This week I want to share with you an opinion I find fascinating and stupid. The case is Massey v. Jim Crockett Promotions, Inc., 400 S.E.2d 876 (1990).
The case is fascinating because it is a court case involving pro wrestling that actually made its way to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.* One can only imagine the rumblings in the heads of the justices about career paths when the record in this case hit their desks.
It’s stupid because the case never should have gone to trial. This is the kind of situation promoters feared, because one question they’d inevitably get asked under oath was certainly, “Are the outcomes of the matches at your events pre-determined?”** It all could’ve been avoided if Crockett Promotions paid Roy Massey’s hospital bills after Lane knocked a disabled coal miner out.
Lane would admit later in a 2001 interview he shelled out $450,000 to Massey the night before the case would go to trial. He claims it was to avoid losing $6 million or more, but it’s just as likely he didn’t want to get asked whether pro wrestling was fake under oath.
One more detail of note, before we dive into a few important case facts. This incident took place in 1987, two years after “Dr. D.” David Schultz slapped John Stossel for asking him if pro wrestling was fake and ten years before Vince McMahon would completely expose the business by introducing the world to “sports entertainment.”
Protecting the legitimacy of professional wrestling came above all else to guys like Bobby Eaton, Stan Lane, Jim Cornette, and Jim Crockett. If everyone hated the Midnight Express and paid good money to watch them get their asses kicked, then all the participants took home a nice paycheck.
With the stage set, let’s set the Wayback Machine to May 29, 1987 and the town of Beckley, West Virginia. That night, Roy Massey attended a wrestling exhibition presented by Jim Crockett Promotions featuring a main event tag team match between Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, “The Rock & Roll Express” and “The Midnight Express,” comprised of “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton, “Sweet” Stan Lane, and their villainous manager, Jim Cornette.
The Rock and Roll Express won the day, and exited the ring accompanied by security. The Midnight Express waited in the ring with their manager for security’s return. With no protection in sight, the Beckley crowd decided to exact a little country justice on the Midnight Express.
Someone threw an aisle marker, which was essentially a sign, into the ring, striking Bobby Eaton between the neck and shoulder. Stan Lane turned around and determined Roy Massey threw the sign. Lane left the ring and dropped Massey with a punch, fracturing Mr. Massey’s left orbital socket and hospitalizing the coal miner for days.
Massey sued Freedom Security, The Midnight Express, Jim Cornette, and Crockett Promotions on a negligence theory, asserting the parties in question had a duty to protect invited individuals from injury inflicted by other persons on the premises.
The case made its way to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, which found several material questions of fact existed for a jury to decide, including whether there were sufficient security present to control an angry crowd provoked and incited by wrestlers and their managers, and whether “it was in the course of ‘Sweet Stan’s’ employment with Crockett Promotions to provoke and incite the spectators at the wrestling exhibition.”
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals reversed the grants of summary judgment and remanded the proceedings back to the Circuit Court of Raleigh County, West Virginia.
Here are my questions after musing over this case for a week.
- Was this reversal and remand the justices’ way of getting even with a Raleigh County Circuit Court Judge for helping a case about pro wrestling reach their chambers?
- Which of the five justices drew the short straw and had to write the opinion?
- Did the Raleigh County Circuit Court Judge make a solemn oath to urinate on the graves of the then-five sitting justices for making him actually take this case to court?
- Endnotes eight and nine of the opinion directly mention there was evidence the Midnight Express were there to provoke and incite the crowd as part of their performance. Mr. Massey testified Jim Cornette hit a member of the Rock and Roll Express with a tennis racket during the match, and that the booing crowd threw “general refuse” at the team. A security guard testified during a deposition Cornette “was all the time running his mouth, so I just gathered this was something he was supposed to do…”*** How does this make Stan Lane’s conduct in the course of his employment with Crockett Promotions a question for a trier of fact?
- Endnote 11 states twelve security guards were present that night for a crowd of four thousand fans. This stockholder in Freedom Security testified he knew from previous experience an event of this caliber needed at least fifteen security personnel. What was Mr. Brady smoking to think fifteen security guards could contain four thousand riled up West Virginia rednecks?
- While it’s clear the safety of the fans was on the radar of the triers of fact, what about the safety of the performers? Yes, Eaton, Lane, and Cornette came out attempting to rile up the crowd and elicit boos, but does that open them up to assuming the risk of getting signs thrown at them?
Here is the moral to the story, dear readers: If you’re considering going to law school, don’t. If you’re taught properly, you will overthink everything you love in your downtime through the eyes of a lawyer. It will most likely ruin your enjoyment of your favorite television shows, hobbies, or pastimes.
Stay tuned next week for when, thanks to my Fault Lines colleague Andrew Fleischman, I make the case that Bruce Wayne should’ve been on the Gotham City Child Protective Service’s radar a long time ago.
*I know what you’re thinking. “Oh geez, two Funnies in a row about pro wrestling.” Shush. I write the jokes as they come to me.
**I am reliably informed Jim Crockett’s attorney refused to allow the question of whether match outcomes were pre-determined to ever get answered during depositions in this matter. That’s commendable from Crockett’s lawyer, who was determined to protect his client—and the business—more than some idiots in New Albany are these days.
***The interview with Lane mentions that night Cornette greeted the Beckley crowd by calling their hometown “the birthplace of black lung disease.” While it certainly didn’t merit assaulting Cornette or the Midnight Express, I can’t imagine that remark helped their case.