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    Saturday, June 27, 2020

    The Show Must Go On, But It Really Shouldn't

    A few days ago, WWE host Renee Young confirmed that she had been diagnosed with COVID-19. This came after news broke that several WWE employees had tested positive for COVID-19, including office staff, production crew, and in-ring talent. Since then, more names have come out and confirmed that they have tested positive, such as interviewer Kayla Braxton and producers Adam Pearce and Jamie Noble. While we have yet to hear of a wrestler confirmed to be positive, it’s probably only a matter of time before we do.

    We’ve talked about it on our Grapevines, but the gist is that WWE has responded to the pandemic in a very shitty way. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. As someone living in the Philippines, where “shitshow” and “COVID-19 response” are synonymous, it’s easy to see just how terribly the WWE has responded to all of this. Every day I wake up to see the bar continuously set lower in pandemic response, and it’s disappointing to see that one of my main sources of entertainment is doing the same thing.

    But what, exactly, has the WWE done (or not done) that led to this shitty situation? And more importantly, given the very dire state of the world, is it even right for them to continue holding wrestling shows these days?

    Florida and "Essential Services"

    One of the biggest factors in the WWE’s shitshow of a response has been their key enabler—the state of Florida.

    A quick look at the numbers gives us an idea of what the situation is like there. It is one of seven states to have breached the 100,000-mark in the number of cases and is fourth among all states in the number of active cases. Since gradually reopening, Florida has seen a significant increase in new COVID-19 cases per day. At the start of the month, the number of new cases daily in the state was less than a thousand. Just yesterday, Florida announced nearly 9,000 new cases in a single day, the highest single-day count of new cases in the state since the pandemic happened. These reported numbers may even be lower than they really are—Rebekah Jones, formerly one of Florida’s top data scientists analyzing the COVID-19 numbers, has accused the state of manipulating COVID-19 data. That’s something straight out of the Francisco Duque School of Data Manipulation, an example all too familiar to us Filipinos.

    The state itself has also given WWE the green light to continue amidst thousands of businesses shutting down. In April, the office of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis classified the WWE as an “essential service”, allowing them to continue operating out of their facilities in the state so long as no live audiences were present. This put wrestling in the same group as hospitals, groceries, media outlets, and other obviously essential services. Hospitals treat the sick, groceries provide basic needs, and media outlets connect people to vital information. Professional wrestling, and the WWE, does not serve a need that is as significant as any of those mentioned.

    Soon enough, the WWE won’t be the only one running shows in the Sunshine State. In May, Governor DeSantis welcomed all professional sports to Florida, prompting some major leagues to relocate to the state and try to resume. Since then, the UFC has held three shows in the state. Major sports leagues like the NBA and the MLS have announced plans to resume operations in Disney World, despite a growing number of concerns on just how practical these plans are. Asking thousands of people to fly into a state with a rapidly increasing count of cases is just asking for trouble, and is likely going to cause even more problems in the future.

    All of this should be enough for you to realize one thing—this is not a safe place, and it is a horrible idea to be holding events of any kind here. This is the pandemic equivalent of walking through a Cubao overpass at night. Is there a chance you can get through that without getting mugged, kidnapped, shot, or stabbed? Sure. Will you likely get out of that without getting mugged, kidnapped, shot, or stabbed? I don't have the statistics here, but I'd estimate that it's about the same chance Samoa Joe had of beating Kurt Angle and Scott Steiner at Sacrifice. In other words, they spell disaster.

    WWE: A Case Study on How Not to Handle a Pandemic 

    Okay, so the place WWE is in has had a lackluster response to the pandemic. That sucks, but at least the WWE can make up for it with stringent and well-executed measures that limit the potential spread of the virus, right?

    Early in April, news broke out that a WWE employee who worked at the Performance Center tested positive for COVID-19. WWE responded to this by saying that this was a “low-risk matter. ” There was no mention of any other action the company had taken, other than a defense of why this wasn’t as bad as people thought it was. That alone should tell you just how seriously (or not) the WWE has taken this crisis, and the results haven’t been pretty.

    Since the first case, the WWE has been implementing several measures. These measures included temperature checks, filling out health declaration forms, physical distancing, and constant cleaning of the Performance Center. While these have been good measures, they aren’t enough, and there’s one thing barely mentioned that the WWE hadn’t been doing all this time. I’ll give you a hint: it’s the same damn thing that the Philippine government also isn’t doing.

    That’s right, testing! It wasn’t even until this recent debacle that testing picked up in the WWE—only now are we hearing news and reports that the company is testing its employees. Let that sink in for a moment. 

