TNA has brought back Jeff Hardy.
It’s a perplexing, deeply troubling decision by America’s No. 2 pro wrestling promotion. Not only did Jeff famously screw up the main event of TNA’s Victory Road PPV by getting wasted in the hours leading up the event, but he has reportedly refused several requests from TNA that he go to rehab.
He has shown a steely unwillingness, similar to that of his equally troubled brother, Matt, to even admit he has any type of problem with drugs and alcohol.
He’s also, of course, facing drug charges (in a trial that may never end) and will, in fact, be headed back to court on the day his return show airs on Spike TV.
There are so many potential ramifications here: If Jeff has refused rehab, and if he doesn’t seem to have made any real improvements in his behavior (check out the video in which a slurring Jeff uses a Taser on his brother’s girlfriend, the long-suffering Reby Sky), isn’t it just a matter of time before something like the Victory Road fiasco happens again?
Besides, what type of message does this send to the hard-working and well-behaved wrestlers in the locker room? They’ve kept their heads down and made the effort, and now Jeff, a notoriously unreliable and lazy drug user, waltzes back to reclaim his top spot.
This is a blatant slap in the face to the rest of the wrestlers in TNA.
And, most importantly, can Jeff truly be trusted to take care of his opponent in his matches?
It nearly goes without saying that pro wrestling is a highly dangerous and risky occupation, and you want to be in there with someone clear-headed and sober.
There are also the legal ramifications: if a wrestler gets injured while in the ring with Hardy, all they would need to do is go out and find a good lawyer and they’d probably be able to sue the company into oblivion.
Regardless of whether Hardy was or was not intoxicated, the fact that the company was well-aware of his past, but let him perform anyway, would likely make it a slam-dunk case against them.
The risks of bringing back Jeff far outweigh any of the benefits. It is an incredibly stupid—and, frankly, rather unethical—move to make.
Yet still, they are bringing him back.
I can’t tell you whether or not TNA President Dixie Carter was the one pushing for Jeff to return. It could have easily been Eric Bischoff (who really does wholeheartedly believe in the phrase “Controversy Creates Cash,” even making it the title of his 2006 autobiography) who was eager to bring him back.
Or head writer (and I use that term loosely) Vince Russo, who is no doubt salivating at the thought of turning Jeff’s real-life problems into a work-shoot angle on television.
But I can tell you this: there is absolutely no way this move would not have been made without her seal of approval. None whatsoever. As journalist Dave Meltzer, who has also been a vocal critic of TNA’s decision to bring back Hardy, noted on the most recent Wrestling Observer Live: “At the end of the day…this decision…it was Dixie. Nothing happens without her say so.”
Dixie is running TNA. Her father, Bob Carter, is the one funding the company, and he has doggedly stuck by his daughter’s company even though it is, by all accounts, a huge money loser.
Dixie is the sole reason TNA is still in existence. If Dixie said TNA were not bringing back Jeff because of all the reasons I have mentioned, that would be end of the story. Russo, Bischoff nor anyone else would dare argue with her.
Not that Dixie is any stranger to controversy.
Heck, in the last year she has seen TNA’s name dragged through the mud by fans and critics over poor and unsafe working conditions as the scandalous stories continue to emerge with an alarming frequency.
Taylor Wilde admitted she was so broke while KO champion that she had to work a minimum wage job at Sunglass Hut, and then had to quit after she was deeply embarrassed when a fan recognized her from television. Unsurprisingly, Taylor later retired, frustrated with the business and unable to see any way she could have a financially stable future in it.
Top knockouts Gail Kim and Awesome Kong also parted ways with TNA over money, and Kong frequently complained in interviews shortly after leaving the company about what she felt was her low and unfair pay, as well as the company's lack of respect for women.
The woes continued. Earlier this year, TNA Knockout Daffney left TNA and announced she was taking legal action against the company because they refused to pay the medical bills for injuries she incurred while wrestling for them. There is reported to be other wrestlers suing over medical bills too (TNA has a long, sordid history of avoiding paying the bills of their mid-card wrestlers and knockouts, and it has caused them legal problems before, notably with Konnan.)
Embarrassingly, TNA mid-carder Jesse Neal famously announced on his twitter he was so broke he managed to qualify for food stamps (“Yay! I can eat now!” he tweeted).
Of course, he quickly and clumsily backtracked a few days later when the story blew up (with everyone pointing fingers at TNA for letting this happen) and insisted that he was simply talking about his girlfriend.
Nobody, except the staunchest TNA apologists, bought it.
Tag Team Gen Me, or the Young Bucks as they are also known, have admitted in interviews that the main reason they left was because of their financial struggles. The cash-strapped duo explained how they had gone to the TNA office, politely asking for fairer deals, but that “they didn’t really want to do anything for us.” And that was the end of their time in TNA.
In the last couple of weeks, the predicament of indie wrestler Jimmy Yang has made several news sites. As he relayed on his twitter, Yang had worked for TNA back in June on a show. Six weeks later, he had still not been paid for his work—and the check they did send bounced.
More amazingly, Yang would claim that someone in the TNA office had the audacity to phone him and call him “unprofessional.”
Thankfully, he has since indicated that he has finally been paid in full. Although, I suspect, complaining publicly and embarrassing them may have gotten him blackballed from TNA for life.
To make all this even more astounding TNA have, over the years, spent an incredible amount of money acquiring the services of big-name stars and reality show celebrities (Survivor star Jonny Fairplay famously admitted he got $300,000 from TNA from the company to do virtually nothing).
Let's make this clear: It’s not so much that TNA doesn’t have the money to pay for livable wages or medical bills; they do, but all that cash is tied up elsewhere.
