weren't very helpful, or they were just not followed.
These PR problems started when a statement was posted on the company website that implied that Feinstein was only stepping aside while he was clearing himself of the charges, a statement which fueled justifiable anger by wrestling fans who felt that a repeat of the Pat Patterson situation 12 years ago this week... where Patterson resigned, then later returned (a resignation that many believe never actually occurred) was about to happen again.
This perception continued among some vocal critics through much of the week.
It seems very clear that if Ring of Honor had disclosed who much of the actual money behind the company was... those with the company might have had a little less grief (given the profound personal stress this situation has created in the lives of many ROH staff, any reduction in stress might well have helped). It also might have helped many of the rest of us that attempted to report on the situation.
It's certainly reasonable to assume that the promotion's staff were overwhelmed with the events of the preceding 10 days, and were dealing with their own personal feelings of betrayal by Feinstein, aloing with a very real fear of seeing years of their hard work disappear in a few insane minutes. Even allowing for those things, the situation could have been handled far more effectively by the company.
Many people understand enough about business to know what a "silent partner" is...and that normally such names are kept...well...silent. But this obviously wasn't a normal situation. If Ring of Honor staff just would have made clear to people what the truth was...a lot of grief could have been saved people, including people like Marcus Dowling and Mike Johnson who ran buses to the event, at least one of whom suffered financial losses due to cancelled reservations, and harassment from parents of some who had reserved tickets.
A better handling of things would also have allowed the fans (fewer than was feared last week) that didn't attend the March 13 show because of continued fears about where their money would go, to attend with a clear conscience. It also would have allowed the many that did choose to attend (and were attacked for doing so in some circles) to do so without the conflicts that they still might have had.
Judging by the crowd estimated at between 1700-1800...crowd concerns didn't affect the crowd as much as some feared....this time. I can tell readers that those who did not attend missed an incredible show.
But what will happen for future shows remains to be seen. As long as fans can feel clear that they are not financially supporting the former public face of the company (which the facts above should allow them to feel), most will likely continue attend shows, especially in the company's strongholds in the Northeast.
But one can also assume that some local or rival promoters might well use the incident to attempt to interfere with shows, as one Boston promoter has done with ROH shows on multiple occasions long before the recent Feinstein sex scandal.
I'll repeat what I said in last week's special column on the matter: I find pedophilia to be a sickness... a crime...and one of the most repulsive acts imaginable.
Contrary to what some mentioned to me over this weekend, what happened on March 3rd isn't the same thing as wrestlers getting sexually involved with underage ring rats, where there might be doubt in many cases as to their age, or where. That this happens is hardly a secret...but it's not the same thing as what happened on March 3rd and ripped apart the hearts and souls of many people associated with, who are fans of, and who report on Ring of Honor....where an individual intentionally sought sex with a 14 year old.
In my opinion, Rob Feinstein is, without question, guilty of repulsive and immoral conduct. He's been judged guilty in the court of public opinion, and deservedly so. Whether the chat logs and Feinstein's appearance on WCAU TV will constitute legal guilt is for the town's District Attorney to determine. As of this writing, WCAU has reported that Feinstein is being investigated for his actions in this matter.
Ring of Honor as a promotion, as far as can be reasonably seen, is guilty of nothing more than horrible public relations skills. If the promotion plans to continue as a successful promotion and to continue offering its exciting alternative product, it will need to improve on the public relations effort of the days between March 3rd and March 13th, and to be prepared to fight a skillful and careful PR war for the foreseeable future.
Until next time...
If you have comments/questions, or if you'd like to add the AS I SEE IT column to your website, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)