WWE’s Awful COVID-19 Response: It’s Worse than You Think.

A large number of corporations in America have struggled to balance worker safety and satisfying their bottom line. In sports and entertainment, there have been several examples of companies that have prioritized shareholders over employees. Arguably the worst example is not Major League Baseball, but World Wrestling Entertainment.

March

The U.S. containment of COVID-19 was thought to be possible in early spring. Toward the end of March, however, those hopes were dashed. States began to lock-down restaurants. Most sports leagues including the NBA, MLB, and the NCAA postponed and in some cases canceled the current and upcoming seasons. 

The WWE, for their part, stopped live shows and began pre-recording programming without fans in attendance. According to executives, talent was told that these tapings would be voluntary and would not receive punishment for refusing to attend either financially or otherwise.

Wrestlemania, the largest pro wrestling pay-per-view of the year was held in the performance center in Orlando, Florida. Florida was coincidentally one of the last states to enter lock-down and was open during the taping of Wrestlemania.

The company acted proactively with two of its wrestlers Dana Brooke and Rey Mysterio who showed signs of illness by pulling them from shows. Roman Reigns, a wrestler in remission from leukemia took a leave of absence from performing over concerns over his high-risk status for Coronavirus. WWE did not test any of its wrestlers for COVID-19 during March. 

April 

By early April all states had entered into varying degrees of lockdown, and Nationally the U.S. outpaced the rest of the world in total COVID-19 deaths. With only essential business open in most states, WWE was declared an essential by Florida Governor Ron Desantis despite not initially labeled as such. Around the same time, the Connecticut based company decided on April 10th to resume live shows.

Vince McMahon cited the change by implying the networks carrying his programming could cancel their television contracts if the company did not continue to perform live shows regularly. Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer reported that USA Network and Fox denied considering dissolving their agreements. McMahon reversed course and eventually allowed pre-taped episodes to resume.

 On April 15th, WWE released a business update announcing the furlough of talent as well as other cost-cutting measures. Over 30 wrestlers were released, not including behind the scenes workers This included Miroslav Barnyashev formerly known by his in-ring name of Rusev. Rusev had recently donated $20,000 of his own money to help those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

A week later the company’s quarter one earnings report was released and the biggest highlight was the increased revenue from the previous year’s first-quarter earnings: A net positive of 60%. During April there was a confirmed but unidentified employee who contracted coronavirus. The individual was not a wrestler but did work at shows. WWE did not test any of its wrestlers for COVID-19 during April.

May

There were not many new developments from the business perspective of World Wrestling Entertainment, however, the content of their programming led to frustration from fans and employees alike. Fans began noticing Reigns had been edited out of more and more programming. He had not made an appearance in over a month so in some regard, it was understandable that his name was not often referenced during or after matches.

What was harder to understand was the manipulation of certain highlight packages removing him entirely. This included matches he was heavily featured in. Previous to this instance only one wrestler had been effectively removed from the annals of history: Chris Benoit. Since the American Somoan’s conduct had been spotless it was unclear why these decisions were being made.

 Also, Sami Zayn was effectively stripped of the Intercontinental title. While this may seem like a storyline angle at first glance, it’s important to note Zayn was participating in Canada’s quarantine protocol as he was a Canadian citizen and could not attend the Orlando tapings due to international travel restrictions. His failure to comply cost him his place despite the company’s earlier assurances that no worker would be punished for skipping voluntary tapings.

Jordan Devlin had an almost identical experience. As the Cruiserweight Titleholder, Devlin was unable to defend his championship and there was a tournament to determine who would hold the belt during the interim similar to how UFC deals with injured fighters. However, the word interim was dropped without explanation and it’s unclear if Santo Escobar, the winner of the aforementioned tournament, will have to defend his title against Devlin when the UK native eventually returns. WWE did not test any of its wrestlers for COVID-19 during May. 

June

This month WWE has made every effort that it could to return to normal. Developmental wrestlers, friends, and families began attending pre-recorded shows to give the performers and audience at home a more authentic fan experience. For the first time in months, there were boos, cheers, and even chants to fill a mostly empty void of fan interaction.

This week, a cascade of bad press has been unloaded upon the pro-wrestling giant. It was announced on Monday that a developmental wrestler who had attended a taping has tested positive for coronavirus. Reports surfaced from multiple sources stating that face masks were not permitted inside the performance center premises during tapings. This is in contrast to the early April CDC recommendations on wearing a face mask in public. 

