As we watch the NFL squirm on the heels of allegations against players Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened to wrestlers back during the heydays of the WWE had the Internet been more prominent and TMZ had been on the prowl.
When I saw the video of Ray Rice cold-cocking this then fiance in an elevator, my mind went back to the story of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and his on-the-road-girlfriend, Nancy Argentino. Argentino died in May 1983 under mysterious circumstances, and whether you believe Snuka was involved, there seems to be little doubt that the WWF did its best to keep that incident quiet from the public for a long time.
Let’s suppose Internet news organizations had existed 30 years ago. When Argentino died while traveling with Snuka, it would have made national news, and it’s likely Snuka would have been at least labeled as a suspect. The WWF might have been forced to suspend or even fire Snuka, months before his famous cage match with Magnificent Muraco in October 1983.
In other words, had the web covered the Argentino death in 1983, it would have changed wrestling history.
I’m sure many of the superstars of the 1980s — traveling a grueling road schedule and partying hard with cocaine and other drugs — would have been ripe for the Internet paparazzi if social media was alive and well back then. Think of the wrestlers who today admit they snorted lines in the ’80s — would their careers have survived the glare of the Internet? Probably not.
On the tail end of the attitude era in 2002, Stone Cold Steve Austin was arrested for allegedly slapping around then-wife Debra Marshall, who herself at one time was in star in the WWE. Sure, Austin’s case got some media play, and he ended retiring less than two years later due to nagging injuries, but if TMZ has publicized the alleged incident, would Austin have remained as marketable as he is today?
I feel the Rice and Peterson coverage is a warning to all modern wrestlers that they are one eyewitness, snapshot, or video clip away from career extinction if they choose to brutalize another person. Rice is done, and Peterson will probably be gone this week, too. Sooner or later, a wrestler is going down under similar circumstances.