AS I SEE IT - 12/29/2000
If there was still any sentinent human being with any doubt whatever that WCW
was having a collective corporate nervous breakdown, it was removed Wednesday when Mark
Madden was fired by World Championship Wrestling. Madden's firing is the last in a
collection of situations within WCW that clearly illustrates this fact.
First, Madden's firing.
Dave Meltzer and Wrestling Observer.com first reported it on Wednesday accordingly:
"Craig Leathers of WCW informed Mark Madden that effective immediately, he was being fired from the promotion. The reasons given were believed to be:
1) He said things on television that he was told not to say, in particular talking about the potential sale of the company and talking about Scott Hall.
2) He gave an unauthorized interview where he spoke negatively about the company."
This, after several instances in which Page Falkenberg and Kevin Nash made statements on behalf of their friend Scott Hall on air, after they had apparently been told not to do so by WCW corporate management. Not one of these instances resulted in discipline by WCW management.
Mind you, I have no problem in Nash and Falkenberg defending their friend. After all, this is the same WCW that was more than willing to use Scott Hall's drug and alcohol addiction in an on-air angle, which served as more than ample indication of WCW's lack of concern about substance abuse. WCW wasn't concerned when Bobby Duncum died from a drug overdose. WCW wasn't concerned when other performers died from drug overdoses, or from having committed suicide.
But if the company did put down a rule that on-air talent was not to discuss Scott Hall and his firing, then that rule and the resulting discipline for violating said rule should be applied consistently. In short, if Mark Madden is to be suspended or fired for having discussed Scott Hall, then the same should apply to Page Falkenberg and Kevin Nash.
Forget, of course, about any discipline that should result from the backstage brawling that resulting from Page Falkenberg going after Scott Rechsteiner as a result of Rechsteiner's unscripted comments about DDP on a live Nitro... and forget, of course, about any discipline that should result from Nash and Falkenberg walking out of a TV show in progress after the above fight, requiring the re-write on the fly of Nitro and Thunder.
One thing that's been pointed out is that the guaranteed contracts of major name WCW talent like Nash and Falkenberg are said to prevent any form of discipline whatever, which allows WCW talent to thumb their nose of any form of control. But the matter of guaranteed contracts and WCW will come up again later in this column.
As for Madden's thoughts...
Madden first responded to Jason Powell of the Pro Wrestling Torch about his firing mid-afternoon on Wednesday:
"When I was told to stop talking about the sale (of WCW), I did stop talking about the sale. When I was told to stop talking about Scott Hall, I did stop talking about Scott Hall a month before anyone else did. If those are the reasons I was let go, frankly, they don't hold water.....
...I was told that I did an interview without company permission where I ripped the company. I defy anyone to produce that interview because it doesn't exist. I recently did an interview with a Chicago radio station in which I put over the company constantly. That interview was done with company permission. That's the extent of the interviews I've done for the past several months....
...I was hired in 1994 by Eric Bischoff at Slamboree to do one report a week on the (WCW) hotline. I told Bruce Mitchell then that I didn't consider myself a career wrestling guy, and that every day I spent and every dollar I made in wrestling would be a bonus.
I'd love to work in wrestling again. If I don't, my statement considered, I think I did very well for myself...."
More telling, however, were Madden's comments to the message board on his Mark Madden.com website:
"Gee, was it something I said?
I'll have more on this later, kids, but basically everything you've read vis-a-vis reasons for my termination are true -- which isn't, of course, to say that they're valid reasons, or even the real reasons. But they're the reasons I was given.
Don't worry about me. I'm gonna do my radio show, I'm gonna enjoy Mario Lemieux's comeback tonight, and in many ways I'm gonna be happy to be free of a business where performance means little and politicking means everything.
I obviously didn't get fired based on doing a bad job. I got fired because I upset the wrong people.
Que sera, sera.
I leave wrestling with pride. Not many do, and I think I'll be back in wrestling, maybe sooner than a lot of you think..."
In short, Madden's firing is just one more example of the political feeding frenzy that has consumed WCW for the better part of the last decade. Even as far back as the early 1990s when Bill Watts came in to run WCW, he found that little or nothing could be done, because everyone was afraid of what the person one level above them in the Turner corporate hierarchy would say, think, or do. This occurred because it seemed that no one knew when the power structure would change, and make someone's enemy yesterday someone's boss tomorrow.
The same problem is painfully acute today, even more so when it is widely rumored that a group headed by Eric Bischoff is about to purchase WCW from Time-Warner.
Now, instead of equal treatment of all WCW employees, we get a firing of someone like Mark Madden who may be seen as politically more expendable than Kevin Nash and Page Falkenberg; supposedly to prove a point...or even more likely, having been fired as a form of retaliation for Madden's slight toward Falkenberg's backstage apology (for getting Madden suspended).
Speaking of unequal treatment toward WCW employees, there's the still-pending racial discrimination lawsuit against WCW by "Hardbody" Harrison Norris, Kazuo "Sonny" Oono and Robert Walker in Federal Court. There are many will no doubt argue the dismissal of these three was justified based on talent (or lack thereof). That, however, ignores the key role of Kazuo Oono in WCW's relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling.
But there have without question, been other examples of a climate of racism within WCW toward many other non-European wrestlers that can't be as easily dismissed, such as the well-publicized racial joke circulated via e-mail by a secretary of Eric Bischoff that never resulted in discipline by Time-Warner/Turner; or the Vince Russo-inspired "pinata" skit on Monday Nitro "as a rib to make the guys in the back laugh".