Their stories have been jarring for many wrestling fans who like to think, in this post-Benoit world that we live in, that wrestling promotions are learning from the mistakes of the past and looking out more for the welfare of their performers.
These stories unsettle us.
As fans, we like to think the wrestlers we derive enjoyment from are, ultimately, valued by the promoters, fairly paid for the work and, of course, have access to decent medical care should they require it.
So what has been the reaction of TNA President, Dixie Carter, to all these stories? Has she come out angrily claiming her innocence and vociferously denying these allegations? Has she insisted all the wrestlers in her company are paid fairly and that TNA has always covered the costs of injuries wrestlers incur working for them?
Er, no. Actually, she’s pulled a disappearing act.
In late March, around the same time the Jeff Hardy debacle at Victory Road happened and the news of Daffney’s lawsuit emerged, Dixie completely vanished. She was quickly written off television (and her power-struggle storyline on iMPACT, which had been being built up for ages and was clearly leading to something big, was quietly dropped with an off-handed remark by Carter that the judge had “sided with Hogan and Bischoff,") she stopped doing interviews entirely, and barely posted on her Twitter or Facebook accounts (and considering what a frequent user of social media she used to be, this really is news). Indeed, her recent cameo at a Georgia house show is the first time she’s been seen publicly in months.
So what was going on?
Well, at the time, reports emerged that Carter was “lying low” from all the controversy about medical bills and the drug use in the TNA locker room. One source even claimed Carter was possibly “trying to get out, before things got too rough.”
There were also claims that she would ultimately step down. This never happened, of course. But there seems to have been some truth that Dixie was keeping a much lower profile because of the microscope she found her company’s business practices now being held under.
In my opinion, Dixie’s behaviour in recent months isn’t the behaviour of a woman who is wholly innocent.
Rather, they seem to be the actions of a woman who knows she's been caught in the act, now desperately ducking for cover so that she doesn’t have to answer any inconvenient questions about the way she runs her company.
Why hasn’t she uttered one word to defend herself? Probably because she can’t.
But even now, despite the laundry list of horror stories that have come out about America’s No. 2 pro wrestling promotion, there are still many fans that see Dixie as just as saintly and pristine as ever.
Indeed, talk to any wrestling fan about her and chances are, while they’ll express regret that she isn’t a very savvy wrestling promoter, they’ll also declare her “too nice” for such a cut-throat business and someone who genuinely cares for wrestlers, unlike that evil ogre of poison and death, Vince McMahon (you know, the guy who does cover injuries on his watch and is known for paying excellent wages to his talent).
Let’s face it: if UFC President Dana White suddenly decided one day that he wasn’t going to cover the cost of the injuries that athletes incurred fighting for the UFC, he would feel a heavy avalanche of vitriolic, unforgiving criticism fall on him.
People would be out for his blood.
He would be accused in every MMA publication and every news site of not caring about his fighters and seeing them as little more than circus animals, solely there to make him money. There would be calls for boycotts of the product.
It would be extremely nasty. And deservedly so.
Likewise, if Vince had performers so broke they were on food stamps (all while he spent hundreds of thousands on celebrities and signing big name stars) the criticism would be just as scathing. It would be a major news story. He, too, would be accused of serious unethical business practices and of not caring about his wrestlers.
So, just how has Dixie maintained her image when she’s being accused of all this, and more? I have a few theories on this.
First of all, I think that, as an attractive, soft-spoken older woman, Dixie has a maternal, much more palpable, image than Vince or Dana White (both of whom are known for their fiery tempers and have lost their tempers in public on more than one occasion.)
It’s easy to believe she’s nice because, well, doesn’t she seem nice?
Another reason I feel Dixie has weaseled out of any fan backlash is because she is simply a woman who knows a lot about public relations and how to present herself to the public.
It’s easy to forget that Dixie’s background before she started running TNA was in P.R. She was, reportedly, quite good at it (she was named Vice President of Dallas’ largest marketing firm in her mid-twenties). Dixie is a woman who surely knows the importance of promoting an image, even if, or especially if, your actions in real-life are directly contradicting that image.
This may be why TNA got over claiming they were a scrappy underdog fighting against the evil, corporate WWE (never mind the fact that TNA is owned by a billion dollar energy company and have nearly every advantage that's possible for a wrestling company to have, including a well-paying television deal with a supportive network).
This could be why we believed TNA all those times when Jeremy Borash told us that TNA was“like a family” and “everyone gets along.” (The same ‘family’, remember, that is, by all accounts, plagued by lawsuits, low morale, rampant politicking, and in-fighting).
It may also be why Dixie’s absolute refusal to get rid of the utterly incompetent Vince Russo is labelled as loyalty and deemed an admirable quality.
Well, “loyalty” is one word. I would personally call it complete and utter cronyism and a highly irresponsible way to do business.
During his six years as head writer, Russo has proven, time and time again, that he has no real understanding of the business or how to make money. TNA’s stagnant ratings, low house show numbers and laughably awful PPV numbers are proof of this.
Judging by recent reports, it seems everyone in the company has figured this out too.
But, of course, Dixie is keeping him around because, well, he’s her buddy and he's been around a while (and this apparently makes up for a minor thing like being completely atrocious at his job.) I don't believe that making money has ever been a priority to Carter. After all, as the daughter of the extremely rich Bob Carter it's not like she needs the cash. Shame everyone else in TNA does, though.
So, what can wrestling fans do about this?
Well, never mind the easy interviews with the easy questions, the pretty pictures, or the gushing quotes from (contracted) talent who tell us how Carter is the nicest boss ever. All the real evidence indicates that Carter has been a lousy, incompetent boss. If she ever does emerge from hiding, maybe that should be the time for fans and journalists to look beyond the image presented to us for the past few years, and start asking Carter real questions about the way she has run her company—and demanding real answers.