Are WWE Right To Release Owen Tribute?

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Owen Hart

Last week, on what would have been Owen Hart's 50th birthday, it was announced that WWE were working on a biographical Blu-ray and DVD tribute. Whilst many rejoiced in what is seen as a long overdue memorial to the life and career of a much-loved wrestling superstar, his widow Martha quickly moved to oppose the project publicly. She made the following statement to WrestlingDVDNews.com, who originally broke the story and at the time believed Martha to be in support of the forthcoming release:

“My children and I were unaware of this project until May 7, when it was brought to our attention by a friend who had read about it online. Contrary to your report, we do not back or support it in any way, nor has WWE requested our backing or support. From what little we know of the project, it seems to be another attempt to exploit Owen’s memory, and his tragic death, for commercial gain. We have resisted that kind of initiative for almost 16 years. If WWE really wanted to honor Owen’s legacy, it would just let him rest in peace.”

So the question now is should WWE respect the wishes of his widow, or do they have the right to continue as planned and release a DVD to honour Owen Hart?

The death of Owen was one of the biggest tragedies in the history of professional wrestling and shook the business to its very core in 1999. Wrestling is a business where people dying far younger than they should is sadly not uncommon and many talented people have been taken from us far too soon. But this was different, this was not a case of too much too young, a tale like many before him of a man destroyed by a life of alcohol and drug abuse. The only thing Owen was notorious for, apart from being a serial prankster, was being extremely frugal with his money and going to bed early in the cheapest accomodation he had managed to find.

Depending on their age some people talk about where they were when JFK was assassinated, others when Princess Diana died and other people when 9/11 happened. Anyone who like me was watching the live broadcast of the "Over The Edge" PPV will never forget JR announcing that he had died. The subsequent episode of Raw, dubbed "Raw Is Owen" was one of the most memorable and unique two hours of television I had ever seen. I had never seen superstars breaking kayfabe in such a way before. Owen's on screen enemies breaking down in tears, the toughest guys in the world as far as I was concerned weeping and sharing "real life" anecdotes and memories. That show at the time caused a great deal of controversy, but then it did come just hours after the event and it was a time of great emotion and anger for those affected.

Bret Hart was still carrying around a lot of anger towards WWE from the infamous "Montreal Screw Job" but has now buried the hatchet with Vince McMahon and publicly forgiven him not only for that but also for Owen's death. Bret has stated that he has accepted it was a pure accident and as heartbreaking as the tragedy was for him he does not bear a grudge. Last year he criticised Martha, who has become seperated from most of the Hart family, and made the following comments in an interview:

"I hate that Owen's widow has done so much to erase his memory and not keep his memory alive, I find that is an insult to him and his family and all the great things he did for the fans who remember him.....I want to bring as much of Owen back to life for wrestling fans and let them remember what a great person he was and what a great performer he was, and how much fun he was as a wrestler.....there must be troves of video and film of Owen doing things on tour, these are all in a can somewhere and no one is seeing them and I really think that they need to revive the great memories of what Owen did before it's too far gone, the fans that remember him start to die. It is just awful how Martha erased everything he has done."

Martha accuses WWE of doing this for commercial gain, but is that a reasonable statement? In 2014 there were 30 WWE DVD and Blu-ray releases which brought in $27.3 million in revenue, not profit, so a release will bring in an average of $910,000 revenue. I would expect this, as has been the case with PPV buys, to decrease this year as Network subscribers increase. This figure is the same amount that would be raised by 91,091 new WWE Network subscribers paying $9.99 for one month, so it is not an astronomical amount in the grand scheme of things. Given these figures I think it is a harsh accusation and underestimates the genuine love people within the company have for Owen. I haven't seen it since the night it was first broadcast but I can still recall that during "Raw Is Owen" Triple H breaking down in tears and he adopted the nickname "The Game" as a tribute to Owen (it was originally going to be used by him).

Since Owen's death WWE have settled the wrongful death lawsuit launched by Martha in 2000 for a figure in the region of $18 million. A royalties lawsuit was also settled in 2013. I fully respect Martha's right to free speech, her right to her opinions and her right to publicly air her views. It will of course not bring back Owen but given that these matters have been resolved I would like to think that now, despite her ill-feeling towards WWE, she would understand that Owen deserves to be remembered and his memory honoured not only with a DVD but with his rightful place in the Hall Of Fame.

Owen Hart was an excellent worker and the opening match of WrestleMania X against his brother Bret was a classic and a wrestling purists dream. In 1996 and 1997 he was part of possibly the best Tag Team in the world with his cousin Davey Boy Smith. It would be a shame if those who remember Owen fondly couldn't have their memories and those yet to discover him denied the opportunity to do so. One thing that we have learnt from Bret and The Ultimate Warrior is the overwhelming power forgiveness can have and I hope Martha one day finds her peace.

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