The $11,500 Statement
?Superstar? Billy Graham, 2004 WWE Hall of Fame recipient, recently auctioned of his ceremonious ring on eBay. When any athlete or celebrity auctions off a memento commemorating his or her own achievements in their profession, they are met with questions about finances or their own well-being. For Graham, questions were asked not of his current status financially, but of his relationships with the McMahon family in regards to his illustrious career.
These are relationships of love and hate, as Brian Elliott reported of SLAM!, that date back to 1991 and Graham’s lying of Vince McMahon’s involvement with steroids. It took five years for Graham to write a letter of apology to McMahon and all seemed well and good between the two. Graham would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004 but all bridges that were constructed between the two came crashing into the river of bitterness when Graham was not given a renewal of his contract as an ambassador of WWE and was not even invited to attend Wrestlemania XXV last April in Houston.
So, was Mr. Graham’s sudden auction of his Hall of Fame ring done out of bitterness and disrespect, like a heartbroken ex-fianc?e handing the ring back to her former beau? With Graham’s comments made possible through an interview with Elliott, it’s time to find where ?reality? lies.
?One of the reasons I decided to actually sell the ring was when Vince McMahon made the statement that the Hall of Fame was really just in his head, and a figment in his imagination. He said there would never really be a physical Hall of Fame to honor the wrestlers. On the other side of the coin, Shane McMahon has been saying for years that there will indeed be a building to house these garments and things, to honor the wrestlers.? (Courtesy: Slam! Sports)
I completely understand how Graham feels about his intangible achievement. Being honored for your accomplishments as a ?Hall of Famer? without a building or monument to honor them does seem rather cold and shallow.
At the same time, Graham, you knew this from the beginning. You knew there was no such building. You knew there was no such monument. Then why accept the award if it did not meet the grand amount of prestige that you expected it to behold? You didn?t need Vince McMahon to say there would never be a building, nor did you need his son’s comments that there would ever be one, there wasn?t one in 2004.
?It was really the callousness and the coldness of Vince saying that there would never be a real Hall of Fame. That drained the emotion and the pride of having a Hall of Fame ring ? which was a beautiful ring ? especially when it was so cavalier. IT was like the Hall of Fame, with the rings, was simply a spur-of-the-moment thing to Vince, and just a way to generate publicity.?
When I think of the ‘spur-of-the-moment things? that Vince McMahon does to generate publicity, I think of his ?Debacle of Denver? fiasco a few months ago. I think of his appearances on ESPN to insult Stan Kroenke and his business acumen. I think of his mocking of Kroenke, NBA Commissioner David Stern, and actor Jack Nicholson on ?Raw? the following week. I think of moments like these that truly are made to generate publicity, much like what we are seeing right now with guest hosts for ?Raw?.
Normally a ‘spur-of-the-moment thing? does not last for more than 15 years; such is the case with WWE’s Hall of Fame. Its first inductee was the great Andre the Giant? in 1993. Now whether McMahon is truly commemorating the legends of past professional wrestlers or using them to generate said publicity is purely up to the viewer/reader? but to call it ‘spur-of-the-moment? is absurd.
What strikes me the most about Graham’s decision to auction off his Hall of Fame ring are his comments regarding his release and his denial of appearance at Wrestlemania XXV.
?I was certainly offended by being released from the company, by letting my contract expire. Not to be too braggadocios, but I consider myself to be an icon because of my influence on guys like Hulk Hogan and Jesse Ventura. So just dropping me from the employment contract was really a slap in the face.?
Mr. Graham? get over yourself. I would have had sympathy for your eventual expiration to unemployment if you had given me some reasons as to why you should have remained employed, not because of whom you are but because of what you had done for the company being an ambassador.
Instead of saying how much of an influence you had on the industry and its performers, why not talk about what you had done for the industry as an ambassador, as a non-performer, as someone who is not in ring. Apparently and unfortunately, you did not do enough to warrant a contract extension.
?In regards to Wrestlemania, I wanted to participate in the art festival that they?ve had for the last couple of years, where WWE employees put their art on display. With me being a professional artist, I felt I should certainly be a part of that, but John Laurinitis told me that they couldn?t afford me to fly from Phoenix to Houston, which is about $225 round-trip. That, I found that very insulting. They said that they?d like to use some of my art there, but that the budget prevented them from flying me there.
So rather than anger or frustration, there’s a lot of disappointment in me towards Vince McMahon at the moment. It’s not anger, I?m just very saddened at the lack of respect for the contribution that I?ve made to the WWE, and in fact inspiring Triple H to a great degree, not to mention Hogan, Ventura, Austin Idol, and many others. The selling of the Hall of Fame ring is really more due to disappointment, as opposed to a vengeful act of animosity. And to be discarded in such a blunt way with the excuse of budget cuts ? that doesn?t sit well with me.?
Vince McMahon wouldn?t let you attend the twenty-fifth anniversary of Wrestlemania, but you?re not angry. WWE wanted your art on display but did not want to pay for you to make your way to the venue, and yet you?re not frustrated. You gave your back, neck, hips, ankles, and ribs to a profession that forced you to inject yourself with potentially lethal combinations of growth hormone, and you?re not vengeful or spiteful.
If you sincerely aren?t feeling any of those emotions, Mr. Graham, then why in the world did you grant this interview in the first place? Why did you make all of these issues and events public? Is it to prove something? Is it to validate everything that you had lied about nearly twenty years ago?
Don?t treat us for fools, Mr. Graham? you were angry with everything. You were spiteful and vengeful realizing that for practically fifty years of your life you destroyed your body for an organization and now they won?t even fly you to an event that applauds everything about the industry you claim you revolutionized and inspired.
I ask you again, why did you accept the Hall of Fame induction in the first place? His answer seems to become clear in his last statements regarding the industry he ?inspired?.
?I have to say, I have never, ever been sentimental about professional wrestling, or anything attached to it or associated with it. I?ve always enjoyed it as theater, and a form of art, and almost like a Broadway play, since it was always pre-determined winners and losers ? we were actually acting. Even though it required a lot of stamina and physical effort, I never emotionally attached myself to the business of professional wrestling. I actually considered it to be a job. So therefore there was no sentimental connection to the ring.?
Name me a form of art or theater that forces you or entices you to inject steroids into your body, Mr. Graham. Look down the list of plays performed on Broadway and find me one where halfway through the second act, an actor’s or actress? body is broken. Of all the Tony Award winning performers to grace the stage, did any of them need hip replacement due to their performance on said stage?
It can be completely understood how ?Superstar? Billy Graham accepted his role in professional wrestling as a job, it was what he needed to do to earn a living. For decades, he wrecked his body for us the fans. For years, he caused audiences of over 20,000 to leap from their seats in awe of his performance pieces.
But for one single moment of frustration and angst-filled spontaneity, he decided to symbolically annihilate it all? because he felt he was disrespected by the organization and its performers that he feels he inspired.
It’s true; the ring means nothing to Billy Graham. The gesture of throwing the ring away, however, means much more to the fans that you loved to entertain.