It began with my mom. She would stay up on a Saturday night watching the likes of Verne Gagne, hometown hero Da Crusher, Dick the Bruiser and the Vachon Brothers. Following that was “GLOW- Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” the forerunner to today’s “Total Divas.”
I am not embarrassed at all to report I watched wrestling and to this day, try to keep up on the latest in soap opera sports. To deny that professional wrestling is a big business is to deny the facts – it is a global empire. And the first family of pro wrestling is currently the McMahon family of World Wrestling Entertainment. Many of you reading this may have known this name, but it is unlikely that you know the family history.
Starting in 1952, the grandfather to the reigning emperor began Capital Wrestling Corp. Yes, wrestling is a family business for the McMahons, and the business was passed to Vince Sr., who ran the business until 1982, when Vince Jr. bought it. To make things even more interesting for our readers, Vince Jr. is married to the current administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Linda McMahon.
While you may dismiss this family as nothing but Hollywood and faux, it is a real business bringing in millions of dollars and is quite legitimate in the eyes of the federal government, if not your dubious eyes.
Recently, the patriarch Vince Jr. announced a new football league to rival the NFL. This is no stunt. It’s McMahon’s second try to launch a new pro football league, after the XFL in 2001. The timing might be right for him to try again. You may have noticed that the NFL has had some struggles recently and has seen slumping attendance and viewership to prove it. The cynic in me might say it is because my beloved Green Bay Packers were not in the playoffs, but I suspect the troubles began long before this. Head injuries, deflate-gate and a fellow named Colin (Kaepernick) all played a prominent role in the troubles of the NFL. Along comes Vince McMahon and the WWE, with a string of movie successes and stars like The Rock and John Cena. Bet against the WWE and XFL if you must, but my money is on the family.
The family business does not end with the current patriarch – it extends to the children, Shane and Stephanie, and Stephanie’s husband, Paul Levesque. To the more avid wrestling fan, you know Paul as his wrestling moniker, Triple H. Stephanie is the most frequently seen member of the family today and appears to be the keeper of the brand. Shane has wrestled, and if you follow the story line, has been exiled from the family firm. But, like all things in professional wrestling, he could return in the future or is active but behind the scenes.
Like all family businesses, this family has weathered serious challenges to the brand. Allegations of steroid use, suicides and even death in the ring have all plagued the business. In 2014, The Ultimate Warrior, who had beaten Hulk Hogan in Wrestlemania VI, died of a heart attack many believe was induced by years of steroid use. In 1999, in the most famous death in wrestling history, Owen Hart of the famous Hart Foundation family of wrestling died in an equipment malfunction, falling to the floor of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City. Today, the granddaughter of the original Hart wrestling patriarch, Natalya, is the reigning wrestling women’s champion – or at least she was when I wrote this. You know wrestling…
At a time when the first family – the Trump family – comes from the entertainment world, we would be better not to scoff at the entertainment empire started by and continued into the fourth generation by the McMahons. It is the McMahons who launched the political career of the former governor of Minnesota, Jesse “The Body” Ventura. I am quite sure none of us would have even heard of Ventura if it weren’t for the fact that he was a regular star on Vince McMahon’s WWE.
The McMahon family has gone from wrestling to entertainment, from football to the White House. How many of you can say that?
David Borst, Ed.D., is executive director and chief operating officer of the Family Business Legacy Institute, a regional resource hub for family businesses. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.