(Doc's Note - I have two avenues to make statements with the written word. This column is one of them. These creative writing pieces go beyond fantasy booking, with their point often being to expand your thinking. We're a society that loves to take things out of context, so let me give you some context, as I prepare for some backlash for the following column based on some heated emails I've received for comments made about the theme of the following column in past articles written. I grew up with a best friend who's entire family went to a certain northeast University. They monetarily donated large sums of money to the school every year and are more intimately knowledgeable of what happens at the school than most. Thus, in conversations with them and their fellow alums in recent months, my opinion of a certain situation that has been covered quite a bit in the media differs from the usual. I've used that scenario to create a column with a moral. Open forum in the comments section)
Doctor's Orders: November 19, 2012 - Stone Cold Tried and Convicted in Court of Public Opinion
By The Doc
Aug 11, 2012 - 8:24:21 AM
November 19, 2012
In our society, it takes but only the mere mention of impropriety to turn even the most beloved of heroes into hated villains. - Anonymously tweeted three weeks ago to the WWE’s dotcom.
Steve Austin has disappeared, for all intents and purposes. Nobody can find him. His whereabouts are unknown, his cell phone messages have been unanswered, and his Twitter account has shut him away from the online world. Stone Cold has gone into hiding.
Who can blame him?
Though he does have much to answer for, nobody gave him a chance to respond. The wrestling world has been turned upside-down by the live report delivered by Paul Heyman last month alleging that Austin had been keeping everyone in the dark for nearly a decade about an armed robbery of WWE Headquarters that nobody had even previously been aware of. What has been shocking is that Austin has been given no benefit of the doubt or even a chance to deny the allegations. Instead, the questions hurled his way were immediately and unabashedly condemning, as if he’d been tried and convicted in a court of law. Details of the crime in question were confirmed, as follows: in the summer of 2003, an undisclosed number of nine millimeter handgun-carrying assailants stormed Titan Towers in Stamford, Connecticut, stealing on-site memorabilia, security cards, and the cash on hand. Rumor suggests that more was taken, but those were the items listed in the WWE’s private manifest of the once private matter turned public. It was a stealthy operation, obviously well planned in advance by people quite good at being quite bad; they got away with it for almost ten years.
The most significant headline was that former Executive Vice President of Talent Relations, John Laurinaitis, has recently been identified via private investigation as the man that led what has come to be referred to as an “inside job.” Laurinaitis has been taken into custody and the evidence against him is reportedly substantial. His position of power within the wrestling organization appears to have heightened the media scrutiny of the scandal, a term that the WWE has become all-too-familiar with in this calendar year.
Heyman, whose role in this matter is, at this point, unclear, was a WWE character and creative staff member around the time frame specific to the robbery. His assertion is that Austin, who has apparently known Laurinaitis for a very long time, knew about the executive’s role in the crime. Austin’s family released a statement to the press noting their disappointment in the media and WWE’s portrayal of him since the allegations were announced. The Austin family actually sponsored an investigation to address the matter once further details came to light. The attorney hired to conduct the evaluation has revealed that Austin may have had some knowledge of the events, but this analysis came long after the media lambasted Austin, forcing him into reclusion until – according to those close to him – the “storm blows over.”
It’s been a whirlwind ever since Heyman initially posted an online video discussing his knowledge of the robbery, taking focus away from the WWE’s first major PPV abroad in twenty years. London will no doubt be charged and ready to go for the upcoming Survivor Series, but the media and the fan base has spent much of their recent time concentrating on Austin. Despite all logic pointing to Austin having nothing to gain from concealing his knowledge of the crime, every major media outlet that chooses to cover the WWE has damned the once revered superstar for supposedly protecting a man now facing 20 years to life in prison. Austin, in a 2007 motion picture, portrayed a convict fighting for his life on an island in a movie called “The Condemned.” Ironically, he is being viewed today as a convict despite no sentencing, no jury, no judge, and no comments, fighting for his life and reputation while alienating himself from the outside world. If given a fair chance to tell his side of the story, perhaps we may actually learn what really happened. Until then, how can we judge the situation, in its entirety? Austin has done himself no favors with his reclusion, but it would seem that everyone’s minds were made up from the start. There have been rumors of Austin having major health problems due to the stress.
This story comes on the heels of the WWE taking heat from the media earlier in the year after Wade Barrett began championing the effort to instate a “Union” for foreign-born WWE Superstars. Though that issue will come to a head in Barrett’s home country at Survivor Series, it has taken a backseat to mere speculation of Austin’s involvement in a crime that he has not been charged with either committing or being directly linked to. All the attention from the media has focused on Austin, while the real criminal has been arraigned and awaits the start of his trial. As a member of the media, if an interjection of subjectivity inserted into this mostly objective piece is appropriate, I am appalled at the lack of due process given to a man who cannot even speak to challenge his accuser.
