As a wrestling fan, I see how often the question is asked. Almost annually (especially as we head to Wrestlemania season), Owen Hart’s induction is asked with no hope of a positive outcome, and we know it’s because his widow Martha Hart won’t allow it. We’ve seen wrestlers like his brother Bret Hart, and friend Mark Henry, plead to let it happen, yet she remains steadfast. Is she wrong to block it? Or does she have every right? This is what I’d like to discuss today.
Entitlement: Fans are so used to getting their own way in the end. Sammartino? He got in. Backlund? In. Scott Hall & Jake Roberts? Both in. Warrior? Yep. Jarrett? We never expected that! Yet we got it. I believe the old phrase “anything can happen in WWE” has brought about a sense of entitlement. We keep asking questions, when we don’t know the reality behind the answers to these questions.
As a fan, it’s easy to say someone should be inducted, but as Triple H’s said before, it can’t always be so simple. A lot goes in to each induction, and the motivation behind them blocks Owen’s induction more than anything else (more on that later). WWE’s had many quality inductions, but they’ve also had a few controversial ones. For me personally? Celebrity inductions are a big no-no, as it cheapens the Hall Of Fame and shows anyone can be inducted so long as they’re a big enough name.
There’s many wrestlers in the history books who deserve it more than Arnold Schwarzenegger, Drew Carey or Kid Rock combined. What makes Owen’s exclusion harder to digest? There’s more emphasis due to us knowing why, and who, is not allowing it to go ahead. Have you noticed how people don’t get as upset over Bam Bam Bigelow, British Bulldog or Dynamite Kid? It’s because we don’t know why, and there’s no one to direct our frustrations at.
Charity: In December 2000, Martha opened up the charity named the Owen Hart Foundation. Over the years, she helped to raise millions of dollars towards University/College scholarships for children, as well as housing for low-income families. Every year she sets up an event to raise money, and from 2004, included a celebrity guest star. Some (but not all) of these stars included Neil Sedaka, Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld, Ringo Starr, Russell Brand and Robin Williams; this year it will be Alec Baldwin. In 2017 she stated she was happy to have created such a successful charity in his name, one that she believes he’d be proud of, as getting a good education, was something they’d always believed to be important.
Lawsuits: After Owen’s death, Martha filed a death lawsuit against WWE which was settled for $18 million. She used most of the money to open the Owen Hart Foundation, and gave 2 million to his parents. She quickly distanced herself from the Hart family as most of them sided with WWE despite the death of her husband being their fault.
Her sister-in-law Diana Hart published a book which came across as slanderous and libelous. Martha had it removed from stores, and a sum of money was donated to the charity by the publishers after an apology. In 2010, WWE sold Owen Hart DVDs with family material not accepted by Martha. She also claimed WWE did not pay the family royalties, and were being deceptive in their business practices. Two years later, a judge agreed that WWE were in trouble for copyright infringement (for the material), and breach of contract for not paying royalties. A year later, the case was settled between both parties.
Profiteering: Despite being frowned upon by Martha, WWE went ahead and released the Hart Of Gold DVD in 2015. There were no lawsuits, as WWE did a good job of only including content they could legally use. Some tributes were added, but nothing too personal was included. While it was great for fans to get a collection of Owen at long last, reviews noted it was missing a few things about his life, likely due to WWE being cautious of including anything which would be infringing.
It’s not the first time WWE’s made money from their talents demise. Luckily for Eddie Guerrero and Ultimate Warrior fans, their widows were very cooperative in allowing their names to be used. WWE used Eddie’s name as part of the show for years after his passing, and Warrior has the “Warrior Award” for special, everyday people for overcoming life threatening illnesses. When Jerry Lawler almost died at a show, they made t-shirts .. and Lawler was happy to plug them as they had his consent; he even went as far to joke about it while wearing one on-air. WWE are willing to profit off anything, so long as it does not result in backlash.
Induction Equals Money: Ultimately what the Hall of Fame is .. is a show first, and a tribute event second. Sports Hall of Fames don’t make big deals out of inductions (usually), and as a fan, you can visit them at your leisure. You can physically visit the honoured with plenty of statues and memorabilia. WWE doesn’t have that, in fact, you can’t visit their Hall of Fame unless you read their list posted on WWE.com. You can’t look back at the inductees careers unless you buy the WWE Network, or traverse the internet for YouTube/Dailymotion videos. In recent years, they added “Legacy” inductees, which to put it bluntly .. are names they should’ve inducted decades ago, but there was no profit (or anyone to contact) to be had as their names had faded from memory.
They don’t want to make a show which will cost them, so they charge fans to watch (tickets/network only). Notice how they always have one BIG name? Like last year it was Goldberg, and the year before it was Kurt Angle? They’re the big draws. For example, if WWE didn’t care about making money, they could’ve inducted Angle, Sting, and Goldberg together, instead of spreading them out. Notice also, how they don’t like too many inductees? That’s because they want to keep doing the shows every year, and if you induct too many .. they’ll have no one left the following year. Bottom line is, the Hall of Fame is a place to remember legends, but it’s not an entirely unselfish practice. WWE are definitely making some money from running them .. or they’d do it behind closed doors with talent and their families/friends like other ceremonies.
A Mother’s Principles: This is where I get in to the reasons Martha won’t allow a WWE HOF induction for her late husband. The most obvious reason is WWE killed her husband due to gross negligence, and while many fans would love to remember him, she doesn’t want WWE to profit in any fashion from his death. I can understand that .. why would you want WWE to gain anything from inducting him? You wouldn’t. No one would.
