This week has been exciting and compelling in the wrestling world. Coming off the heels of the UK tournament and the ramp up to Wrestlemania being pushed to the forefront, WWE is in an exciting place. Last weekend, however, a man that made a name for being one of the original high flyers in wrestling passed away. That man was “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka. While he became an icon for his moments of leaping off of steel cages in Madison Square Garden onto Bob Backlund (which failed) or, more famously, Don Muraco (which connected), the recent scandal of his possible crimes have marred that legacy. With that in mind, the way WWE would handle this case stuck in my mind over the weekend.
Wrestling, like many other sports (excluding it to sports entertainment is semantics here) has a rich history filled with larger then life characters and achievements. With a history like that, there are bound to be some bad apples, and with the nature of professional wrestling, there can be more than a few of them. We will get to the Chris Benoit situation a little later, but an example would be a guy like Hulk Hogan, who not too long ago was taped using extremely offensive language toward African Americans. Stories like that, or crimes like domestic assault, seem to come to light every now and then, and it can only be inferred that there is a whole mess of wrongdoing that is still behind closed doors.
A person can’t for a moment believe that this isn’t happening in other sports. I look at another huge part of my life in professional hockey, and I can immediately recall equally troubling instances compared to that of the performers in professional wrestling. I think specifically of two examples, Bobby Hull and Thomas Steen. There is no question that these two forwards are some of the best to play the game, but you cannot look beyond the extremely troubling cases of domestic assault coming from each of these men. However, we seem to glaze over those issues in favor of highlighting their incredible hockey ability. Oddly, we don’t rag on the NHL the same way people do on the WWE. The scales are nowhere near balanced.
It’s a commonly held practice to look down at professional wrestling, which is only exacerbated by the very public lawsuit in the 1990’s regarding steroid usage. After scandals like that, the major companies, and now specifically WWE, are held under a microscope. You’ll notice a drug policy that appears to be significantly more stringent than any of the major 4 sports, maybe only rivaled by UFC. And while it’s important to note that WWE relies much heavier on image than the other leagues (seemingly) do, due diligence is apparent. It was with that in mind that I found myself completely shocked in the tribute the company made to Jimmy Snuka. It makes sense to pass condolences to the family, especially with Tamina still employed by the company, but the glorification was offensive. There is certainly a way to approach the subject and to send condolences, we did it here at PCU, without propping the troubling figure on a pedestal.
To stop beating around the bush, Jimmy Snuka was arrested in 2015 in regards to the 1983 death of his then girlfriend Nancy Argentino. The details of this case are rough, as an autopsy showed that Nancy died of brain damage that would be incurred with her head striking an object. Due to other injuries on her body, and from original statements from Snuka, it appears that he was at least involved in what caused her to pass. With the case reopening at the time it did, Snuka was suffering from both stomach cancer and dementia, so a judge ruled that he was not fit to stand trial. His death marks a moment of potential stolen justice for the Argentino family.
There is something to be said for the fact that he was never convicted of the crime (just like Hull), yet there’s a moral stand that these major companies and leagues need to take. When you look at the case of Chris Benoit, who murdered his wife and son before taking his own life, it was not even a question for WWE to completely wipe history clean of Benoit. I’m not taking a stand on Benoit here; he was an incredible talent and suffered from CTE stemming from multiple concussions, but WWE had to do what they did. The glorification of a possible murderer with Jimmy Snuka is troubling, as it’s a direct slap in the face to the Argentino family, and morally questionable. While the scrubbing from the record books isn’t necessarily called for, it’s important that these companies and sports leagues take a stand.
It’s a very tough issue to grapple with (no pun intended), but we need to come to a place as a society that we don’t glorify these clearly morally troubled people. There is no doubt that figures from nearly a century ago, I’m thinking of specifically Ty Cobb in baseball, carry a certain baggage, but it’s possible to recognize skill while in the same breath condemning someone for truly appalling actions. As I previously stated, convictions in regards to these crimes matter, but the complexity of these cases need to be taken into account, especially with regards to domestic assault cases, where charges are not always easy to come by. As a society, we need to do everything we can to show that we will not glorify these people, and make the world a safer space for everyone. Keeping that in mind, weeding out these bad seeds should not take away from your love of a sport. Just because Snuka has this troubled history doesn’t hinder my love of professional wrestling, just as Hull’s past doesn’t cripple my love of the Chicago Blackhawks. The bottom line, we need to be responsible, regardless of what it means to sports or entertainment history.