WWE responded by explaining to fans and news-outlets that masks were unnecessary since all employees and fans in attendance maintained proper social distancing and followed Florida state policy to the letter of the law (despite fans being shown high-fiving talent and disregarding the six feet minimum of each other of the episode in question).

Possibly the most disturbing report released this week was that on some occasions, fans were allowed to attend shows despite having a fever if there were special circumstances. On Wednesday the company implemented the first wave of COVID-19 testing to its wrestlers. At this time there has been no announcement of regular testing.

WWE’s Coronavirus response looks worse with context

All companies have the legal right and ability to hire and fire employees at their discretion. All publicly-traded companies are expected to be at least somewhat responsible with their finances to appease the stockholders. All businesses should be able to set forth policies for their workforce.

The problems lie when WWE is compared to smaller wrestling promotions who have done an objectively better job keeping their employees safe while staying afloat during these difficult economic times.

 All Elite Wrestling on TNT has returned to their regularly scheduled live shows. Before each show, all fans, wrestlers, and staff are all tested before they can enter the building. AEW along with even smaller groups like Ring of Honor and Impact have not fired, released, or furloughed any wrestlers. At shows, you will see masks worn by referees, interviewers, and even fans. These groups have proved you can make every effort to serve your employees first and put the bottom line on the backburner and survive as a wrestling organization.

World Wrestling Entertainment may have fulfilled its legal obligation to its shareholders, but it has severely failed its ethical responsibility to its staff, especially the talent which is the main product for consumers of pro-wrestling.

NASCAR: The Civil War Part 2

Back in the 1980’s growing up, I was a big car fan thanks to my late uncle and a TV show called Dukes of Hazzard. The TV show we’ll get to a bit later. My uncle had two cars I remember vividly; a ’68 Pontiac Firebird and an ’85 Chevy Malibu. He was a drag racer and on the weekends he’d take me to the Joliet Speedway to watch the races. Seeing those one-of-a-kind vehicles dart down the road and smelling that burning rubber was fascinating to a 10-year-old kid.

The Dukes of Hazzard signature staple was an orange ‘69 Dodge Challenger with a confederate flag on the roof called General Lee; named after the confederate leader. I believe many people would say that car was a favorite to see in action. Little did many of us know as kids what the roof of that car meant.

Civil War Part 2 in NASCAR

It Only Takes One Voice

I’m going in a different direction with this article and delving into the world of NASCAR. No, not because of the races but for a recently banned item at the race tracks. The last few weeks in our nation have been a whirlwind of emotions since the death of George Floyd. From protests to rioting to the much-needed attention to the treatment of black Americans by law enforcement.  We’ve seen a wave of changes and commitments to reform.

Many of these actions started in the sports arena with the NFL & NBA pledging their support for black lives, something most would expect since most of the players are black.  Then a little over a week ago, NASCAR  joined the race when Bubba Wallace made a stand indicating that the confederate flag should be removed from racing events.  Wallace is the only black, full-time driver in the circuit by the way.  48 hours later, on June 10th, NASCAR honored his request and banned that flag from all sponsored events.

Long Overdue Change

The Civil War went on from 1861 to 1865 where the confederates of the southern United States fought northerners for the right to keep African Americans enslaved.  The deadliest war in U.S. history, over 100,000 American soldiers killed.  It’s kind of surreal when you think about it, a country going to war with itself to keep a particular group of citizens oppressed.  At any rate, the confederate army lost but statues were erected and the confederate flag was a prominent fixture in the South and in NASCAR.

NASCAR has been around for 72 years, founded in 1948.  Only 8% of the fan base is African-American and there have only been four drivers of this nationality since its inception.  Wallace is one, the other three are Wendell Scott, Willy T Ribbs, and Bill Lester. 1865-2020. 155 years is long enough allowing a flag that represents the enslaving and mistreatment of American citizens to be displayed in public places.  Especially when those very people are patronizing a business.

Time for a Complete Change

Hopefully, NASCAR’s ban will lead to other institutions and public places following in their footsteps.  There has been one racer, Ray Ciccarelli, that doesn’t agree with the change. So he, in turn, stated he will be retiring at the end of the 2020 season.  We’ll see moving forward how other drivers and fans react during the season.  As Bubba Watson articulated, nobody should be uncomfortable coming to an event.  See you at the races.

