More WWF advertisers cave to public pressure
The World Wrestling Federation has not had it easy lately. First, they lost their two head writers, Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara, to rival league World Championship Wrestling. Then they were forced to admit this week that their top star, ”Stone Cold” Steve Austin, will likely have to stop wrestling due to a debilitating neck injury. And now, the WWF has fallen victim to a wrong-headed witch hunt led by alarmists at the Parents Television Council.
The watchdog group, led by L. Brent Bozell III, has spent the past six weeks petitioning companies to pull their advertising from the WWF, because it contains what they believe is overly sexual, violent, and profane content. So far, they’ve successfully gotten everyone from Coca-Cola to AT&T to the U.S. Army to cave in and yank their ads. In an effort to stem the tide of fleeing advertisers, WWF officials this week promised to tone down their programming’s content — be it ”colorful language” or overt ”sexuality.”
There is no question that the WWF is sometimes vulgar, sometimes very violent, and most of the time entirely inappropriate for the preteen fans who flock to it. It’s adult-oriented entertainment that kids really shouldn’t be watching. But you know what? It has been racy and ribald for almost two years — as the league and the ”sports entertainment” genre has risen to its highest level of mainstream acceptance — and the sponsors who are now running away knew and apparently didn’t care. They didn’t care last spring, when an AT&T spokesman told me, ”Fortune 500 companies have awakened to the fact that pro wrestling has an appeal beyond the stereotypes of the past.” Nor did Mars, Inc. — which has now pulled its ads from UPN’s ”Smackdown” — care about the content last March when it sponsored the league’s biggest pay-per-view, ”Wrestlemania XV.” It’s only now, after the PTC’s persistent drum-beating, that these corporations have decided wrestling is bad — to not do so would be to risk looking like they don’t give a hoot about the delicate psyches of their young customers.
What’s so irritating and hypocritical about all this is that ”real” athletes can commit actual CRIMES left and right without advertisers taking umbrage. New York Knick Latrell Sprewell can attempt to choke a man and spew profanity at fans, and still — as his agent told a New York paper last summer — he gets ”up to five calls a day” for endorsement deals. New York Yankee Darryl Strawberry can be arrested for possessing cocaine, beating his wife, and soliciting hookers, and yet he and the Yankees organization that continues to employ him are heroes from the perspective of fans and advertisers alike. So why is it that wrestling’s buxom babes and fake blood are singled out for being detrimental to young minds?
The fact is, advertisers should have the ability (and courage) to place their products on whatever programs deliver the demographics they want to reach. If the PTC has such a problem with the WWF (by the way, why aren’t they targeting the WCW, which is getting increasingly more ”colorful” by the week?), then they should start a letter-writing campaign to America’s PARENTS, who in theory should be policing what their children watch. Mr. Bozell, let Mom and Dad know what the WWF and WCW are up to, and then THEY will decide what’s appropriate for their kids. Let the WWF and WCW continue to entertain their adult fans — we know that pro wresting is just good, not-so-clean fun.