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David Schultz should not be applauded for slapping a reporter

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Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring

This week’s episode of Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring covered David Schultz slapping a reporter in the face in 1984 for asking him if wrestling was fake.

You should watch the whole documentary to get a more detailed picture, but the relatively short version goes like this:

John Stossel was a reporter who worked for ABC’s 20/20 and was trying to expose the scripted nature (and other secrets) of the pro wrestling business in 1984. Kayfabe was very carefully guarded at this time, and a decent amount of fans believed the competition was legitimate. A former wrestler named Eddy Mansfield, fed up with wrestling promoters abusing wrestlers and treating them like dirt, spilled the secrets to Stossel, including blading right in front of him.

With this information in hand, Stossel later interviewed heel WWF wrestler David Schultz at Madison Square Garden before the matches, and said he thought wrestling was fake. Vince McMahon warned Schultz to stay in character ahead of time, because he knew Stossel’s motivation. Schultz decided that it was true to his character to slap this guy upside the head twice for calling him a fake. Stossel was knocked on his ass and ran away from the dangerous situation.

Stossel sued WWF for damages and was later compensated $280,000. Vince McMahon tried to get Schultz to take all responsibility for the incident, Schultz refused, and it led to his departure from the company. Schultz claims that McMahon blackballed him from finding work elsewhere in pro wrestling, and his career quickly came to an end.

To most people who love pro wrestling, Stossel probably comes off like a disrespectful slimeball who went in there looking for a confrontation for purposes of compelling television content. A few pro wrestlers seem to echo that sentiment and applaud Schultz’ actions:

I’m not here to defend Stossel’s character. I barely know anything about him, and he seems pretentious and unlikable to me based on the documentary. But the reactions above presented by Aldis and Kingston are part of the problem, and only make things worse for the pro wrestling industry.

David Schultz is not the good guy in this story, and his actions should not be applauded. He may have felt like he was staying in character, but that doesn’t give him free reign to assault others who are not playing a character and have not consented to such physicality.

Anybody who agrees with Kingston seems to be suggesting that it’s acceptable for violence to be the answer when someone is rude. That’s bullshit, quite frankly. Mick Foley once spoke about his goal in the mid 80’s was to make the world respect professional wrestling. It’s actions like Schultz’ slap that propagate the idea that wrestlers are barbarians and the industry as a whole should be looked down upon and not respected. The notion that it’s just a carny sideshow is completely reinforced.

As for Kingston’s tweet, well if someone came to my face and told me that I’m a fraudulent piece of garbage, I’m not going to lay a finger on that person. It’s really quite easy to not resort to violence when the only weapons you are being confronted with are words.

Aldis’ tweet is worse than Kingston’s. He says it wasn’t an attack, it was retaliation? It was clearly an attack. Any other claim is willful ignorance. He also comes off to me as someone who dismisses critics as “trolly pseudo-intellectual pussies.” It’s just hard to get anywhere productive in an exchange with someone who has that mindset.

CM Punk chimed in with his own reaction, which goes down a completely different lane:

Punk is essentially highlighting the importance of a wrestling union, and that brings the focus back onto Eddy Mansfield. Mansfield saw how the wrestlers were treated like lower class people by promoters, which included very low payoffs, no retirement benefits, and not having health care provided. He said he was just trying to “help the boys” when he spilled the beans to Stossel, hoping the extra awareness would create change in the industry. He later changed his mind about Stossel and regretted his actions, because it became clearer to him that Stossel’s motivations were purely to trash the pro wrestling industry, and he used Mansfield to achieve that goal.

Punk, of course, had his own issues with abusive treatment in pro wrestling, and it’s refreshing to see that he’s focusing more on the importance of unionizing to protect wrestlers, rather than jumping on the bandwagon to heartily applaud Schultz for resorting to unnecessary violence.

For what it’s worth, Dave Meltzer expressed strong doubt on Wrestling Observer Radio that Schultz was blackballed, and instead said that the reason other wrestling promoters were turned off by Schultz was because of his attitude and personality.

That’s my take on the latest Dark Side of the Ring documentary. How do you view the incident in 1984 between David Schultz and John Stossel?