Kyrie Irving is the NBA’s Broken Clock

“Even a stopped clock is right twice a day”. That quote from Marie von Ebner sticks out as much of the conversation about returning has centered around Brooklyn Nets mercurial point guard, Kyrie Irving. Some peers have responded, but are they even disagreeing? That’s what you would think if you only saw it through the lens of social media.

Tweets get crafted to maximize the impact (see: likes and retweets) all the time. But in this instance, leaving out an entire part of Irving’s comments has led to a backlash that seems fueled more by his reputation than the actual content.

Kyrie Irving, a Broken Clock in the NBA

First, what exactly did Kyrie say?

“I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving told the players. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. … Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.” – per Shams Charania

His reported words prompted responses from several other players including Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, who said “Hoopers say what y’all want. If @King James said he hooping. We all hooping. Not personal only BUSINESS.” His reference to LeBron James is fair because he regularly practices his activism while playing. But Irving’s comments weren’t really speaking to the ability to do both.

Former players-turned-analysts Jay Williams and Kendrick Perkins also spoke against Irving, with the latter going so far to say “He’s not a powerful voice; he’s a popular voice” and that “All he’s doing is ruffling the feathers for no reason. The NBA is going to continue.” That’s tough coming from a retired player and still misses Irving’s message.

All of this is in addition to some prominent commentators like Stephen A. Smith. But it has been Houston Rockets guard (and coach’s son) Austin Rivers’ reply via a lengthy Instagram post that has gotten the most publicity. The well-stated rebuttal spoke of being able to both play and affect social change. It also said that for the majority of the players in the league, sitting out isn’t feasible as “99% of the NBA hasn’t made the money” Kyrie has.

Rivers wasn’t wrong in anything that he said.

But there is a problem: Irving AGREES with him. And any other player that wants to return, for that matter. It’s just that his reputation has preceded him.

The former Cleveland Cavalier and Boston Celtic earlier opined about the freedoms players would have when in the NBA’s “bubble”. Those concerns included spa treatments and were roundly met with virtual side-eyes.

This time was different, though. Yes, Irving said that he would rather focus on social justice reform. But he also said something else that has gone underreported.

“If it’s worth the risk, then let’s go and do it,” Irving said on the call, sources said. “But if you’re not with it, it’s OK, too. We’ve got options for both ways. Let’s just come to a middle ground as a family.” – per Chris Haynes

In Regards to the Money

Irving said, “There’s only 20 guys actually getting paid, and I’m part of that. Let’s not pretend there’s not a tiered system purposely to divide all of us.” Some say Irving has is backward and that the max contract system keeps the disparity in check, but again they are missing the point. Players who have yet to land that contract would logically be less inclined to rock the boat.

See, an important bit of information to remember is that Irving was voted as vice president of the NBPA. That means raising the concerns of the many, no matter how trivial, to the attention of the few most powerful is quite literally his job. So while you may think some of the points were silly, that doesn’t mean they weren’t brought up in private.

That’s the other part that seems be getting swept away. With all the talk of what the stars want (we already know the likes of LeBron, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, and Anthony Davis want to return), the dissenting voices have already been drowned out.

Lakers big Dwight Howard, well-traveled and mercurial in his own right, has voiced support for Irving. He went even further suggesting the NBA needn’t return until “we get things resolved.” Lakers guard Avery Bradley also spoke up on the call in which Irving aired his grievances.

Other Players Spoke Out Too

Donovan Mitchell spoke about the dangers of returning after a layoff and is pushing for insurance for players. CJ McCollum voted ‘no’ to returning but also warned players of potentially contentious negotiations when the CBA expires should players sit out. Kyle Kuzma is also seeking insurance but flat out said, “Some of us want to hoop and compete don’t get that twisted.” He too seems to have only heard part of Irving’s argument.

That’s what is so telling about the backlash Kyrie has received. It is disproportionate to what he said.

He rightfully expressed issues that, as we see, aren’t necessarily his own. This is especially true with the increase in the number of cases in the host-state of Florida. But even more than that, he left the door wide open to continue the season if that is what the majority want.

But because of his history of being me-first and that whole flat-earth thing, people readily dismissed what he said. The best part is that they are all agreeing with Rivers even though he said the exact reason why Irving was speaking out against returning amid all the civil unrest in the country.

