Former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts has some things to say about the Hall of Fame induction of Connor “The Crusher” Michalek. In face, he’s got a lot of things to say about WWE’s relationship with Connor in general. This is… a sticky subject, to say the least. Whatever angle you approach this from, the brass tacks of the situation should be that a dying boy got to live his pro wrestling dream, and a real family out there is going through some very real grief that will change them forever. Please remember that while reading this, and during the subsequent discussion.
Roberts released a piece titled “Believe Half of What You See and Portions of What You Hear.” During the course of this, he tells the story of his involvement with the Michalek family and WWE’s “retelling” of the situation:
This past weekend at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, they told a story. While using real life people and real stories, they did what they do best: they told a story and they didn’t let the facts get in the way.
Last year, just days before his unfortunate, sudden death, the legendary Ultimate Warrior suggested during his Hall of Fame induction speech that WWE should honor the hardworking people who work behind the scenes at the company. He spoke about those people who worked there: “Some of them for years, 20–25–30 years,” he continued, “To have a category in the Hall of Fame where you honor these people.” Unfortunately, the WWE track record shows that many people who work there and give their lives to the company for 20–30 years don’t get rewarded, they get released once they’ve been there for too long.
So rather than honor those people that you don’t see or hear about , who work hard to put on the shows that we all love, the company decided to tell a different story. This year, they spliced and spun the Warrior’s speech to make the award about “warriors” outside of the company, because that might make for a better story — and for better publicity.
They gave the award to my friend, Connor Michalek and I am very much ok with that, but I might be biased. Eight year-old Connor was a tough, witty, smart & lovable person. I met him in the crowd of the Pittsburgh Royal Rumble in January of 2014. He caught my eye as it looked like maybe he was going through some rough times.
Roberts says he’s fine with the decision WWE made because he has no problem with honoring “people who help people, soldiers, Special Olympians, warriors.” Roberts goes on to detail his personal involvement in helping Connor, coming up with ideas on what they could do to make him feel special, suggesting that he come to the ring while Roberts announced him, resulting in Connor pinning Triple H.
Roberts details the numerous things he set in motion, and what he tried to do for Connor. One of these things included a custom WWE video game entrance announcement for The Crusher, so he would have something special to look forward to when the next game he would play with his family was released.
While his brain cancer made everything challenging, Mondays were especially tough on the eight-year-old who I never once heard complain. He would go through hours of chemo and attempt to stay awake to watch RAW. At first I would send him pictures from ringside to show him what was happening during commercial breaks. Then I would Facetime him and show him the live video of what was going on in the ring. He felt like he was right there! After that, I realized that I could Facetime him during the day while everyone was hanging out at the arena for that night’s show.
I had a great relationship with the rest of the talent and they were very open to doing anything they could to help everyone out. I would walk around the arenas on Monday and ask various stars and even behind-the-scenes friends to say hi to my friend Connor on Facetime. Over the weeks, he established a friendship with all of these great people. Vickie Guerrero, Kane, The Bella Twins, Dolph Ziggler, Mark Henry, Ryback, Charles Robinson, New Age Outlaws, Big E, Mick Foley and Daniel Bryan. These were his heroes and he was quickly becoming theirs as he made friends with all of them. Mondays at the hospital weren’t fun, but his father told me how he looked forward to the call and always used that to help Connor get through the sessions. “Who do you think Justin will call with today?” he would ask. I was determined to prove the doctors (who were amazed that he was still walking around) wrong and I really started to think it was possible.
We all have our opinions of these people we see on TV each week, and read about online, and hang on our walls, and carry around with us in our pockets because people in pro wrestling give us the sense that they belong to us, and we therefore love or hate them on a very different level than most people in the public eye. One thing you can’t deny is that Connor brought out the very best in everyone he met. These people who give us the biggest, boldest versions of themselves possible gave a special piece of themselves to this little boy — a piece that nobody else got to have — and that’s incredible. That’s the best of the human spirit in action in one of the toughest, and at times most virulent entertainment industries out there.
But to Roberts, there is a darker side to the Hall of Fame gesture.
Stephanie told me that she wanted to put together an internal video for the employees of the company, to see the effect WWE has on people. The cameras recorded Connor at the arena, during WrestleMania and a producer would be calling me to discuss. I thought it was a great idea, even though I figured that it wasn’t just for the employees. I assumed it would make its way out to the public as well. I was ok with that; it was a beautiful story about making my friend happy. Connor and his interactions with the heroes who were helping him numb the pain, and all in the world of WWE. I just didn’t realize that when they retold this story, it was going to become just like those other reality-inspired storylines I mentioned earlier.
