Let me start off by admitting: I haven't exactly found much to sympathise with in Terry Taylor, former Head of TNA Talent Relations. He has always come across to me as a shady, fraudulent figure, toadying to the higher-ups, while screwing over the hard-working and talented wrestlers (and the wrestlers, as most fans will agree, are all TNA have ever had going for them). My research into Daffney's situation, and his role in it, reinforced this to me. But one current employee, who contacted me recently, sprang to Taylor's defence, claiming that Taylor was stuck in an impossible situation and did what he could for talent, explaining: “Here's what people should know about Terry - he was always headed into battle in the office, with a stack of papers in his hand. He knew he couldn't take care of everyone, but he fought for any talent on the roster to be taken care of as best as he could get .Look, Terry had serious personal issues: his wife has battled breast cancer for four years. There are other family problems. Yet, despite this, he never once switched his phone off. He was the guy who walk into your office uninvited to calm you down after some insane bull**** or yet another laughable 'new direction' was announced. He is a good man.”
In the interests of fairness (to borrow from Vince McMahon), it should be noted that in recent interviews discussing his release, former TNA wrestler Jay Lethal has had nothing but good things to say about Taylor, and says he still considers him a good friend. Other talent have also spoken admirably about Taylor in the past too.
It was further pressed on me that Taylor was in an impossible position, trying to help talent as best he could, but dealing with an often indifferent and callous upper-management: “Whenever his attempts to help out talent was shot down for good, he had to assume to company line and break that bad news to the talent. He was the bad guy so often, and what's even more frustrating is that when he needed to be a bad guy, say to certain over-the-hill big money contract guys who talk s*** incessantly about how they can get huge ratings, but can't do anything except hold up a Wolf-Pac sign, step over the top rope, and run a 15 year old gimmick into the dirt, he had NO power. The favourites game that are played constantly hurt him a lot, because he was hurting young guys, while the "vets" had carte blanche.”
As has been extensively reported on here at Cagesideseats, this “carte blanche” offered to certain talents can run to astounding amounts of money: Jonny Fairplay has freely admitted he was given $350,000 by TNA to do virtually nothing; fellow Survivor contest Jenna Morasca was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to have the worst wrestling match in history with Sharmell at Victory Road 2009 (Dixie is a big Survivor fan, apparently, hence why she goes out of her way to snag these celebrities that clearly aren’t worth the money).Similarly, WCW and WWE talents like Ric Flair, Rob Van Dam, Sting, and Hulk Hogan are reported to be getting paid around $10,000 an appearance, and are given superstar perks like first-class plane tickets and having their hotel rooms paid for.
There is undoubtedly some truth to the fact that Taylor was just doing the dirty work of the higher-ups. Notably, there is Tammy Sytch’s recount about how TNA weaselled out of paying her long-term partner Chris Candido’s last paycheck in 2005. While together for almost 20 years, the two were never legally married, and Tammy claimed that she was told that because TNA were not legally required to give her the cheque, they decided not to and save themselves the money. Taylor was the one sent to break the news about what TNA higher-ups had decided. Unsurprisingly, she was furious and would later complain: “They had Terry Taylor call me and tell me. So, basically Chris broke his ankle and died for free…it was only a $1500 cheque, but still, f***ing scumbags.” Earlier, in her 2006 shoot interview, Tammy would bitterly joke about how Dixie had sent her a $30 Christmas ham instead: “Look what I got from TNA. A boneless f***ing ham.”
The employee that contacted me then went on to insist that Taylor was a scapegoat: “Terry is a red herring. He was the pre-arranged fall guy. People need to think for a second: How exactly does the mistreatment of wrestlers fall entirely on the shoulders of one person in middle-management?” But what about the Daffney situation, I asked. Taylor is reported to be gone at least partly because he is so heavily mentioned in her lawsuit. A lawsuit, by the way, that TNA have apparently accepted they have no chance whatsoever of winning, due to her case being as strong as it is. “In regards to her situation Terry's hands were frequently, if not always, tied. He never set out to hurt her personally,” I was told.
For the record, this person did not dispute that Daffney was pressured by Taylor and Russo into doing the chokeslam spot with Abyss at Bound For Glory 2009, so there remains a great deal of dispute over how clean his hands are over that matter, even if we accept he was under strict orders not to pay for her medical bill and would have paid it if it had been up to him. There's also the fact that Terry's name has an annoying habit of showing up in lawsuits against companies he works for, and he probably wasn't wrongly accused every single time.