In a comment that will no doubt come back to haunt WCW in the upcoming racial discrimination case, Vince Russo offered his perception of the average American's view of foreign wrestlers:
"You will never ever, ever see the Japanese wrestler or the Mexican wrestler over in the mainstream American wrestling. I'm an American and I like watching wrestling here in America. I don't give a sh*t about a Japanese guy or a Mexican guy because I want to see American guys...." . Assume that Vince Russo was inserting the word "white" into the place of "American".
Russo's belief that foreign-born workers won't get over is no doubt explained by the success of Paul Heyman and ECW in getting over Eddie Guerrero in 1995... to the point that his farewell match with Dean Malenko was perhaps the most memorable moments in ECW history... that Heyman got over Rey Misterio, Jr., Psicosis, Juventud Guerrera in 1996.... and Super Crazy, Yoshihiro Tajiri, and Masato Tanaka in 1999 and 2000.
In an WrestleLine interview with Ben Miller on May 15th, Kazuo Oono's attorney Cary Ichter stated the following about this situation:
"...What's amazing to me is that there has been this long-standing relationship between New Japan and the WCW, which has been a talent exchange until Mr. Russo appeared on the scene.
And up until that point in time, there never seemed to be any sort of problem with having Asian wrestlers who didn't speak English, or having Mexican wrestlers who didn't speak English, who had managers who played the part of heels, and they provided the necessary persona ... so that the only thing that you would have to look at in dealing with an Asian or Mexican wrestler who didn't speak English was a question of pure talent."
But the most potentially devastating issue associated with WCW is one that, while perhaps obscure to many of you, is one of the dirty little secrets of wrestling: the status of wrestler as independent contractor versus employee.
While bringing up the racial discrimination issue, Sonny Oono has also brought up this issue with WCW; making the point that while WCW claims the right to deny wrestlers the right to work third party dates and claims an exclusive relationship, it also classifies them as independent contractors for tax and legal purposes. This allows WCW (and the WWF) to avoid the responsibility of taking out social security, unemployment, and FICA from paychecks of workers.
If you go to the World Wide Web tax website, you will find information that helps clarify this issue:
"Are you classifying the people performing services for your business as independent contractors for IRS tax purposes? Is it possible that they might really be employees for IRS tax purposes?
How these workers are classified for IRS tax purposes has major IRS tax consequences because employees and independent contractors are treated differently for IRS tax purposes. Potential disasters await your business if the worker is classified for IRS tax purposes improperly. Improper classification for IRS tax purposes can cause problems that could financially destroy your business.
Business owners must withhold IRS income tax on employees' wages, and must pay Social Security tax (FICA) as well as withhold the employees' portion of the FICA. They also are responsible for unemployment tax (FUTA) and must provide the employee with an IRS tax form W-2, 'Wage and Tax Statement,' showing the amount of wages and IRS tax withheld for the year...."
Let's look at some of the the 20 common law factors that are used to determine if a company has the right to refer to someone as an independent contractor, as listed on the World Wide Web tax website:
"No Instructions. Independent contractors are not required to follow, nor are they furnished with, instructions to accomplish a job."
Certainly not true in the case of WCW or the WWF. Performances are scripted and instructions are clearly given by bookers as to the general outline of a match.
"No Training. Independent contractors typically do not receive training by the hiring firm. They use their own methods to accomplish the work."
Certainly not true in the WCW or WWF. WCW uses the Power Plant, while the WWF uses promotions like Ohio Valley Wrestling, UPW, or Memphis Power Pro Wrestling to train those who it classes as being "under developmental contract".
"Independent contractor's work not essential. A company's success or continuation should not depend on the service of outside independent contractors. An example violating this would be a law firm which called their lawyers independent contractors."
Can you imagine wrestling without wrestlers?
"No time clock. Independent contractors set their own work hours."
Then why does WCW reserve the right to fine its workers if late?
"No permanent relationship. Usually independent contractors don't have a continuing relationship with a hiring company. The relationship can be frequent, but it must be at irregular intervals, on call, or whenever work is available."
This speaks for itself. WCW and WWF wrestlers sign contracts which bind them to an exclusive relationship with the company.
"Multiple Firms. Independent contractors often work for more than one firm at a time."
This flies in the face of the practices of WCW in prohibiting third-party bookings.
"Can't be fired. Independent contractors can't be fired so long as they produce a result which meets the contract specifications."
Ever hear of the infamous WCW Fed-Ex package?
This employer-contractor issue is a ticking timebomb that could destroy WCW, since there have been so many questions asked by those with an axe to grind with the company. It's inconceivable to me that a company owned by Turner, Inc and then Time-Warner has allowed an issue like this to sit untouched.
It's also inconceivable to me that WCW has allowed the inmates to clearly be in charge of the asylum, and allowed unrestrained infighting and corporate politics to ruin the #2 sports entertainment company in North America.
But it's just as inconceivable to me that a company owned by Time-Warner has allowed racism to go unpunished, and has not made every effort to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit that has been going on for 2 years a long, long time ago; given the need for a major corporation to achieve a public image of being socially and politically smart.
But what would you expect from a company whose head, Brad Seigel, when told of a (later found to be unfounded) report by WCW staff that WWF commentator Jerry Lawler was not under contract, responded...
"Who's Jerry Lawler?"
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)