In Need of a Fix
Vince McMahon's once mighty wrestling empire is on the ropes--for
a reason that fans of real sports can appreciate
Now here's a strange proposition: Pro wrestling needs to be
fixed. Suddenly, the game seems as broken as that black-and-white
Sylvania that once brought so many fat, sweaty men into our
living rooms. Nothing lasts forever, of course, but is this how
it ends--not with a 21st-century heir to Gorgeous George, but with
a fake gay commitment ceremony and two women wrestlers (where
have you gone, O Fabulous Moolah?) kissing in mid-ring while an
announcer gushes about "hot lesbian action"?
On the surface that seems impossible. "Since the '30s, wrestling
has run in cycles," says entertainment analyst Dennis McAlpine.
What goes down must come up and smack you in the head with a
folding chair, right? But wrestling has rarely been this sickly.
In June the WWE reported that annual revenue was down $31
million, to $425 million, and that first-quarter profits were off
79%. WWE stock has dropped from $24.12 in October 1999 to $8.81
as of Monday. Ratings for the company's Raw and SmackDown! have
been falling just as fast, while pay-per-view buys declined by
11% in the past year.
Does Vince McMahon have the answers? This is a man who has beaten
a federal steroids rap and who only last week testified in a
sexual harassment suit brought by former wrestler Nicole Bass,
who claimed that she "was subjected to numerous sexual
indignities" by the WWE (which calls her charges a "smear").
Slumped in a conference room at the company's Stamford, Conn.,
headquarters, the 57-year-old chairman of the WWE poses, instead,
a question: "Why is a sports magazine interested in an
September 29, 2002
McMahon stopped pretending wrestling was on the level back in the
'80s. The admission allowed his business to grow. Ironically,
McMahon's biggest problem now is not a showbiz problem, it's a
sports problem, one that has dogged baseball, the NFL and,
especially, the NBA. He needs heroes.
The Rock has gone to Hollywood. Stone Cold Steve Austin has been
suspended for failing to show up for work. In their place McMahon
has brought back Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, and he's touting Brock
Lesnar, a 6'4", 295-pound former NCAA heavyweight champion, as
his Next Big Thing. But those moves have been made, gay and
"risque" acts have been introduced, and it's not just Steve
Austin who's stone cold.
At least one observer isn't surprised. "If you've got good story
lines and characters, you don't need to go down that road," says
Mike Mooneyham, co-author of a book on the WWE, Sex, Lies and
Headlocks. "I see some desperation."
McMahon, though, seems calm. "Wrestling has been on television
since the advent of television," he says. "We're woven into the
fabric of Americana. I don't think we're going anywhere." Like a
lot of people, he's just waiting for a hero.
Teeing It Up with the Boys
Suzy Whaley earns a PGA Tour start--and a shot at women's golf
Since Sept. 17, when she became the first woman to qualify for a
PGA Tour event by winning the PGA Connecticut Section
Championship, Suzy Whaley's life has not been her own. In three
days she received some 520 interview requests and was transformed
from a 35-year-old golf pro and mother of two from Farmington,
Conn., into a gender-equity icon. "This wasn't my choice," she
says, noting that winning the tournament, not qualifying for next
year's Greater Hartford Open, was her goal. "But I think I could
make a difference. I want women's golf to get a huge jump out of
For all its popularity, golf can't shake its boys' club image.
Women account for 20% of all money spent on the sport in the
U.S., and some courses, notably Augusta National, won't even
allow them as members. Last year only one woman--Libby Smith of
Vermont--played on a Division I men's college team. Whaley's home
club, the Blue Fox Run Golf Course, in Avon, Conn., is one of
only a handful owned by a woman. "Golf is one of the last
bastions of male dominance," says Blue Fox Run owner Lisa
Wilson-Foley. "I market to women, and they're still only about 25
percent of my customers."
Whaley, who played on the LPGA tour in 1990 and '93, is on the
fence about competing in the GHO (her husband, Bill, is general
manager at the tournament's home, the TPC at River Highlands),
mostly because she doesn't want to let anyone down by playing
badly. The GHO course measured 6,820 yards this year, nearly
1,000 longer than what she's used to. While she didn't win the
Section playing from women's tees (which are moved up from men's
tees by about 30%), she did play from tees which were about 10%
closer. The PGA Tour doesn't oppose her playing in the GHO, and
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have said they have no problem
with her competing. "For me to think I could be competitive is
insulting to Tour players," she says. "But my friends and family
are all like, 'Suzy, who cares?'" --Mark Beech
$100 million Profit from the 2002 Winter Olympics announced
by Salt Lake Organizing Committee president Fraser Bullock.
$2.69 million Loss from the 2002 World Basketball Championships
in Indianapolis, in which the U.S. finished sixth and average
attendance was 6,414, announced by the Indiana Sports Corp.