The last section went in to the WWE Hall Of Fame show and what it’s about. It’s exactly what Martha doesn’t want, she knows WWE would make money from her husband if she agreed to his induction. She stated that Owen never really cared about an induction, and if anything, he’d be more proud of the charity. Now, if we were to somehow find a way of making it happen .. such as, donating any and all profits of the induction to the Owen Hart Foundation, that would be acceptable right? Sorry but no, it wouldn’t be enough.
You might be confused, and perhaps asking .. how is WWE gaining if any and all profits go to charity? Because it’s not a matter of money, it’s about reputation and forgiveness. Martha agreeing to an induction tells the world “the family forgives”, which in itself is a big boost to their reputation. If WWE is able to accidentally kill a husband & father and make it up with the widow in the end .. what can stop them in the future? Seriously guys, there’s a line, and WWE crossed the line in 1999. They’re never coming back, they’ll always be across the line as far as Martha and her kids are concerned. It was WWE’s fault he was taken so abruptly, and no amount of money, no amount of praise or adulation, is going to bring back the years they lost with him.
He’s priceless, and by inducting him in to the Hall of Fame .. you not only say the family forgives WWE for its negligence, you put a price tag on his career. A price tag which never needs to be known, because the biggest thing to come from his death are the millions of dollars raised by the Owen Hart Foundation. The money going towards the charity, some of it would find its way in to WWE’s pockets .. which in turn, would likely end up funding crazy projects like the XFL or a certain individuals political campaign. In other words, Martha is saving his legacy by ensuring it doesn’t fall in to the hands of a company which we know would sell a Jerry Lawler almost died shirt .. so long as they know there’s no backlash.
“Erasing From History”: While Mark Henry did the classy thing of asking in a heartfelt manner, Bret Hart and WWE fans have done nothing but the opposite for the longest time. They feel entitled, like they NEED Owen to be inducted, like it’s a disaster he’s not in there. Martha’s been painted in a negative light for many years, because she kept quiet while those in the industry called her names like obtuse and square-headed. C’mon Bret .. you can’t build bridges by insulting the person who controls the building site! And the same goes for fans, they want it so much they don’t care if they target Martha with words like “selfish b***h”. They only do that because she’s someone they can target .. she’s someone they can vent their frustration on, instead of trying to understand what it’s like from the other side.
And let’s be honest here, it’s not like being in the WWE Hall of Fame is a massive deal. Look at who’s in there .. we could argue all day long about the celebrities and other clearly biased inductions. If this was a true wrestling Hall of Fame, half the names wouldn’t be there, while pioneers like Lou Thesz and anyone who got left out (due to being NWA/WCW/AWA/Japan legends) would’ve had proper inductions. Owen not being there? It’s not a big deal. Even if he’s never inducted, it’s not something to be upset about. Can we not remember Owen without an induction? What makes it necessary for us to remember him? Honestly, any true fans would remember him in their own way.
And for anyone thinking callously “OK! We’ll just wait til Martha dies and he’ll be inducted then!” .. don’t hold your breath. Do you honestly think Martha’s children will go against something she fought against for decades? Do you honestly believe their children didn’t grow up seeing everything? What makes you think they’ll magically change their minds? Don’t think like that .. it’s selfish, and it’s hoping someone dies so you can see something which doesn’t need to happen.
In Closing: For the longest time I didn’t try to understand Martha’s point-of-view. I respected it of course, but I didn’t understand it because I didn’t know her feelings. Recently, when Bret made comments about Owen’s exclusion, which included him resorting to calling her names .. she fired back with a statement of her own. It’s been reported already, but I should share it to close this out, just because I think she talks a lot of sense.
I respect what she’s done in Owen’s memory, and I hope she continues to make millions for the less fortunate. I might be in the minority here, but I don’t want to see Owen inducted. Well .. I do, but the only time I’d like to see it is on Martha’s terms, in her own time. And if it never happens? So be it. I’ll never forget Owen, because he was ahead of his time. He was bound to be a WWE Champion. And no matter what happens, he will always be a champion to me, his legacy will never need WWE so long as the fans remember him in their own way. Please, let’s respect his family and applaud the efforts of the Owen Hart Foundation, which continues to raise money for the less fortunate almost two decades after his passing. Owen was inducted in to our hearts a long time ago .. isn’t that enough? Enough is enough .. it’s time for a change. Thanks for reading everyone!
CALGARY, Alberta, July 11, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE)
Dr. J. Martha Hart, PhD
The suggestion by Bret Hart that I am “erasing” the memory of my late husband, Owen Hart, is reckless, irresponsible, and clearly untrue. Bret’s comments are rooted in the fact that I have steadfastly refused to work with the WWE to exploit Owen’s image for commercial gain. Owen was an incredible entertainer and I know that his many fans around the world enjoyed his wrestling career immensely. I encourage them to continue to do so. But I am firm in my belief that the WWE was responsible for Owen’s death.
As a result, I cannot and will not support any efforts by the WWE to profit from Owen’s memory. Instead, I, my son Oje and daughter Athena have worked tirelessly to honor Owen through the good works of The Owen Hart Foundation, which has exceeded $4 million in gift giving and contributions toward scholarships, home owner bursaries, and other special projects that have greatly improved the lives of so many in Canada and around the world.
We have always believed that this is the most fitting public tribute to a man of profound integrity; a wonderful human being who just happened to wrestle. I know that Owen would be very proud of the tremendous accomplishments the Foundation has achieved in his name. Bret Hart’s comments are disrespectful and cruel.
It is disappointing that so many in the media have chosen to report them without seeking my perspective. Whatever Bret may believe, the fact is that, far from “erasing” Owen’s memory, I have devoted the last 20 years to celebrating his life in a very public way. I can think of very few people who have been remembered so glowingly by their spouse.