“Not saying that basketball is a cure for that but basketball can maybe provide a distraction.”

Bingo

The distraction is the part Irving (and Howard) are trying to avoid. And it’s already happening as we see the push to return ramp up even amid continuing concern over COVID-19 and protests. But all the other stuff is true too and that’s the issue. We are so busy trying to pick a side, that we forgot we are all on the same side. No person has embodied that more than Kyrie, the NBA’s broken clock

MLB Draft: Sox Take College Pitcher, Cubs Take Local High-Schooler

With no games being played, and the 2020 baseball season in doubt, Major League Baseball took a pause from contentious negotiations with its players to look to the future, as the 2020 MLB Draft took center stage in an otherwise empty sports landscape on Wednesday night.

Both Chicago baseball teams looked to infuse new talent into their organizations during the first round of the MLB Draft, hoping that the players chosen could make an impact on their respective big clubs in the not so distant future.

White Sox Take LHP Crochet, Cubs Take SS Howard With Top Picks

The White Sox, with the 11th overall pick, selected University of Tennessee left-handed pitcher, Garrett Crochet, adding talent and depth to the organization’s already strong pitching ranks.

Five picks later, at number 16, the Cubs created the buzz of the evening in Chicagoland by choosing shortstop Ed Howard, the local kid made good out of Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago.

“I’m excited to be a hometown guy, I think it’s special, it’s unique,” said Howard during his introductory conference call with Cubs beat reporters. “I’m ready to take on that challenge, have fun, and play my game” Howard continued.

Cubs Pick of Ed Howard Brings a Jolt of Excitement to the Northside Fan Base

The pick of Howard is sure to generate excitement with Cubs fans, who have been looking for some positivity after back-to-back disappointing seasons on the field and off.

The Cubs blew a late division lead in 2018 and wound up losing to the Colorado Rockies at home during the National League Wild Card game. 2019 saw the Cubs miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014, ending a five-year post-season run.

Off the field, the Cubs have had their issues as well. Most notably with the Kris Bryant years of service grievance, and the rollout of the Cubs new team-owned regional sports network, The Marquee Network. The network was roundly booed during the Cubs Convention in January when team owner Tom Ricketts mentioned it by name. Many fans were unsure if their television providers would even carry the fledgling network, or if they did, how much extra would it cost. More recently, Ricketts has come under fire for comments stating 70% of team revenue is derived from day-of-game receipts, a figure many are questioning.

The selection of Howard, however, gives the Cubs a chance to ride some positive buzz about their team, at least in the near future.

Howard grew up in Chicago, and was a member of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team that captured the hearts of Chicagoans and the nation when they won the 2014 Little League World Series. Their title was eventually revoked due to roster eligibility issues, but the team still remained popular locally.

He went on to play baseball at Mt. Carmel High School, where he starred as the team’s shortstop. Even without playing a single game for the Caravan during the 2020 season, Howard was viewed by scouts and draft experts as one of the top shortstop prospects in the country. His selection with the 16th pick confirms that.

Howard was also a product of the Chicago White Sox Amateur City Elite program, or ACE, an arm of White Sox charities that provides inner-city kids with opportunities for education and to develop in the game of baseball, providing avenues for advancement to college or professional baseball. Another goal of ACE is to reverse the decline of African-American players in baseball, something that was probably not lost on Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, who recently stated he needs to build more diversity in the Cubs organization overall.

Ultimately, however, Howard’s talent and potential as a baseball player is the reason the team made him their first-round pick. Cubs new Vice President of Scouting, Dan Kantrovitz, told reporters that Howard being available “was literally our best-case scenario.” Kantrovitz added: “He’s got an electric skill set. He’s a plus shortstop. He’s got pop in his bat. He can run. He can impact the game in so many ways. We think he has a chance to be a star.”

The Cubs stated that Howard would remain at shortstop in the organization. Most experts believe 2023 would be the soonest Howard might make his Major League debut. However, the timeline for all prospects could be delayed due to the absence of minor league baseball in 2020.

White Sox Bypass One of Their ACE Program Graduates in Howard, Draft University of Tennessee LHP Garret Crochet

With Howard, a Southsider, available when the White Sox pick came around at number 11, many people were wondering if the team would select one of their home-grown talents from their ACE program. However, when MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stepped up to present the team’s pick, the name of a large college left-handed pitcher was announced instead.