    All of the shows the WWE did in the past few months, from WrestleMania to Money in the Bank, to NXT TakeOver: In Your House, did not have that one standard procedure. All the production staff that worked to produce those shows, all the wrestlers and in-ring talent that had to work close to each other did so with the only measures of safety being a thermometer, a piece of paper, and some reminders to stay a certain distance from each other. If local companies can test their employees before returning to work a desk job, then the WWE could (and should) have been testing people whose work involves a lot more moving around than your typical nine-to-five gig. The fact that they're only acting on this now when cases have begun to pop up among their talent is insanely fucked up.

    We wish that this is where it ends, but the hits don’t stop. Numerous reports have indicated that several talent have been very upset with the way WWE has handled all of this. On a recent show, the WWE let in some friends and family of wrestlers to watch it live. People immediately pointed out that said fans weren't wearing any masks, which was later revealed to be due to WWE EVP Kevin Dunn telling them not to do so. Dunn reportedly told people that "If you want to wear a mask, you're not a fan", which simply goes beyond any semblance of logical thinking we have. 

    WWE defended this move by saying that these individuals were screened before the show and that there would be no need for face masks since all involved people would be at least six feet apart at all times. The problem is, that’s really not what happened—in one instance, WWE RAW Tag Team Champions Street Profits were seen making their way through the audience, dishing out high fives to those in attendance. So much for physical distancing, I guess. 

    All these half-baked measures make it clear what the company thinks of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it ties in perfectly to some reports that surfaced last month. According to said reports, Vince McMahon supposedly thinks that all of what’s going on right now is an annoyance—that the pandemic is simply getting in the way of his vision, and that all the people freaking out about it are merely getting in the WWE’s way. When you look at it from that perspective, the pieces all start to come together. Why has the WWE responded this way? Because they think that COVID-19 is nothing more than something annoying, much in the same way that traffic and power outages are to any company trying to operate. 

    I wish I could say the same thing about all of this. I wish I could say that I’m annoyed that they’ve gone down this route in response to COVID-19. I can’t, because at this point, “annoying” doesn’t even begin to cover it—it’s fucking appalling. 

    Wrestling in the Time of COVID-19

    In April, NJPW’s one true ace (fight me) and overall good guy Hiroshi Tanahashi said this:

    “The wrestling business is in an extremely difficult situation… we are athletes in a contact sport and we perform in front of packed crowds. That’s a recipe for disaster right now… to run events in the middle of a pandemic presents the wrong image of professional wrestling to society and would deal a black eye to the industry that might still remain even after the pandemic ends.”

    The inconvenient truth that no one wants to accept is that Tanahashi is right. Professional wrestling, as we once knew it, simply poses too much of a risk to be carried on throughout a global pandemic. To continue doing so puts numerous lives at risk. I know it sucks to hear that, but it’s something that all of us—fans, wrestlers, and wrestling companies—have to understand and accept. I want wrestling to start again, just as much you do. I miss the entrances, the epic face comebacks, and the drama it all brings. But now is not yet the time for it to come back.

    Now, contrast that statement with one from the WWE, which the company released after the controversial decision to deem them an “essential service:"

    "We believe it is now more important than ever to provide people with a diversion from these hard times. We are producing content on a closed set with only essential personnel in attendance following appropriate guidelines while taking additional precautions to ensure the health and wellness of our performers and staff. As a brand that has been woven into the fabric of society, WWE and its Superstars bring families together and deliver a sense of hope, determination and perseverance."

    Do you see the difference? Whereas Tanahashi was humble and aware enough to admit that wrestling cannot operate in the current world, the WWE went the opposite direction and defended its decision to keep running as a noble service, all done to provide people a diversion.

    To an extent, the WWE is right. People need a form of escape in these trying times, and entertainment companies have a role to play in keeping everyone sane. However, that role should not come at the cost of putting your people at severe risk. This is where innovation should kick in.

    In a recent digital summit hosted by Singaporean promotion Grapple MAX, key wrestling stakeholders from Southeast Asia all shared different kinds of content they’ve done now that wrestling can’t happen. From online talk shows to food reviews and physical training classes via videoconferencing, there’s a lot of innovation around that still keeps wrestling companies relevant. This is only the tip of the iceberg here. If these regional companies can come up with alternative forms of entertainment that do not put talent at risk, imagine what a global conglomerate with vast amounts of resources can come up with. If the answer is simply “the same thing we used to do, but with some semblance of safety measures," then something is seriously wrong.

    You can point to the WWE’s contracts with major networks as to why they continue to run shows, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that they’ve done so recklessly. It’s especially damning because not only have their measures not been enough, the fallout of it has caused the very opposite of what they promised to deliver. When Renee Young announced that she was positive for COVID-19, how did you react? If you’re a sensible person, you would have felt a sense of dread that a person you see on WWE programming was infected. That’s the exact opposite of the hope, determination, and perseverance the WWE promises to bring by continuing to run shows.

    At the end of the day, this show will probably go on—but let’s be honest, it really shouldn’t.

    Cover photo taken from WWE.
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    Item Reviewed: The Show Must Go On, But It Really Shouldn't Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Anthony Cuello
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