NWA needs to take action, responsibility for Jim Cornette’s remarks airing

Independent Wrestling (Photo credit should read JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Independent Wrestling (Photo credit should read JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP/Getty Images) /

The National Wrestling Alliance, NWA, has become difficult to trust after airing Jim Cornette’s racist remarks on their show and mishandling his exit from the company.

The term “progressive” has always bothered me.  It suggests that going from wrong to right is a process, and not a stance that can be realized and carried out right away.  We don’t have to put our hands on a lit stove 5 times to know it burns. We have the information from the first mistake, and in most cases, we fix the situation right way.

The National Wrestling Alliance seems to want to test the limits of their nerve endings, and it’s not  clear why.

I’m a 33-year-old wrestling fan. My earliest memories are WWF Superstars and WCW Saturday Night. NWA Powerrr has more in common with the latter, but harkens back to a time before my fandom. A studio show in front of an audience the size of a TGIF taping, complete with genuine reactions, clear-as-day audience chants and commentary, and the talent addressing who they see – both in promos and in-ring action.

It’s quite beautiful, in that you know you’re watching an old formula, but in the highest of definition, with the clearest of mics.  Nick Aldis is a proper “throwback” champion, in the vein of the Flairs, Races. Their women’s division doesn’t have two women that look – or move – alike, making it pound for pound one of the best in televised (streamed) wrestling.  Colt Cabana continues to be a top tier “sports entertainer”, and newer acts like Ricky Starks channel some Rick Rude with a touch of Rocky Johnson, meshing old cool with new cool. This type of “old school” is as close as I’d want to get to a time machine as a Black man in America.

The myth of “a different time”

This is where the issues start.  NWA Powerrr wants to appeal to the “essence” of wrestling, while pretending the essence wasn’t a bunch of old white guy’s views on the people they didn’t allow to sit at their table. Powerrr is somehow a joy to watch, and a pain to endure.

We’ve just reached the 20th anniversary of the Triple H/Stephanie McMahon Vegas wedding, where it’s heavily implied (prior to further storytelling) that Triple H took advantage of a drugged Stephanie to marry her and more.

This was in 1999, which was essentially the wild west in wrestling television, and WWE were trying to see far they could push the envelope with sex, violence and language. So in 2019, NWA Powerrr’s deeper than deep “commercials” for fake business and products, it’s Nov. 19 episode, features an Austin Idol promoting ‘Kayfabe Cocktail’, which has the following description:

"“It’s a Friday night, you’re sitting all alone. You know that good-looking chick that lives next door. And how do we get together to get it on? Kayfabe cocktail”"

Implying inebriated sexual contact was tasteless in 1999, but that was kind of the point.  That’s absolutely not an excuse, but I can’t speak to a segment that aired when I was 13 the same way I can speak to it in at 33.  My experiences with people, sex, and agency are totally different. So when the common wrestling fan claim of “why weren’t you mad when (defunct or renamed wrestling company) did this?”  pops up, my retort is “if you were an adult when it happened, why weren’t you?”

The only reason there was a place for Trish Stratus dog barks and bra and panties matches is because people who know right from wrong didn’t have Twitter or Reddit or a camera on their phone to speak on it, and now that this has changed, the people who find that type of thing interesting at their big ages can only use a statute of moral limitations to argue against it.

Cornette’s racist “joke”

The leads to the largest example of NWA’s failure to serve both their fans and their employees.  On the previously mentioned Nov. 19 episode, Trevor Murdoch, after a good back and forth, wrestles Nick Aldis in a non-title match.  Murdoch, in both look, build, and kayfabe namesake, is billed as tougher than tough. There are a million ways to express this. Jim Cornette, head announcer of NWA Powerrr, used this analogy to explain his interpretation of Trevor Murdoch’s grit:

"“Trevor Murdoch is mad, bad and dangerous. He’s the only man I know that can strap a bucket of fried chicken on his back and ride a motor scooter across Ethiopia.”"

I’m not sure of the larger issue:  the content of this quote, or the idea that it can be read more than one way.  It’s possible that I can speak to responses better than anyone, as I was the first (but certainly not only) to pull this video clip from the show, and post it on Twitter.  My mentions ranged from “how could he say such a thing?” to “how is this racist?”.

Without delving into a history lesson, let’s talk about the things that we know. Ethiopians are Black, and white people in America have joked about Black people having a genetic predisposition to fried chicken for generations.  So to tell a joke with that content, as ANYONE, let alone a white man with no actual ties to that country or those people, coupled a reference to 1.2 million Ethiopians dying from famine and suggesting that they’d steal from a white man, is disgusting. You can absolutely argue that and I’ll absolutely ignore it, because everything doesn’t have two sides.

The problems go beyond Cornette

I don’t find Jim Cornette to be entertaining, or particularly bright, or insightful.  Cornette has been fired from more jobs than most of us have ever had. He’s had overtly bigoted, racist, and sexist remarks while defending them with the vibranuim shield of voting blue.  His commentary on Sonny Kiss and his tweets about Jordynne Grace highlight what type of time he’s on. He’s threatened the lives of people I care about, wished evil on some of my biggest influences, and is an all-around terrible person.  I say all this to say there’s really no reason Cornette should have lost his job, or even apologized for his language. Cornette isn’t absolved of his faults, but what happened here was above him.

