November 7, 1985. I was just two weeks past my ninth birthday when my Dad and I hopped in the car and headed north to the Rosemont Horizon for THE WRESTLING CLASSIC, a WWF pay-per-view event for the newly-launched WRESTLEVISION service. It was there that I witnessed some of the true “legends of wrestling” live and in-person… and I can still vividly recall those larger-than-life figures like The Iron Sheik (who entered with a giant Iranian flag), Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Miss Elizabeth, Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, the Junkyard Dog and Nikolai Volkoff, all flying from the ropes and hitting the mat hard. This was at that time when Sports Entertainment was really becoming a huge deal, and it was something that families would enjoy together, kids would discuss at school, and “Hulkamania” would become widespread while Hogan and others began appearing in cartoons, in movies, recording albums, and selling a ton of action figures. Nearly 20 years later, history is repeating itself… but on a little different level.
June 1, 2014. On a Sunday afternoon, my wife and I, along with our two girls headed south to the Allstate Arena… which used to be the Rosemont Horizon, for PAYBACK, a WWE pay-per-view event for the newly-launched WWE Network. It was there that my girls would get their first live-action experience from the WWE Superstars and Divas – but the circumstances were a little bit different. We’d been invited to attend PAYBACK by WWE.
THE ROCK FATHER had been called in for a sit-down by Stephanie McMahon of The Authority?
In the nearly three decades since I attended my first wrestling match, a lot is the same – but there’s a lot of things that have changed. WWE SLAM CITY is serving up animated online episodes based on a new line of toys from Mattel, WWE Studios is making a ton of new movies – including the forthcoming JINGLE ALL THE WAY 2 (more on that soon) – Superstars like John Cena are releasing albums, and there’s still a ton of action figures being sold. But WWE has moved into other areas as well, and has the company has grown, so has the responsibility to be mindful of their audience and give back to the communities in which that audience lives.
While she and her real-life husband, Paul “Triple H” Levesque play members of the villainous “Authority” during WWE’s ongoing scripted storyline, off-camera WWE is truly a family business. With Triple H serving as Executive Vice President of WWE, McMahon represents the fourth generation of her family to be involved in Sports Entertainment, and in her role as Chief Brand Officer, she spends a great deal of time working to further the WWE commitment to community and family. Above everything, Stephanie and Triple H are parents – balancing work with raising three young daughters.
Along with the families of a few other writers from the online “parenting” space, we were welcomed into the Allstate Arena for a special gathering. The kids mingled and played with a lot of new figures and playsets from Mattel’s SLAM CITY line, spinning-off to do some crafts and make some signs for their favorite Superstars. Addie was quick to start working on a sign for John Cena – someone she’s very familiar with through regular matches with her Tech4Kids Rumble Fists and Spar Bag. While my wife and the girls did their thing, I sat down with Stephanie and the other writers to talk a little bit about the initiatives that WWE is currently involved with.
WWE currently keeps all of their on-screen events PG-rated, and focuses on four pillars of community action:
- Diversity and Inclusion: To break down prejudices and promote a culture of fairness and respect through programs and initiatives that educate, enrich, and empower people to create a positive social environment for all, regardless of age, race, religion, sexual orientation, or physical ability.
- Education and Literacy: To champion issues and initiatives – including literacy – that make a difference in the lives of millions. In doing so, to turn awareness into action, inspiring new generations to better themselves and the world around them.
- Hope: To fulfill the dreams of those who need it most, by rallying the WWE Universe behind invaluable causes that bring hope to millions and uniting those battling life-threatening illnesses with their favorite WWE Superstars, proving that real strength lies in the power of hope.
- Military Support: To share our strength with the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces both at home and abroad through programs that boost morale for soldiers in the field, offer free entertainment for active military at home, and provide workforce assistance for veterans.
Building upon those four pillars, the WWE has been creating a series of partnerships and resources for parents, kids and teachers, such as the recently-wrapped WRESTLEMANIA Reading Challenge (which will return in 2015) and the Be a STAR program – an effort to stop bullying…
Founded by The Creative Coalition and WWE in April 2011. The mission of Be a STAR is to ensure a positive and equitable social environment for everyone regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation through grassroots efforts beginning with education and awareness. Be a STAR promotes positive methods of social interaction and encourages people to treat others as equals and with respect because everyone is a star in their own right.
A full curriculum is available free-of-charge to families and educators.
McMahon states that WWE wishes to “put smiles on faces,” and that’s certainly what happened for our family while attending PAYBACK. My girls got a special treat, with a visit from Superstar Alberto Del Rio, champion tag-team The Uso Brothers, manager Vickie Guerrero, and several stars from E!’s WWE TOTAL DIVAS, including Rosa Mendes, Nikki Bella, and The Funkadactyls – Cameron (Ariane Andrew) and Naomi (Trinity). Check out some photos from my Instagram feed below…
Addie learns the “Diva” pose from Rosa Mendes:
Little Finley does some arts & crafts with Cameron:
Addie really hit it off with Jimmy and Jey – The Usos:
And the show itself…