This will no doubt prove to be a controversial column. But it’s worth remembering a couple of points before we get to the nitty gritty.
Owen Hart was a fantastic in-ring performer and given that in a cut-throat business like professional wrestling there isn’t anyone with a bad word to say about him we can safely say that he was one of life’s good guys. Under “normal circumstances” there would be no doubt about his worthiness for a place in the WWE’s Hall Of Fame. The cheers at WrestleMania week when Bret used the news of Martha settling with the WWE over their law-suits to suggest that Owen now might finally get that Hall of Fame spot show that Owen still has a huge number of fans out there who respect his memory.
But as it stands, Owen Hart should not go in the Hall Of Fame.
In a recent Bret Hart radio interview he suggested that Owen would not be inducted into the Hall of Fame because it was against his widow Martha’s wishes and that, in effect, he didn’t see that changing as long as she was alive. And as hard as it might be for his peers and fans to accept that, they should respect Martha’s wishes.
As the recent lawsuit settlement between Martha and the WWE showed, she appears to have the legal rights to his name and likeness and their use by the WWE. At the time of the announcement, many fans speculated that this was the final barrier to Owen getting his Hall of Fame Spot. I advised caution, saying that “settling” a lawsuit was a very different thing than the two parties “agreeing” on anything further. Time has, so far, proved me right.
It’s a grey area legally as we don’t know the in’s and out’s of any settlement, but Martha clearly doesn’t want to work with the WWE in any way, shape or form. Whether the WWE could ignore her wishes is not something I know, but they would be mad to make any attempts to involve Owen in the Hall of Fame against his widow’s wishes.
But quite apart from the solid legal ground that Martha stands on, I firmly believe she has the moral right to do as she sees fit as well. Although Owen’s death was a tragic “on the job” accident in many ways, it was also something totally different as well. Faulty equipment was to blame, but I very much doubt that Owen Hart got into the wrestling business to be able to lower himself down from the rafters into a wrestling ring. He was uncomfortable with the stunt, and in a terrible irony, had apparently only been given the Blue Blazer gimmick again when he had refused to do a storyline where he had an on-screen affair with WWE valet/manager Debra. He refused because he thought it would upset and confuse his young children. Whatever the reasoning behind the character, Owen didn’t die in a “wrestling” accident. He died in a stunt gone wrong that just happened to be part of a wrestling show. I don’t know, if I was in Martha’s shoes, whether I would be able to “forgive and forget”.
I was almost swayed by some passionate arguments that Owen being in the Hall of Fame would show his children how loved and respected he was by the wrestling fraternity, but at the end of the day I am sure that if Martha felt that her children would benefit in whatever small way she would agree to it. Obviously she doesn’t, at this stage.
Martha doesn’t owe Vince McMahon or the WWE anything. As sure as I am that she would be touched by the love, respect and fondness Owen was held in by both his peers and his fans, she owes them nothing either. And dare I say it, but she doesn’t owe Bret Hart, who would understandably welcome the chance to celebrate his brother’s life, anything either. Martha’s responsibility is to her and her children. And however differently we may feel about the situation, in my opinion it is 100 percent Martha’s choice, both legally and morally.
If she changes her mind in time, great. If not, we should respect her decision.
– By Matthew Roberts