The decision is in and it’s sure to cause a debate. WWE confirmed to KDKA-TV, the CBS affiliate out of Pittsburgh, they will include WWF Over the Edge 1999, the event in which Owen Hart lost his life on, on the WWE Network. The show will be included in edited form out of respect for Owen. WWE issued the following statement to the Pittsburgh news station:
“WWE Network will be airing the 1999 Over The Edge pay-per-view. However, portions of the event will be edited out of respect for Owen Hart.”
For those unaware, the night was May 23, 1999 in Kansas City, Missouri when Owen, dressed in his Blue Blazer gimmick, was to make a superhero-like ring entrance where he would descend from the Kemper Arena rafters into the ring. However, the harness line malfunctioned and he fell more than 70 feet into the ring and died.
A pre-recorded interview video was being shown at the time of the accident to pay-per-view viewers but the crowd of 16,472 saw it happen live. Jim Ross was faced with the daunting task of informing viewers of the accident, trying the best he could to explain what just happened in the ring was real and not part of the show.
The show was stopped for 15 minutes as CPR was performed on Owen in the ring but he was taken out and the event was resumed. About an hour after the event was restarted, JR informed pay-per-view viewers that Owen Hart had died at age 34. The announcement was not made to the live audience.
Vince McMahon and the then World Wrestling Federation endured sharp criticism for restarting the show after what happened. Owen’s brother, WWE Hall of Famer Bret Hart, responded in a column published in the May 31, 1999 issue of the Calgary Sun, writing, “Shame on you, Vince McMahon.” Bret also blasted the company’s “Raw is Owen” tribute show that aired on the USA Network the following night, writing the show “reeked of disrespect.” He continued, “Yes, the so-called tribute where afterward wrestlers point to their crotches and say: ‘Suck it!’ It makes me nauseous.”
The Hart family sued WWE over the incident, in which the company settled out of court for $18 million.
WWF Over the Edge 1999 was never released commercially on DVD or VHS and scheduled encore showings on pay-per-view were canceled. Nearly 15 years later and WWE has decided to re-release the show, minus the accident, on the WWE Network for fans to watch on-demand.
Shortly after confirming that WWE would in fact include Over the Edge 1999 on the upcoming WWE Network, I took to my social media accounts to immediately express my displeasure over the show’s inclusion. My argument is short, simple and to the point.
Including WWF Over the Edge 1999 on the WWE Network, even in edited form, gives the impression that money is more important than human life. It suggests a contrived pro wrestling match or storyline supersedes a horrific real-life tragedy. Any attempt to use Over the Edge 1999 to make a profit is a deplorable action.
As with any hot-button issue, this sent the opposition into a frenzy.
Some pointed towards Chris Benoit, asking if I thought his matches should be exempt from the WWE Network. I’ll first note the fact we’re putting Owen and Benoit in the same sentence is disgusting in its own right. However, Owen Hart died in the ring on a show. There’s a big difference comparing what happened with him to Benoit or any other wrestling tragedy.
The next argument was, no one is forcing you to watch it, you can’t remove it from history just because what happened was bad. This argument makes a good point. No one is forcing me to watch it and just because something tragic happened doesn’t erase it from history. I agree with that. However, including Over the Edge ’99 on the WWE Network means the show will be used in a commercial form and WWE will profit from it. Again, the message of money over human life is wrong.
One person suggested that WWE was looking to provide context to Undertaker’s WWF Championship reign (he won the title in the Over the Edge 1999 main event from Steve Austin) while another stated “it was a good PPV.” These arguments suggest that contrived storylines and matches are more important than human life. I don’t care if the show was straight five star matches, it doesn’t change the fact human life was lost. A human life is more important than a storyline or match.
Another argument referenced WWE advertising that “all WWE, WCW and ECW pay-per-views” will be available on the WWE Network. I believe an exception is in order. The message WWE would send by not including WWF Over the Edge 1999 would be stronger than any claim of “false advertising.” The opportunity could be used to take a strong stand that honoring Owen Hart is more important. One idea I suggested is WWE get with Bret Hart and remaster 3 hours of Owen Hart’s best matches and promos and air them in place of the show. How many fans would complain when they went to watch the show and were greeted with a beautiful 3-hour tribute?
All and all choosing to include WWF Over the Edge 1999, even in edited form, on the WWE Network is deplorable. The message it sends is the wrong one. History cannot be erased no matter how ugly but instead of simply “erasing the pay-per-view,” a strong effort should be made to remember the great Owen Hart. Under no circumstance should a show where someone lost their life be used in commercial form. It’s not only in poor taste but it’s bad for business.