A commentary by Mike Mooneyham
Published August 1999
Two WWF performers recently posed that question provided contrasting takes on the subject.
Two-time NCAA wrestling champion Kurt Angle, who parlayed his 1996 Olympic gold medal success into a lucrative professional career, says the answer is “a definite yes,” but with a disclaimer.
“I think we do send a message to the kids. This is for families to get together and be entertained. It’s not for kids to go out in the backyard and do. I think we’re continuously trying to send that message through public service announcements and commercials. We have a responsibility, but so do the parents.”
To children, athletes are ideals, setting standards of excellence in sports and success in life. Angle, though, realizes that everything seen on the screen today is not necessarily for widespread consumption. And, of course, the fact that the modern version of pro wrestling is more entertainment than sport means that the performers fans see are portraying characters that are often diametrically opposite to the person playing that role.
“I’m a big believer in God and a good Christian, but entertainment is entertainment,” says Angle, who has made hundreds of motivational speeches since the ’96 Olympics for corporations, colleges, elementary, junior high and high schools. “There’s going to be good things for people, bad things for people. It’s just like anything else you do in the world. Whatever it is – The Undertaker `Stone Cold’ Steve Austin or the Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle, you’re going to see something that you like here. You might not be comfortable with everything, but there’s always something for everyone. And that’s what I like about this business. But parents have to be responsible and monitor what their children watch. We have shows for kids on the weekend, so they have a choice.
The WWF’s Al Snow, on the other hand, says don’t look at him – or any other wrestler – if you’re looking for a role model.
“I’m a role model for my own children, and you, as a parent, should be a role model for your children,” says Snow, 36, who has a son and daughter ages 10 and 12. “But nobody outside of your house should be a role model for your child. If your child is looking outside your home for a role model, then something is missing inside your home. I believe it’s OK for your child to idolize me. Adults idolize other people. They idolize athletes, actors, singers. My own son idolizes Michael Jordan. He idolizes Steve Austin, he idolizes Jeff Gordon. But, without a doubt, the only people he looks to as far as being role models are myself and my wife.”
Snow says he is bothered when people try to “excuse away” inappropriate behavior.
“I don’t want to hear any boo-boo face bullshit about being a single parent. I could give a care less. Why? Because it’s just another excuse to me. I am on the road almost 250 days a year or more. Basically my wife is a single parent. I am away from these children, but I am still very much a force and a factor in their lives and they still look to me at being a role model in their lives. If you’re gonna have a bad seed, you’re gonna have a bad seed, no matter what you do as a parent. You can be the greatest person in the world, you could be Mary Poppins, and the child could still grow up to be an adult with a high-powered rifle. But at least you did what you had to do.
“I take responsibility to raise my own children. I don’t ask my friends, I don’t ask my family, I don’t ask my neighbors, I don’t ask my children’s teachers, I don’t ask their friends. I damn sure don’t ask the news or entertainment media to raise my children. I make a fairly decent living wrestling, therefore I can afford to have more than just one TV in my home. But I’d say 90 percent of the time my children watch TV is with either me or my wife or both of us at the same time. We exercise our right, and if something comes on the channel that we don’t like, including wrestling, then during that period of time we turn the channel, and turn it back after that segment is over. If, by chance, our children are some where else in the house watching another TV set, then I get up and go see what they’re watching.”
The 18-year veteran admits the WWF product is geared toward “a more sophisticated audience.”
“The content of the WWF, as much as what wrestling has always been and always will be, is a reflection of what society is,” says Snow. “People aren’t going to relate to something they don’t see in their daily lives on a regular basis. So you have to put it out there. It also goes back to the sophistication of the audience. The audience is far more sophisticated, so we have to be with our performance and storylines.”
The 30-year-old Angle says he realizes that sports heroes come and go, and that sometimes they go down hard. The failings and imperfections of many pro wrestlers, specifically, have been well documented. Yet some have larger-than-life images and are considered icons even among their peers.
“A friend and I used to use a 1-5 rating system when we watched wrestling, with 5 being the worst and 1 being the best,” says Angle. “I won’t say who 2 through 5 were, but No. 1 was always Ric Flair. And I’m not necessarily saying that Ric is still the best on the mic or the best worker, but I think Ric has done a lot for the business. People enjoy watching him, and he’s very entertaining. He’s the complete package. I think this business and the people who are fans of the business owe a lot to him. Ric deserves to be that No. 1. When you’re comparing someone to the best, you’re comparing him to Ric Flair. Ric Flair is the best.”
Angle, who is one year into a five-year contract, says he didn’t seriously consider the pro ranks until a couple of years ago.
“Ten years ago I would have said you’re joking,” Snow says of the prospect that he would have been a professional wrestler. “But here I am.”
The former Olympian, however, has taken to the professional part of the sport like a duck to water.
“I believe I was meant to win the gold medal. But I feel more comfort able in this ring than I did the amateur wrestling ring. And that’s a toughthing to say. It’s amazing how I caught on. I think that’s why when I went out and tried out the first day, the second day they came up to me with a contract. They didn’t want to see anything else. That was it.”
Angle said he went through the motions of talking to the other major organizations before signing with the WWF, but he never seriously considered either one.
“No offense to ECW, but they did a couple of things that I wasn’t real comfortable with. They also put up a screen that they were more legitimate wrestling. I didn’t understand until I got there, but they were just being more graphic,” says Angle, referring to a controversial crucifixion angle involving Raven, Sandman and Sandman’s son.
“That was a comical one,” says Angle. “I didn’t have any problem. At that point in my career I was doing a lot of motivational speaking for kids trying to stay on the right path, and all of a sudden they’re doing an angle with a little kid putting his dad up on a cross crucifying him. I said I hope they don’t show this one on TV.
“I feel really good being in the WWF. It’s important to be happy with your life and what you’re doing. I know everybody has problems – we all do, I do – but for the most part, you want to enjoy your life and get through your problems. If you don’t like what you’re doing, try to find something that can take up your time that you can enjoy.”
The Pittsburgh native, who has been with the WWF for little more than a year, began his stint in Memphis where he trained and worked local shows while also doing WWF dark matches twice a week.
“I really still don’t know much about the business. Maybe I don’t deserve to be in the position I’m in right now, but I’m very grateful for what they’ve done and I just want to do my job. So far people have been happy with that, and that makes me happy. It’s fun. If you’re having fun, that’s when people will say you’re improving. As long as I keep my head on straight and keep doing what they tell me to do, the sky’s the limit.”
Jim Ross, head of the WWF’s talent development, is one of Angle’s big gest boosters.
“Kurt Angle’s development with the sports-entertainment structure of the World Wrestling Federation is nothing short of amazing. This young man has a huge upside potential and will be a future Federation champion. The only thing that can take the Olympian down is the `man in the mirror,’ but that applies to everyone on the roster. Becoming a star doesn’t mean one has to become a jerk, too. I think Kurt will be just fine.”
Angle’s cocky in-ring character and mic ability have drawn natural comparisons to The Rock.
“Rocky’s a great example,” says Angle. “I would never compare myself to him because he’s done so much in such a short period of time. But he’s the kind of guy that I’d love to gun for.”
Angle’s “Olympic hero” gimmick really wasn’t a gimmick, but rather an exaggerated extension of his real-life character.
“I was looking to be just the opposite,” says Angle. “But they had a plan for me. They said, `Be yourself. Be America’s Olympic hero, and turn it up a thousand degrees. Have a ball and smile all the time. These people love you, even though they don’t.’ And it worked. From the first minute on it was amazing the reaction I got.”