AS I SEE IT - 1/18/2001
This column... a review on Vince McMahon's interview by Eyada.com sports
journalist Kevin Cook in the February 2001 Playboy, which went on sale January 8th.
What comes across in this interview is a fascinating look at the real-life Vince McMahon, the one only his family (if even they) know.
"...What's real and what's fake? McMahon knows the difference. And of all the things he is -- WWF kingpin, actor-brawler playing the evil Mr. McMahon in his own shows, XFL creator, proud father, horny husband, Forbes 400 media mogul -- he is foremost a fighter. His ring exploits may be a soap opera on steroids, but go up against him in a boardroom or a back alley and you're in for a beating."...
McMahon doesn't spare anyone, especially himself....in a few places where he could have easily done so. The interview goes over McMahon's opinion on everything from the new XFL to his stepfather to childhood sexual abuse to marital infidelity to his controversial decision to continue the PPV after the infamous Owen Hart accident.
McMahon states that he feels (as is shown all over his advertising for the XFL) that the NFL has become too corporate and goes along with those who feel it's become the "No Fun League". McMahon also makes clear that what viewers will see is a sporting event, and only the production will have the trademark WWFE touch, with no pre-determined results.
He even suggests that football will be easier to produce by saying that "...it's going to be easier to produce than World Wrestling Federation entertainment, where we start with a blank page and have to write characterizations and verbiage."
No kayfabing here, folks. This interview makes no bones that McMahon produces entertainment and solely entertainment for anyone who still questioned that fact.
The three most controversial passages refer to portions of his life that may have shaped who he is today... and have nothing to do with the bright lights of prime-time television.
In segments already alluded to in the mainstream and wrestling media, McMahon refers to physical abuse from his stepfather, Leo Lupton, who hit the young Vince McMahon with a lug wrench. McMahon himself reacts in an understandable yet still surprising way:
"It's unfortunate that he died before I could kill him," McMahon says of Lupton. "I would have enjoyed that."
McMahon also refers to childhood sexual abuse in his past:
"PLAYBOY: You fought your stepfather when he hit your mother.
MCMAHON: Absolutely. First time I remember, I was six years old. The slightest provocation would set him off. But I lived through it.
PLAYBOY: That's an awful way to learn how a man behaves.
MCMAHON: I learned how not to be. One thing I loathe is a man who will strike a woman. There's never an excuse for that.
PLAYBOY: Eventually, you escaped from your stepfather.
MCMAHON: By the time I was 14 I was on my own. I was pretty much a man then. Physically, at least. In other ways I'm still becoming a man.
PLAYBOY: Was the abuse all physical, or was there sexual abuse, too?
MCMAHON: That's not anything I would like to embellish. Just because it was weird.
PLAYBOY: Did it come from the same man?
MCMAHON: No. It wasn't...it wasn't from the male.
PLAYBOY: It's well known that you're estranged from your mother. Have we found the reason?
MCMAHON (nods): Without saying that. I'd say that's pretty close."
The reference is to McMahon's mother Vickie.
McMahon discusses his real-life marital affairs and cheating on Linda McMahon prior to the last six years, and indicates that he's been faithful since realizing how much emotional damage he did with his infidelity. He provides some interesting insights on how he feels men should be responsible for the marital and emotional happiness of their partner. Given the nature of this column and standards that most employ, you'll have to read these remarks in Playboy itself.
Some of these comments shed a rather interesting light on statements made by Linda McMahon in Broadcasting Cable.com regarding the skit that began the ongoing angle involving a "divorce" from "Mister McMahon" and his "infidelity" with Trish Stratus.
" 'Maybe I shouldnt tell you this,' she says. 'If I were doing that performance with an actor or a stranger, I would have burst out laughing. He was so over the top; I had to look to the side of him.'"
Even in the world of wrestling with its bending and warping of the lines of reality and fantasy, it's amazing that a woman who went through real-life infidelity and its emotional trauma could look at such an angle in such a way.
The story then goes into Vince McMahon as a teenager who "majored in badass", including running moonshine and joining with locals in bar fights with Marines.
Then McMahon goes into the brief time he spent with his non-custodial father, Vince McMahon Sr. and his first meetings with wrestler and legendary character Dr. Jerry Graham.
McMahon went through military school (and was court-martialed for a particular episode with the Commandant's dog and Ex-Lax), but finally went to East Carolina University, where he met wife Linda.
Vince's father didn't want him in the business, and kept telling him get a secure government with a pension. After working sales jobs and even working construction, McMahon finally convinced his father to let him run the Bangor, MN territory where a promoter had been skimming money from Vince Sr.