500 Cleveland Browns T-shirts the Bougouni Browns Backers, a fan
club in Mali, West Africa, hope to sell to help finance a new
school in the village.
15 Games this season in which Rangers teammates Alex Rodriguez
and Rafael Palmeiro have both homered, tying the major league
record, set by the Giants' Barry Bonds and Rich Aurilia last
50 Percentage of all Division I-A African-American head coaches
on the sidelines for Notre Dame's 21-17 win over Michigan State
128 Consecutive dual matches won by the girls' golf team at Green
Valley High in Henderson, Nev., since 1992, which ties the
ON THE COUCH
Last week, after volatile Metrostars forward Clint Mathis got his
most recent red card, New York/New Jersey coach Octavio Zombrano
publicly suggested that Mathis see a sports psychologist. We went
one better--we described some of Mathis's behavior to Dr. Joyce
Brothers, who analyzed what might be behind it.
Patient's background: age 25, youngest of four kids, parents
divorced in 1988, likes the nightlife--he has Bud and Bud Light on
tap in his basement.
Troublesome behavior: 1) was out of shape for World Cup; 2)
shaved head a la Travis Bickle; 3) has had numerous run-ins with
refs and opponents.
So what's with all the aggressive behavior?
When you are the youngest child, you've had a whole lifetime of
getting away with murder. Also, the youngest gets very tough
because otherwise the older kids would beat him up. So he's tough
as nails, but when he reaches his limit, he cries and carries on.
He's also angry. His parents divorced when he was young, so it
was a bitter experience.
What about shaving his hair into a Mohawk?
It's a thumb-your-nose thing: "I'm going to look different
because I am different."
And being out of shape?
"So I get a beer belly? What the hell, I'm a good athlete." It's
never caught up with him before.
But he's really a nice guy.
He's a nice guy, but he's got to push down the nice guy and be as
much of a bastard as he can. That's why the beer is helpful. It
allows him to take the reins off being competitive and allows the
nice guy to come through.
Can therapy help him?
You don't want a therapist to turn you into such a nice guy that
you can't play. He needs to find a happy medium, where he can be
the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the soccer world.
By several members of the Edmonton Eskimos, a woman who jumped
from the fourth floor of a burning apartment building in
downtown Edmonton. The 24-year-old woman, who lives in the same
building as 15 players from the CFL team, had her fall broken by
seven Eskimos, who joined hands and formed a circle below her
By Tampa Bay infielder Russ Johnson, that the team drop the word
"Devil" from its nickname. Johnson suffered a bout of depression
and returned in midseason as a born-again Christian. "There's no
use honoring that part of the spirit," he said.
By the Senate commerce committee, a bill by Senator John McCain
(R., Ariz.) to create a federal boxing commission. The U.S.
Boxing Administration would license all boxers, promoters,
referees and judges; require promoters to submit contracts with
boxers to prevent them from cheating fighters; and maintain
boxers' medical records.
Gerald Tidwell, 35, football coach at Warren County (Tenn.)
High, with misdemeanor assault, after a helmet he threw during a
halftime pep talk struck running back Mario Pezzimenti in the
head and opened a cut that required 10 stitches. Tidwell is
under suspension pending a court hearing on Oct. 29.
Two Pittsburgh Pirates fans by announcer Steve Blass, whose
major league pitching career was cut short by a loss of control.
Blass was trying to drop a foul ball he'd retrieved in the booth
to a young fan in the second deck, but the ball hit a man on the
head and bounced to a lower deck, where it struck the head of a
By a federal court, the appeal of former pitcher John Montefusco
to have his lawsuit against ESPN reinstated. Montefusco, who was
convicted of simple assault against his former wife in 2000,
sued the network after it compared him with O.J. Simpson, which
a lower court ruled did not amount to defamation.
Safe at Home?
Despite tight security, players and coaches must watch their
Once knuckleheads pere and fils were subdued by Kansas City
players and led off by police, and Royals first base coach Tom
Gamboa was seen laughing despite the welt on his head, people
could joke about the on-field attack by 34-year-old William Ligue
Jr. and his 15-year-old son at Comiskey Park last Thursday. But
to players and people responsible for their safety, the attack
was a reminder of how hard it is to police a stadium. The Sept.