Austin is no saint. He has a background littered with not-so-sparkling details. Yet, he has done much good for the world and much good for the wrestling business. For people that once revered him to turn on him based on something so illogical and nonsensical for which he even sponsored an investigation that led to further details that were specious and unreasonable is baffling to any clear-minded person capable of stepping back and looking at the situation through objective eyes. There is always a “why?” Yet, there is no “why” to explain how a no-nonsense man like Austin finds out about a friend of his committing a heinous act and saying nothing about it. That’s why there is obviously more than meets the eye to this situation and that’s why all further media scrutiny of Austin needs to be shelved until he can either tell his side of the story or until further investigation provides deeper context to his alleged decision to say nothing.
There is talk of stripping Austin of his WWE Hall of Fame status from some critics pushing for the extremes. Some are even calling for a Chris Benoit-like “blackout” of all things Austin related from WWE and WCW history. Such baffling and ridiculous notions have actually gained support, believe it or not. It now seems that only the people that knew Austin the best have spoken out in his support. The Rock, usually mum about wrestling questions no matter if he’s involved with the product or not, was quick to jump to Austin’s defense, urging everyone to stay level-headed because the Austin that he knew either never would have been involved in a cover-up at all or would have had a really good reason to do so if that was, indeed, the choice that he made. Rock did say that if the reports were true, then Austin should be held accountable, but not hung in effigy. These comments prompted multiple days worth of credibility-questioning segments targeting Rock as a sympathizer of criminal activity. It is as if everyone has lost their minds.
Truth is not something that can be ascertained via emails and documents. It must be discovered through careful examination of the details recounted by those involved. Laurinaitis has denied any involvement, but every shred of evidence points to his guilt. The only thing linking Austin to wrongdoing is a piece of electronic mail. Unknown, still, is the context that would put it into perspective. All other involved parties have been unable to offer much in the way of insight to the situation, as the investigation is ongoing.
The outspoken, suspended World Heavyweight Champion, Cody Rhodes, has been social medially critical of Austin, a driving force behind much of the negativity toward him. His position has, thus far, been supported by the masses. He feels that Austin did not do enough to bring the facts to light and put a criminal behind bars. Men like Rock have urged the detractors against rushes to judgment, citing the Duke Lacrosse scandal from several years ago. A district attorney jumped to conclusions and was embarrassed as can be when the lengthy investigation finally acquitted the athletes from any criminal conduct. Did we learn nothing from that? A bunch of unrelated events provided a circumstantial background that made non-guilty parties look dead-to-rights. Once the pieces of the puzzle were logically put together, the inferred culpability turned out to be a gravely mistaken media conclusion that unfairly tarnished reputations in the immediacy. Sadly, the media coverage of the exoneration was only a fraction of the libelously ruinous filth spewed when the topic was at its hottest. Will Austin be a repeat?
What we do know is that John Laurinaitis is a snake. For a very long time, he deceived everyone that he’d been around, clouding the minds of those that were unfortunate enough to have been in his life. It was HIS deception surrounding his criminal actions that should be the focus. While unfortunate that he was able to con others into protecting him, he is the one responsible for the terrible deeds. Why must we constantly cast such a wide net of blame when we all know that we live in a society cursed with sinners ready and willing to exploit even the tiniest bit of compassion in better people to ensure that their own dastardly ends are met?
Steve Austin may be guilty, but we’ve never given him the chance to be innocent until proven so. Put yourself in his shoes – someone accuses you of being “X” involved in a plot that really should be focused on another person. Before you can ever respond with your side, the media is on your doorstep, throwing the gavel at you. You attempt to respond, but you’re not really given the opportunity. The ravenous media are jumping at the chance to fly down your throat, itching to find whatever guilty needle that they can find in your haystack. They don’t care what you have to say, guilty or no. It becomes clear that this is about a story to them. If they cared about those hurt in the process, then they’d be swarming the Laurinaitis house. That doesn’t sell as well as the most famous wrestler of all-time being involved in an elaborate conspiracy, though, does it?
Many of you know what this has really been about and some of you will disagree with me, perhaps vehemently so. That’s OK. I just get tired of the media pedaling half-truths when the whole-truth is still out there being investigated. It pains me that we cannot discuss this situation without indictments to each other’s opinions. We’ve lost the ability to have conversations that look at both sides of the coin and, subsequently, we’re all so divided. If you’ve made it to the end, here, without stopping to scroll immediately to the comments section to berate my view, then you’ve missed the entire point. Innocent until proven guilty is not something to be taken lightly. It’s what separates the civilized from the zealots, but we’re dangerously close to obliterating that fine line. I’ve passed judgment on the guy that was convicted in a court of law for his behavior. That guy is the devil on Earth. The others, though? No jury has yet brought charges against them. Does it really matter, at this point, though? The court of public opinion, unfortunately, means far more in this day and age, and in that court, they were found guilty as charged long before an investigation was even launched. We’re heading down a road that we’ll regret we veered toward. Mark my words. We have to stop being such an instant gratification society and let things play out.