Many wrestling fans were taken by surprise when Jack Swagger won at Elimination Chamber to become the No. 1 contender for the World Heavyweight Championship. Even more surprising, however, was the subsequent DUI and marijuana possession arrest that put his standing in question. Despite his legal issues, I expect Swagger to go unpunished for the time being.
According to TMZ.com, Swagger was pulled over on Tuesday night in Biloxi, Miss. following last week's SmackDown taping. Swagger was reportedly driving erratically and was found to be under the influence of an unidentified substance as well as in possession of pot. He was arrested and later released, and there is no question that it complicates matters for the WWE.
When should Jack Swagger be punished for his arrest?
Vince McMahon and the WWE could take a hard-line approach by acting quickly, suspending Swagger and giving away his WrestleMania title shot, but I don't believe that the WWE should do that nor do I think that it will. There is no doubt that Swagger screwed up in a major way and I certainly wouldn't blame the WWE if it decided to end his push. However, there are other factors to take into account.
If there is one thing that McMahon loves, it's his product drawing mainstream attention. He has that to some degree with The Rock, but Swagger and his new manager Zeb Colter have taken things to a new level. Swagger is now a self-professed "real American" who is disillusioned by the current state of his country. Swagger and Colter have been particularly outspoken when it comes to immigrants who they claim are sneaking across our borders and stealing our jobs.
This is obviously a hot-button issue as many Americans are against immigration at the moment. Particularly, that includes illegal immigrants, which is the group that Swagger and Colter have targeted specifically. Not surprisingly, many conservatives and Tea Party members have spoken out against Swagger and Colter as they believe that the characters are meant to make anti-immigration supporters appear racist.
The most notable criticisms came from political talk show host Glenn Beck. The former FOX News personality had plenty to say about Swagger and Colter on his show on TheBlaze TV last week. Beck referred to the WWE as "stupid wrestling people" and proceeded to rip the entire storyline. Beck claimed that it stereotyped the Tea Party members and he also accused the WWE of alienating the majority of its fanbase.
In response to Beck's inflammatory comments, the WWE invited him to appear on this week's episode of Raw. The WWE even went so far as to have Swagger and Colter cut a promo before revealing their true identities and explaining to Beck that they play characters on WWE programming. It is incredibly rare for the WWE to break kayfabe and then acknowledge it, but that is precisely what the company did in an effort to lure in Beck.
Beck ultimately declined, so it looks like the WWE won't be able to capitalize on the mini feud it has going with him. Even so, Swagger and Colter have a ton of momentum right now, and suspending Swagger wouldn't be the right move from a business perspective. Taking away his WrestleMania title shot may be the right thing for the WWE to do if it wants to send a message that reckless behavior won't be tolerated, but it would be robbing fans of one of the most compelling angles in recent memory.
Because of the outside attention that Swagger and Colter have generated as well as the fact that Alberto Del Rio is the perfect opponent for Swagger's new character, I highly doubt that the push will be derailed. The WWE didn't ignore Swagger's existence after the arrest. In fact, he was featured prominently on the WWE's website and his name was quite present when it came to the WWE inviting Beck to appear on Raw.
Swagger and Colter promos have continued to be developed and shown on YouTube, including the aforementioned promo that featured both men getting out of character. Normally when a superstar breaks company policy, they are written off television quickly without much explanation. Swagger is already so entrenched that the WWE is essentially past the point of no return.
With WrestleMania six weeks away, the WWE needs to move forward and pretend like nothing ever happened. The World Heavyweight Championship scene is more relevant now than it has been in ages, and that isn't something that the WWE should ruin. Also, Del Rio has been gaining a ton of momentum as a top face, and a victory over Swagger would only further that. After retaining his title against Swagger at 'Mania, the WWE can move forward with whatever punishment it feels is fit.
There is no question that an arrest is a serious offense, so I'm not suggesting that Swagger should get off scot-free. At the same time, this is his first offense, so anything more than a suspension would be a bit unfair. Some of those who take the WWE's policies seriously will probably call the company hypocritical if it allows Swagger's storyline to play out before punishing him, but this is a special circumstance and I have no issue with delaying things for a few weeks.
Although there has been a lot of hearsay circulating about Swagger being booked to beat Del Rio for the world title at WrestleMania, I highly doubt that was ever in the cards. Swagger is obviously gaining a ton of heat, but Del Rio forced Big Show to tap out at Elimination Chamber and has been built as a dominant force. The ultimate goal with this storyline is for Del Rio to come away looking like a hero, and vanquishing Swagger at WrestleMania would accomplish that.
When Swagger inevitably loses, I'm sure many fans will blame the arrest, but Del Rio has logically always been pegged as the winner. Whatever the case, it looks like the WWE is moving forward with Swagger until WrestleMania at the very least. If that is true, then Swagger is a very lucky man, as his mistake could have cost both him and Colter.
Swagger won't escape discipline of some kind, but ideally the WWE will wait until this angle plays itself out. Punishing Swagger at this point would be a punishment to the fans as well, and that is the last thing McMahon wants to do.