NWA Powerrr is a show taped weeks in advance from airing that is made for a non-commercial viewing experience.  While many people are associated with the company, Billy Corgan is the company’s owner and it’s public face. Without knowing the exact process or how many other people may assist, Dave Lagana serves as both Executive Producer at the TV tapings and the editor of the final product we see on YouTube.   If Aaron Stevens, who wrestles in trunks, was exposed a la Shawn Michaels, WrestleMania X, it would be edited out, and Aaron Stevens, even if he was in on it as a joke, wouldn’t face backlash. It’s a clear example of something you wouldn’t put out in that it doesn’t fit your tone, format, and would subject you to backlash.  It’s entirely possible that Dave Lagana missed – or saw no issue with – a joke about famine and lowest-common-denominator racial standards and beliefs. But when he ultimately controls the entirety of what we see and hear, I can’t assign blame to a man that was hired, knowing his entire history of “tell it like it is” controversy and outright defiance of what’s acceptable.

If Cornette said, word for word, what he said about Sonny Kiss (“Then here comes Sonny Kiss who apparently got off his day job at the drag-show at the f**king Tropicana. They’re not explaining any of this… The t——– or exotico as they would say at AAA,”)  you’d never hear it. It’s possible because that’s already caused issue, but it wouldn’t have been heard in November. It’s not as if Cornette was speaking in some code unfamiliar to Lagana; the words were plain.  Lagana himself, an Emerson College alum, is not from a generation that doesn’t understand standards, or resigns all “old jokes” to “a different time”.  Cornette said something racist, classist and really just gross that never should have seen the light of day, which I’m sure happens early and often from wrestling commentators on taped programming.

NWA botched the fallout

The fallout from this incident is more of an issue than the joke itself.  The initial response from the NWA was to pull the episode, which while late, is the right move.  Then came the statement regarding the adjustment:

“Some viewers found offensive” and “deeply regret the error” can’t exist in the same space, but once more, I consider someone like Lagana, with a pulse on society, to understand the issue with putting two contradicting terms so close to one another. “Some viewers” is how you widen the gap between people who want an alternative to WWE because of issues like sexism and racism, and the people who don’t want to be told what’s acceptable entertainment.  A schism between a fresh fanbase could have been easily avoided, but this created a public minority where one didn’t need to exist. This was followed by an edited version muting the audio the next day, which was the right move, but to say it was less than 100% wrong is to say there’s some right to it, and with a company with VERY FEW checks and balances, you start to ponder on the values of those in charge.

Some will say Jim Cornette was fired.  Some will say Jim Cornette resigned. If you weren’t in the meeting, it’s hard to say exactly what happened.  It’s wrestling. Even the closed doors are a contained space with smoke and mirrors. If the common belief is that “Jim was asked to apologize or resign”, then in my estimation it was a firing.  To ask a man that has cultivated his fanbase by NEVER backing down, even when proven wrong, to accept error or lose standing? You knew the result before you wrote up the hypothesis. It was unfair to blame a non-editor for an editing issue when all of the problems they bring to the table are damn near the highlights of their resume.

Cornette indeed made an error, and that error was followed by four larger ones.  The first was not editing his commentary. The second was half heartedly apologizing for said error.  The third was pushing out the person with the least amount of control over the error. The fourth, and most egregious, encapsulates the inept producing that has any of this in the wrestling news space.  At the close of the Dec. 3 episode of NWA Powerrr, behind a bittersweet soundtrack, announcer Joe Galli signed off Season 1 with this epilogue:

"“What an amazing moment here on NWA Powerrr. The Rock n’ Roll Express becoming nine-time champions with Jim Cornette getting into the ring to celebrate with them.  So at this moment we’d like to acknowledge Jim Cornette not only for his time he spent here as our color commentator, but also for his support of the National Wrestling Alliance.  On behalf of myself, and everyone here, thank you Jim.”"

After having to pull an episode, which affects streaming numbers and monetization, blaming Cornette primarily for the mishap, and either letting him go or pushing him into walking away to satisfy fans/sponsors/other talent that may have been affected, the move is not to celebrate the man as if he passed away and promote the hashtag #ThankYouJim.  You’re making one of those parties out to be an idiot, and leaving it open as to who should feel their issues aren’t being addressed.

Next. Celebrating 3 years of 205 Live. dark

NWA has been tone-deaf at best and willfully encouraging bigotry at worst. You want to believe the former, but with Corgan’s ties to Infowars and some questionable retweets (which were unretweeted) from Lagana, it’s hard to know which way to read this.  But if a return to the “old school” comes with all of the sexist, racist, and otherwise hateful trappings of that, it’s re-education that doesn’t have a place in today’s wrestling. Here’s hoping that Season 2 of NWA Powerrr puts more people who look like the talent in managerial and production roles so that this tribute to what’s old can thrive as what’s new.