KELLER'S TAKE KELLER: Looking back at the hazing incident controversy with JBL, ref Silverman
Jan 13, 2005 - 2:46:00 PM
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By Wade Keller, Torch editor
The following is a reprinting of Dec. 11, 2001 Keller's Take editorial looking at the controversy stemming from an interview with a former WWE referee Billy Silverman detailing hazing incidents he endured while with the company...
Original Headline: Was Silverman treated unfairly, or did he bring on ribbing himself?
After listening to Billy Silverman's interview with "Get in the Ring" radio on Sunday (for a summary transcript, click here: Radio Review: Former ref Silverman talks about hardcore hazing in WWF), I am not sure I sympathize with him. The hosts continually pushed for more details, as if they couldn't believe that he quit over some verbal ribbing on airplanes from Bradshaw and having to purchase and serve liquor to wrestlers once.
Ribbing has been part of the pro wrestling industry for decades. It's not unusual for wrestlers to find their bags padlocked shut or to have Nair rubbed on their eyebrows while they're sleeping on a plane. Vince McMahon has been ribbed in recent years. So has Shane McMahon. Nobody is immune to ribbing - especially new arrivals. It's a test to see how they handle it, and it's payback because virtually every wrestler in the WWF went thorugh it themselves.
The Silverman situation was chronicled in the Torch Newsletter in detail months ago when he was going through the "initiation" of sorts. He wasn't alone, as a lot of the WCW wrestlers went through ribbing.
The ribbing in the WWF had declined greatly during the hot run the WWF had. When the WCW wrestlers (and referees) were thrown into the mix, there was understandably resentment on the part of WWF wrestlers. A bunch of wrestlers and referees from a company that lost tens of millions of dollars the previous two years were now marching into the WWF, on the verge of profiting from the hard work of the WWF wrestlers. WWF wrestlers wanted to make sure that the WCW crew realized one reason the WWF succceeded where WCW failed was that they had certain rules in the locker room. They were enforced for a reason, in great part to prevent prima donnas from playing by a different set of rules.
For a while, the WCW workers couldn't win. If they didn't talk, they were called aloof. If they talked too much, they were told to shut up and know their place. It was a difficult time, but it wasn't out of line.
WCW was an undisciplined place with a notoriously poor work ethic among the top wrestlers. Silverman lost me when he praised Buff Bagwell during his interview. Bagwell epitomized so much of what caused WCW to be such a burden on TBS that it eventually was sold in a fire sale to the WWF. Bagwell's prima donna attitude and poor work ethic contributed to the death of WCW. He wasn't the only cancer in WCW, but by most accounts he was among the worst five.
Bagwell made a bad impression upon arriving in the WWF. He was used to coming and going as he pleased in WCW. As documented in a publicized court case, he was verbally abusive to "lowly workers" at arenas during WCW events. WWF wrestlers knew of his rep for treating people "beneath him" poorly, and Bagwell did nothing to show them that the rep he had or the publicity he received was unfair. As a result, he paid for it. Did wrestlers take it too far when they laid the stomps in pretty stiffly in that backstage gang attack angle angle on TV? Perhaps, but he didn't walk away with any broken bones. They sent him a message, and other than Silverman's statement on the radio Sunday, I've never heard of even one person ever even begin to defend Bagwell.
Silverman got in trouble because he was upgrading his tickets to first class. He was new in the WWF. Kurt Angle, even while he was working main events, knew that it would be wrong to upgrade to first class until he had some tenure in the WWF. He respected the internal etiquette of the locker room. It took him a long time before he felt he had earned the right to upgrade to first class.
Silverman may not have known when he first arrived in the WWF, but once he was told, he should have apologized and acquiesced. Instead, he was apparently aloof about it, shrugging off the warnings that upgrading was looked down upon until you've earned tenure. Because of his attitude, he made himself a target.
Silverman didn't detail this in his interview on Sunday, but as a result of his actions and attitude, he was taken to court - Wrestlers Court, that is. The WWF has a way of dealing with problems internally without bothering management. It's called Wrestlers Court. It's not something wrestlers like to talk about much because as open as the industry has become, that's considered their private, internal method of dealing with locker room problems before they reach management. It doesn't happen very often, and when it does, it's usually kept quiet (although we've detailed a few situations over the years in the Torch Newsletter). Being taken to court is reserved for the biggest offenders of locker room etiquette. Silverman was taken to court.
As detailed in the Torch Newsletter reports months ago, the court includes wrestler-lawyers, a wrestler-judge, and wrestler-witnesses called up to the stand to testify. (Given what he said in the interview, it sounds as if Silverman wasn't pleased with our stories detailing his "court" appearance.) After various people testified to his infractions, he was ruled guilty. His punishment was having to buy liquor and serve it to wrestlers on a plane ride. He wasn't made to do that as a rib. He was ordered to do it as a result of being found guilty of violating the internal rules that the WWF has established over the years.
Charles Robinson, another WCW referee, underwent ribbing that included being dragged out - without a shirt and taped up and gagged - into the TV area. Since he took it well and didn't complain afterward, he has earned wrestlers' respect. He no longer gets ribbed. He paid the price, and now he's "one of the boys," so to speak.
Silverman was found guilty in Wrestlers Court. His court sentence was serving liquor. Once he served that sentence, he too might have been given a second chance. But the verbal ribbing from Bradshaw apparently drove him over the edge, and he left.
As one WWF veteran told the Torch at the time, Silverman might not have ever been able to fit in since he didn't seem to grasp the logic of not being able to fly first class next to veteran wrestlers for a while, while the rest of the crew flew coach.
WCW was a different place than the WWF. The WWF crew may have had a chip on their shoulder about having to take them on after they were part of a losing team. Anyone from WCW who walked into that WWF locker room should have bent over backwards to earn the respect of those who built the WWF into a successful company. Second-guessing or shrugging off their internal locker room rules was not a good start
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PWTorch editor Wade Keller has covered pro wrestling full time since 1987 starting with the Pro Wrestling Torch print newsletter. PWTorch.com launched in 1999 and the PWTorch Apps launched in 2008.
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