However the idea that Taylor has been used as a fall guy is fast becoming a popular theory among fans and critics. One name, who is no longer with the company, backed up this idea, pointing out that many of the unethical business practices that have garnered TNA an avalanche of bad publicity and been the cause of many of the lawsuits that currently plague them were made by people far higher up than Taylor: “Dixie and Andy Barton, the Senior Vice President of TNA of Licensing and International Television Distribution, for those that don’t know, are using Taylor as a scapegoat. They set him up for that role a while ago. It certainly wasn’t Terry’s decision to refuse medical coverage or not to pay the wrestlers’ fair wages. Dixie and Andy came up with that. Panda Energy executives, while they may be tearing their hair out at the current legal situation with Daffney, were also reluctant to fork out for medical bills.”
Former TNA production manager, Randy Ricci, who worked alongside Taylor during his stint in TNA in 2006-2007, told me: “Terry put up with a lot of s*** from Dixie and Jeff (Jarrett) for a long time. Dixie made him do everything for her, every menial task going, sans babysitting her two kids. Jarrett was angry with Terry because he offered him a position in management when TNA first started in 2002. The pay was, of course, terrible. But Jeff said Terry should make this short-term sacrifice- working for a fair wage- to be part of the next big thing in wrestling, and then be paid terrifically later on. Sound familiar? Everyone in TNA has heard that speech. Then WWE made him an offer to be a road agent and he took it because the money and benefits were great.” Ricci then noted that Taylor ran into political problems there (he was fired from WWE in July 2003) and ended up going to TNA, after all. Although, Ricci noted, “Jeff was still pissed about him going to WWE,” and Jarrett then undercut Taylor as much as he could. In the past Ricci has grimly joked on The NAWF Piledriver blog that Taylor lasted so long as Head of Talent Relations mainly because Dixie, and other high ranking executives in TNA, “need someone around to verbally abuse.”
More after the cut
Everyone I spoke with said that Taylor privately disagreed with the company's refusal to pay for injuries (a business practice most within the industry find completely reprehensible, by the way: Dave Meltzer labelled TNA’s actions as “unconscionable” when discussing Daffney's situation in a May edition of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Popular women’s wrestling website Diva-Dirt has also lambasted TNA for this: “For a company like TNA not to cover its injuries is unthinkable. They are not an independent company. They contract talent, have worldwide television deals…etc.”)
One former Knockout echoed the general sentiment about Taylor: “Dixie could easily change the issues with money. People honestly think it's beyond her to pay Jesse Neal enough to feed himself? But instead she chose to hide behind Taylor when dealing with wrestlers, using him as the bad guy who was making us these crummy offers and saddling people with huge medical bills. All while she kept her saintly image and pretended not to have a clue about what the f*** was going on.”
However Ricci, even while noting that Taylor had privately confided in him that he was greatly troubled by many of TNA's business practices, made it clear he wasn't a staunch defender of Taylor's, either: “I am not saying he's a nice guy. Just that Dixie and Andy Barton would do all these awful things, and he would simply stamp his guarantee on it. He's still guilty because even though he didn't have the power to make the crappy offers, and claimed not to agree with the crappy offers...at the end of the day, he was still the one that made the crappy offers. He cared about the wrestlers, but did he care deeply enough to say anything? No.”
Moving on from Taylor, as one horror story after another tumbles out about wrestler treatment, it should be noted that those in the TNA offices are deeply unhappy too. Most of them aren't particularly well-treated either. They also feel, like Taylor, that they are unfairly attacked over matters they have little or nothing to do with. One office employee vented: “My beef is people painting us all with a black and white brush. I’m not trying to defend these lawsuits. But we have tried. Some of us stick our necks out to protect certain talent in certain situations. Why are we taking heat when Kurt does a high-risk move at a PPV? He does that s***. Trust me: that’s him, not us. Why risk his life for a spot that isn't even needed? He does that s*** anyway.”
Matters are not helped by the fact that many of the people in the office are overworked, over-wrought and under-paid. Ricci has called TNA “horribly under-staffed” on his blog. He has also written that old friends in the TNA offices have complained to him that they have often been pressured to stay late and work with no overtime pay, shipping and packaging TNA merchandise orders. James Caldwell with the PWTorch has also said under-staffing in most departments is a problem and cited that as a big part of why the company is so badly run. Similar to the situation with the wrestlers, it is widely rumoured that many people working for them in Nashville and Orlando have to have second jobs because they cannot support themselves on their measly TNA salaries. When I sought to find out more on this, Ricci told me: “When I was there, everyone in merchandising had a second job. Even the supervisor.”
