The WWE marketing and entertainment departments displayed foolishness with a recent fictitious storyline positing the death, by car explosion, of CEO Mr. McMahon (played by Vince McMahon, the CEO of the real, publicly traded company).
Last Monday, the company was to televise a "tribute" to "Mr. McMahon," but details emerged that star grappler Chris Benoit was found dead, along with his wife and son, 7. Later, it was revealed that Benoit had killed them over the weekend before taking his own life. Initial media reports, noting the potential for steroids to factor into the crimes, were rebuked by the WWE, which, on its Web site, called the reporting sensational.
Whether Benoit's last moments were steroid-fueled is irrelevant to the larger point about the WWE's hand-washing of the troubles its ex-wrestlers face, made too clear from comments from elder WWE statesmen, Congressional investigations, and the staggering list of those who died young - Benoit makes it 96 under the age of 65 since 1985, according to About.com.
How damaging this tragedy is for the WWE depends on the interest of the media and stockholders, and its PR pros will always be able to counter criticism by focusing on technicalities. They would, however, serve the company's long-term interests better by ensuring that a serious effort is undertaken to help wrestlers cope with the rigors of what they do.
CORRECTION: The final line of Greg Schneiders' May 21 column should have read, "The brands that have yet to be introduced - a couple boys from Tennessee," referring to former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) and former Vice President Al Gore. Due to an internal editing error, meant to identify them, we listed Thompson and ex-Sen. Newt Gingrich (R-GA). We deeply regret this error.