The next week came and went. The plan changed and only Stephanie and Daniel Bryan were interviewed. Stephanie was generous to Connor. Daniel was always good to him when they were face to face at the arenas. Daniel is a quality person and incredible performer. I feel bad that the company put him in a position where people on the outside might assume they were closer than they were.
When the video came out, I was surprised, maybe more surprised than I should have been, to discover that reality was not a part of the story. The company told the story the way they wanted it to be told. And then I remembered: that’s just what the company does — it tells stories. Maybe I experienced this one too personally to see it distorted, but it was not easy to take.
Roberts insinuates that these videos and the induction were a ploy to make the company look better than they are. As for the Hall of Fame induction, the figure given for funds raised for Connor’s Cure is $200k USD. A lot of people have raised eyebrows and questions about how almost a billion dollar company can name such a paltry figure by comparison when the foundation has been active for nine months, but it could also be argued that “funds raised” might not include personal and private donations from WWE, WWE partners, or WWE employees. Stephanie later tweeted this:
WWE told a version of the Ultimate Warrior’s story from last year. WWE told a version of Connor’s story. I just wish while telling stories, the company’s actions matched their words — they should actually care for the welfare of the people who actively care about the company and devote their lives to making it the best it can be. I wish instead of just paying for rehab of former talents, WWE would take care of the current talent who are on the road nonstop, with no breaks unless they are already injured. I wish they would appreciate those employees who have been there for years and helped them to grow, rather than fire them after they’ve been there “too long.” I watched the Hall of Fame and cried my eyes out. I bit my tongue and swallowed my pride for a long time, hoping everything stemmed from the kindness of their hearts. I thank all of the talent and employees who did and still do everything to help people, out of their kindness and not for business purposes. When I was reading Twitter this weekend, I felt like I was punched in the gut. Despite rewriting the story and using it to pat themselves on the back for being a standup organization, I wish Connor’s Cure and Connor’s induction into the Hall of Fame were driven by sincerity and not strategy.
Admittedly, Roberts linking to this tweet is a bit misleading, even if the statement he’s trying to make holds any truth. The quote is actually from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, saying that companies will be recognized more for the good they do, and not the advertising they put out. Realistically, that’s how it should be, but criticizing someone for spinning their story while also spinning your own is… maybe not great form.
The problem with this whole thing is that, while we can all point to something shady or uncomfortable about the way WWE has handled numerous situations, it’s hard to have an open discussion when it can also be taken as someone who wants credit they never got for the nice things they did. Using something that gave an inspirational little boy hope and comfort throughout an excruciatingly painful ordeal to point at the big bad company, who constantly re-writes their own history and distracts from their previous misdeeds instead of confronting them, in the view of the public doesn’t make anyone in this situation sympathetic. It’s sad. Everything about this is sad, and there was a light in this world that was put out too early, but at the end of the day, before Connor passed away, people did whatever they could to make the time he had left as special as possible.
Take Roberts’ account however you want it; we’re certainly not going to tell you how to feel. We will, however, leave the link to donate to Connor’s Cure and encourage you to think critically and clearly about the media you take in, as well as the opportunities you have to help those in need when you can.
WWE has contacted us directly, and wish to give the following statement:
“It is offensive to suggest that WWE and its executives had anything but altruistic intentions in honoring Connor and his legacy with The Warrior Award. In conjunction with Connor’s father, Connor’s Cure was established by Stephanie McMahon and Paul Levesque to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer, and to honor a boy that so many people within the WWE family came to love. The fund is managed by the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation and has already raised more than $200,000 for pediatric cancer research.
In addition, following the Ultimate Warrior’s impassioned Hall of Fame speech last year encouraging WWE to recognize its unsung heroes, the Warrior Award was established in his memory to honor those who exhibit unwavering strength and perseverance, and who live life with the courage and compassion that embodies the indomitable spirit of the Ultimate Warrior. With the full support and input of Ultimate Warrior’s widow, Dana Warrior, Connor Michalek was the first recipient of the Warrior Award, and moving forward the award will be given annually to acknowledge other unsung heroes among WWE’s employees and fans.
WWE is proud to use our global platforms to raise awareness for important social causes, including Connor’s Cure as well as our longstanding partnership with Make A Wish, our on-going partnership with Susan G. Komen, which has resulted in more than $1.5 million in funds raised, and our international partnership with Special Olympics.”