McMahon had found his calling. Over time, the younger McMahon felt that wrestling would have to go national from its territorial roots in the expansion we all know about of the mid-1980s.
McMahon then goes over a story told him by Jim Ross of promoters conspiring in a meeting held in Memphis in a plot to kill McMahon:
"MCMAHON: Ninety percent of the promoters flew to Memphis for a big meeting. So one day, Jim is sitting [in the men's room] when a few of the older guys come in, and say 'How're we gonna stop this kid?' Meaning me. They're plotting to do me in. Of course, Jim doesn't want them to know he's there, because he heard them.
PLAYBOY: They were talking about killing you?
MCMAHON: (nodding his head) They were going to take me out."
McMahon also discusses the wars with Ted Turner, claiming that he had a "fraternal, we're brothers" relationship with some of his workers that was overcome by Turner paying "up to 10 times what we were paying them". He says with satisfaction that the WWF can create stars, whereas WCW has had to buy them; and that the effects have shown this to be true.
He's asked about possibly buying WCW (the interview actually took place before McMahon's attempts to buy WCW were publicly disclosed) and answers Cook craftily that he "possibly" might be interested in buying WCW.
McMahon does acknowledge that RAW is WAR may have gone too far at times, bringing up the infamous "Mae Young birthing" angle. But he also goes into his feelings about Senator Joseph Lieberman and Phil Mushnick; stating that Lieberman is at the "top three of his enemies list", referring to Lieberman as a religious hypocrite:
MCMAHON: "...He actually thinks he's closer to God, or he's a hypocritical politician using God to garner votes. Then I hear that they're going to give Hollywood X number of days to respond - that's scary..."
Then there are the battles with Mushnick. McMahon ridicules Mushnick and repeats his offers to have Mushnick interview him (which haven't been taken up on). McMahon compares WWF programming to The Sopranos and , and suggests that overall its tame by comparison.
McMahon doesn't skip over the controversial issue of his continuance of the No Way Out PPV after the death of Owen Hart. McMahon still states that he thinks that he made the right decision, and that Hart would have wanted it that way. He speaks with fondness of Hart and gives examples of the legendary Hart ribs, even on himself.
There are two questionable issues within the interview, though. First is the refusal to allow advertising of Beyond The Mat on WWF programming, and McMahon's view of the conduct of his performers.
McMahon states that he views his refusal to allow Beyond The Mat to advertise as a "business decision", and claims the movie showed the "underbelly of the wrestling business in the early-Eighties"; as well as showing the oft-mentioned segment showing Colette Foley and their children reacting hysterically to the sight of Mick Foley getting 10 unprotected chairshots to the head.
McMahon does admit that he "strong-armed the studio", offering to buy in to the movie, then threatening the studio that he could keep advertising for Beyond The Mat off of his shows since he controls advertising on WWF programming (a fact which is true). However, it should also be noted that the interview doesn't mention or question the fact that McMahon went so far as to strongarm stations and networks airing his programming to refuse advertising for the movie, not just his own shows.
To make such claims at the same time that he is criticizing the PTC for advocating censorship of his own programming is questionable at best.
McMahon also tries to claim in the interview that the image of the everyday wrestler had changed from when:
"In the early Eighties and certainly before then, it was viewed as a six-pack and a [oral sex]" to a view of today's wrestler as being "more sophisticated...on the Internet, or playing video games...he does not go to the bar. So few of our performers even drink, much less do drugs and other things that were once run of the mill. So to see Mick and his kids and his wife in that movie was a real downer."
First, there's no connection between what occurred on that PPV and the other.
Second, if Vince McMahon really believes that all of his workers fit this image, he should start paying attention to what is really going on in his locker room, or in the hotel bar after shows. While there may not be the all-out bar atmosphere of the past, it's more because of WWF travel schedules. Not to mention the fact that ring rats haven't gone away at all, a question I'd think the interviewer ought to have pursued in a magazine such as Playboy.
If the reference to "no drug use" was puffery for the sake of an interview, he should have used more sense than to say something so at odds with all-too-real examples to the contrary in his own company, ranging from the tragic in Brian Pillman to the disturbing in Brian (Road Dogg) James.
Overall, this was a fascinating (though on occasion flawed) look at Vince McMahon, the person. I'd urge readers to get ahold of the full interview from Playboy for themselves.
Until next time....
(All quotes from Playboy - Copyright © 2001, with the exception of the cited quote from Broadcasting Cable.com))
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)