One source said: “I say this understanding that the wrestlers have it rough, but things are really bad for most of the office people. A lot of people that work backstage have second jobs. They're often tired, and they can't give the company 100% like they want to. And these folks have important jobs; it's not like they’re doing minor things and show up for just a few days a month. They play a major role in the day-to-day running of the company. I'll give you an example: One woman has a fairly high-profile position in the company. She's not a top executive or anything, but she's pretty important and has a lot of duties and responsibilities. But, like so many people here, she's not paid her worth. So when she's not fulfilling her Impact Wrestling duties, she works as a waitress for The Walt Disney Company at one of their restaurants.”
Interestingly, in an interview (found here) with Martin Hines after he quit TNA last year, Stevie Richards said that he actually hadn't want to leave the company, and had, in fact, been eager to take a role backstage or in the office; but he ended up this turning down because of the low pay offered. He explains: “I'm not sure if you've heard the rumours...well, basically, nobody makes any money in TNA, except the top guys. So my contract was up, and I started to say to them, 'Hey, I'd love to stay here, and work in the office, or maybe as an agent. But, in order to do this these things, I need a living wage. Now, I wasn't asking for $1 million dollars; I wasn't saying I was a huge star....just a decent wage so I don't have to look for a regular job, and while I'm at the interview the guy recognizes me from television. I don't think that speaks well for the brand.' Nothing was done about it. They claimed they didn't have any money...but they kept spending all this money on people that are high-priced talent...so, finally, I made the decision to leave.”
Ricci told me the story of one intern he worked alongside with, which he felt perfectly illustrated the unreasonable working conditions many in TNA face:
“There was this intern that came to work for us. Nice kid. He was hired simply to do some assisting in shipping. First month he worked for nothing. After that TNA paid for his travel as he handled merchandise for live events. TNA then gave him a rather pitiful salary because by this point he was exceeding 50 hours a week. This kid then ended up running ALL of the live events merchandise, as well as working 40 hours in the office. And that's not even including travel time. Unsurprisingly, he began to burn out as all the long hours and pressure of being put in a position he wasn't ready for took their toll. Terry and I would often find ourselves turning back around half way to the hotel to help the poor bastard inventory, figure out what he sold, and then help him pack up.
“This kid was smart and talented; he didn't deserve all this. Andy Barton kept stringing him along and promising him TNA would reward his hard work and sacrifices later, making him an official employee and giving him a very good raise. So the kid struggled on, even though he was exhausted, for six more months. In addition to the low-paying TNA job, he also spent the few spare hours he had working at a bar so he could afford an apartment.
“You know what great offer TNA made him in the end? $20,000 a year. And this was for the same long hours, hard work, and constant travel. To make matters worse, it was made clear to him he was expected to work even harder than he already was, because now they were giving him insurance. Flabbergasted, he gave his notice on the spot.”
Speaking of aggravated office workers, I was told by one former employee of their frustration with their old boss: “Dixie refuses to have any real interaction with anyone. She always puts someone else in between you and her. Even if she was right in the same room! Whenever I tried to calmly talk to her about a problem, she would pretend not to have any idea about what was going on, then go straight to her office and slam the door. It was absurd.” One current employee was more generous, but still critical: “Dixie is well-meaning. But she just comes from a really different world. In her mind, practicality is missing.” Another person told me: "Fans would be stunned if they realized how disliked Dixie is in the company." Over the years many employees, some in public (Jim Cornette springs to mind), some in private, have expressed frustration over Dixie treating TNA as merely a toy for her and her cronies and refusing to take real reasonability for the poor performance of her company or the awful on-screen product or realise that performers’ bodies and livelihoods are at stake here, and do anything about the situation with the rampant drug abuse on the roster, low wages and lack of medical coverage.
So; terrible wages, long, arduous hours, low morale, severe under-staffing, a wilfully ignorant boss that loves to stick her head in the sand, and a tremendous amount of cronyism, politics and backstabbing (even by wrestling standards) all come together to create the perfect storm of an utterly incompetent and thoroughly miserable working environment . This also goes some way to explaining why the front office is such a calamity. Sure, many of the people in Nashville offices are woefully inadequate and simply have no business being there. But this is such a hopeless environment it seems even the smart, hard-working employees also get dragged down and can't contribute anything worthwhile either. It may be easy for wrestling fans to snigger at things like the “RDV” T-Shirt debacle, or other infamous tales of disorganization, and brand these people fools-but ask yourself: Who could possibly succeed under these strenuous circumstances? Similar to the situation with the WWE creative team, some people are just set up to fail by their working environments, and no matter how talented or smart they are, can't overcome it. But perhaps the last word is best left to a tired, long-suffering employee who was asked for their honest assessment of the environment in the TNA offices: “Well...it's a bit like a morgue.”