16 game between the Eagles and the Redskins in Washington, D.C.,
was stopped for eight minutes when pepper spray that police used
to break up a fight drifted toward the Philadelphia bench. While
field intruders have historically been relatively peaceful--think
Morganna--they can, in rare instances, turn violent. In 1995 Cubs
pitcher Randy Myers fended off a charging Wrigley fan, and in
1999 Houston rightfielder Bill Spiers was jumped by a man in
What's particularly unsettling is that breaches are occurring at
a time when security has never been tighter. But post-Sept. 11
measures are designed primarily to protect spectators; protecting
players is another matter. Baseball has said it may become
stricter about fans moving into field-level seats in late
innings, after they've had a chance to tie one on. More drastic
steps like metal detectors and barbed wire are too fan-unfriendly
to contemplate just yet. Says Kevin Hallinan, baseball's security
chief, who has prepared a report on the subject for commissioner
Bud Selig, "The only positive [to the Gamboa incident] is that it
was a learning experience." --Bill Syken
BASEBALL'S DRESS CODE
In its fall fashion preview Esquire heralded the return to
hipness of "big, flowy pants, with things like pleats, cuffs and
waists that actually reach the waistline." That's too bad for
major leaguers, who are now doomed to go through their
professional lives looking so five minutes ago. Last week MLB and
the players' union announced they had agreed to a leaguewide
makeover: no more uniforms so baggy that they make Nelly's getup
look formfitting. (Also banned were written messages on caps, and
pants worn so long that they tuck into the wearer's shoes.) The
reason for outlawing the loose-fitting uniforms: They could
interfere with play if, for instance, a pitch nicked the mumulike
jersey of Manny Ramirez. Still, for some players, the new rules
may feel restrictive. Says Ramirez's Red Sox teammate Johnny
Damon of his preference for relaxed-fit trousers, "It's much more
comfortable, almost like playing naked."
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
September 27-October 3
SATURDAY 9/28 > ABC 3:30 PM > No. 20 Nebraska at No. 19 Iowa
It's been 10 years since Iowa State won this matchup, so if
senior quarterback Seneca Wallace can lead the Cyclones past the
Huskers, he'll quickly go from Heisman long shot to Heisman
SATURDAY 9/28 > Fox Sports Net 6:30 PM > No. 18 USC at No. 23
The Pac-10 opener for both teams could be another showcase for
Trojans senior quarterback Carson Palmer, who has completed 57.8%
of his passes this season and beat the Beavers last year on a
four-yard bootleg in overtime.
SUNDAY 9/29 > ABC 1:30 PM > Formula One United States Grand Prix
When he wheels his Ferrari onto the road course at the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the only F/1 race in the U.S.,
Michael Schumacher, who has already sewn up his fifth world
championship, will be seeking his 11th win of the season.
SUNDAY 9/29 > ESPN Classic 12-8 PM > Classic Florida
For those Gators fans pining for the Steve Spurrier era, it's an
eight-hour block of great Gators games, including the 52-20 rout
of hated Florida State at the 1997 Sugar Bowl.
TUESDAY 10/1 > Fox 8 PM > Major League Baseball Division Series
Three straight evenings of prime-time playoff baseball get under
>> DON'T MISS
SUNDAY 9/29 > NBC 7 AM
Ryder Cup, Day 3, Singles Play This biennial U.S. vs. Europe
showdown features golf's biggest stars--Yanks Tiger Woods and
Phil Mickelson and Euro-studs Sergio Garcia and Darren Clarke.
The USA network provides all-day coverage on Friday from the
Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England, before NBC picks it up for
15 1/2 hours over the weekend.
--Fox drops Tyson
--Solid Solheim for NBC
--Tiger ratings roar
--Fox did the right thing last week by pulling a disturbing ad for
The Best Damn Sports Show, Period that featured Mike Tyson as a
babysitter. Still, its public mea culpa--a spokesman claimed the
network had "no desire to create controversy around what is a
potentially sensitive topic"--rings hollow. The spot showed Tyson,
a convicted rapist who once expressed the desire to eat Lennox
Lewis's (nonexistent) kids, holding an infant and singing a
lullaby. Clearly, the network hoped the image of Tyson cuddling a
newborn would kick up a stir: One of the ad's creators told The
New York Times that the spot was designed to "break through the
clutter, and when you can do that, if it's controversial, it's
O.K." Or, actually, it's not.
--With its telecast of Sunday's stirring finale to the Solheim
Cup, NBC has set the bar high for this week's Ryder Cup coverage.
Johnny Miller was in top form, bashing what he considered an
unfair pin placement on 17 ("The only thing this green is missing
is windmills"). He also summed up Michele Redman's meltdown--she
was 5 up with five holes to play but let Norway's Suzann
Pettersen halve the match--with a succinct "What a collapse." His
colleague Dan Hicks reacted deftly when Pettersen used the f word
in a live interview. Hicks apologized to viewers and then added,
"At first I thought it might be some Norwegian word, but I don't
think it was."
--Tiger Woods may not care if the U.S. wins the Ryder Cup, but
U.S. golf fans can't seem to get enough of the Striped One.
Sunday's final round of the American Express Championship in
Kilkenny, Ireland, drew a respectable 2.6 rating on ABC (the
Solheim Cup got a 1.1) despite a five-hour tape delay. --P.M.
"The attack was a reminder of how hard it is to police a
stadium." --SAFE AT HOME? Page 28