Crochet comes to the White Sox as one of the top left-handed college pitchers in the draft. He struck out 149 batters and walked 48 over 132 innings pitched during his three years at Tennessee. He is known for a plus fastball that can reach triple digits, as well as a good slider and change-up. Control has been an issue for the lefty, who only pitched one game for the Vols in 2020 while dealing with shoulder soreness.

“I told Garrett … it’s an outstanding piece of your life to be compared to Chris Sale” Shirley told reporters. “But please proceed as being Garrett Crochet” he said. – White Sox Director of Amateur Scouting, Mike Shirley

Crochet has been receiving many comparisons to another tall left-handed hurler, former White Sox starter Chris Sale. And while he acknowledged to reporters during his post-selection conference call that some parts of his game were modeled after Sale, he doesn’t want people to just assume the same outcome. “I feel like it’s kind of tough to make on me(the Sale comparison), as I have not achieved anything as close as Chris Sale has achieved” Crochet told reporters.

5 Storylines to Watch for the Return of the Premier League

It has been three months since the last match was played and even the most loyal of Premier League fans may have forgotten some of the main plot points of this season. Here are the top five reasons to watch the remaining fixtures of the 2019-2020 season.

5 Storylines to Watch When the Premier League Returns

1. Does the season finish?

While the first three weeks of action between clubs have been announced, there is no guarantee all 92 lingering matches will be played. Every indication is the players, owners and the fans desire a season completed with no asterisks. The first three weeks of action have been all but guaranteed, with dates, times, and venues all announced. After that, everything will have to be played by ear.

If players, managers, and training staff remain healthy the Premier League should wrap up without issue. It’s unknown the status of the remaining fixtures if there is a secondary spike in cases in the UK or worse infections happen to members of clubs. The worst-case scenarios must be playing out in everyone’s heads. Let’s hope this becomes a very under the radar story-line, one forgotten after a couple of weeks.

2. Liverpool Finally Receives Their Trophy

Despite nearly two full years of dominance, Liverpool still has one goal to check off their nearly immaculate squad resume. During the 2018-2019 campaign, they accrued 97 points suffering only one defeat to the eventual victors, Manchester City. Since that time Liverpool has shockingly upped its form, winning all but two games in this year’s elongated season. Their lead in the table is an awe-inspiring 25 points. For reference, Aston Villa is sitting in 19th place with 25 points total. In 29 matches Liverpool has allowed only 21 goals, thanks in large part to Virgil van Dijk’s presence and the native Brazilian Allison’s 10 clean sheets.

3. Who is the Last Team to Escape Relegation?

In most years with a runaway champion, the next most competitive race is the fight at the bottom. West Ham, Watford, and Bournemouth all sit at 27 points and are tied for the final relegation spot with Aston Villa and Brighton just above or below that mark. All teams will have to play with the utmost form to secure their position in next season’s premiership. Most matches will be featuring top-half opponents. Brighton has the inside track to escape, with only a minus eight-goal differential despite only winning six of their 29 matches.

4. Who Wins the EA Player of the Season?

The Premier League’s version of the MVP award is hotly contested this year. Scoring, as always, is valued very highly in England’s top football division. Jaimie Vardy, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Agüero, and Mohamed Salah round out the most likely strikers to win based on total goals scored. If the voters are split between the deep field of worthy forwards, it’s very likely a Liverpool player snatches up the award right under their noses. Virgil van Dijk is the most likely of the Reds to win from a dark horse position.

5. Can Sheffield United Qualify for the Champions League

Sheffield United has been playing professional football since 1892. They have only been in the Premier League for a total of four seasons, including this year. The Blades returned to the Premier League for the first time since 2007; eager to change their fortunes. Sheffield had unbelievable momentum before COVID forced lock-downs, winning three of their last four matches and drawing the other.

Their team has no true superstar, no player has more than five goals. They are captained by the veteran forward Billy Sharp, featuring a stout defense only allowing 25 goals. That’s less than a handful more than top squad Liverpool. The anchor of the Blades is keeper Dean Henderson. On loan from Manchester United, the 23-year-old is tied for second in the league with 10 clean sheets.

Sheffield is five points from the club’s first-ever Champions League appearance and only two away from the Europa League consolation prize. If Sheffield has any hope of securing international competition, Christopher John Wilder will have to manage the club through a difficult last 11 matches. Seven of the remaining fixtures are against opponents in the top half of the table.

 

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