Phil Donahue vs WWE

Looking Back at the Scandals of ‘92

In what began a several-year slump for WWF business, all sorts of scandals were making headlines in late ’91 and early ’92 that shocked the wrestling world.  Well, I wouldn’t say shocked.  After all, nobody was surprised to learn Pat Patterson, Terry Garvin, and Mel Phillips were gay or that Hulk Hogan used steroids.   

But it was still shocking to see how it all unfolded.  I’m not even sure myself, as there wasn’t one single incident that stood out.  It was just a series of people coming forward with their sensational stories. 

Probably what started it all was Hulk Hogan’s appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show.  Despite what you might have heard, the real shocking news about that show was that someone actually watched it and knew Hogan was even on in the first place.   

Hogan went on the show and stated he only used steroids on exactly 3 occasions, all due to medical reasons.  Arsenio then stated that he has been funny in his career on exactly 1 occasion, all due to the script for “Coming to America.” 

After that lie (and I can call it a lie because Hogan testified in court that it was), Superstar Billy Graham came forward and talked about how he and Hogan used to inject steroids together and that Hogan used them during the entire decade of the 80s.  Of course there was also the trial of Dr. George Zahorian, who was convicted of distributing steroids to several wrestlers, including Dan Spivey and Roddy Piper.  Just a whole mess of stories and scandals I couldn’t possibly list here completely. 

After an embarrassing performance on the Larry King show, in which Vince easily got his misleading statements across to the public unchallenged by a clueless King, along came Phil Donahue.  Unlike King, Phil did way more research on the subject and this was a good show.  Not a great show, but as you’ll see, it provided some top-notch entertainment in hindsight. 

Here was the guest list: 

Vince McMahon: He looked to be about 20 years younger than he does now.  And back then, people said he looked 20 years older than he really was.  Vince was pure Vince on this show, before he had ever played heel on television. 

Bruno Sammartino: If Bruno had sat next to McMahon, this show would’ve turned into a Jerry Springer-like onstage brawl.  As it turned out, Bruno remained calm and made the most sense out of anyone on the panel. 

Superstar Billy Graham: Graham was there to confirm his own experience with steroids and also his experience taking them with Hogan himself.  Unfortunately, Graham did a lot of stuttering and rambling and wasn’t able to make his points effectively. 

Murray Hodgson: Murray claimed he was fired 2 weeks after he refused to sleep with Pat Patterson.  He was initially hired to be one of the lead announcers ala Sean Mooney.  While Hodgson lacks credibility in hindsight, his performance here stole the show.

Dave Meltzer: Dave was there as the outside analyst/expert.  Dave had the best knowledge on all the facts, but had virtually no experience in front of the camera and was nervous because of it.  He did OK, but I’m sure there are things he would’ve liked to change.  Even if he had gotten the chance, there were simply too many people on the panel to really make a striking impression. 

Barry Orton: Barry is the brother of Bob Orton and the uncle of Randy.  He wrestled as “Barry O” in WWF mid-80s prelims.  Barry was never a big star and had nothing to lose by coming forward.  He improved on his droning appearance on Larry King, but his talking style was simply not suited for the fast-paced world of talk TV. 

Tom Hankins: Hankins was another veteran mid carder who gave us a Pat Patterson story.  After a brief speech in the beginning, he was never heard from again. 

John Arezzi: Arezzi, who has disappeared from the wrestling world, was on as another expert/analyst.  He had a popular radio show at the time, and he was a good guest, but didn’t get much talk time.

This recap is purely from memory, so forgive me I forget the details.  If you’re looking for straight facts, you’re at the wrong place.  We’re goofs with full-time jobs and lack the time and desire to do real news.    

The highlight of the show was the open, in which Murray and Vince had an uninterrupted verbal debate for several minutes.  As slick as Vince is on camera, he came off as a total heel.  Vince told Murray flat out that he was horrible as an announcer, which was mean spirited and totally turned the crowd against him.  It reminded me of those WWFE shareholder press conferences where Vince did his tough XFL talk, and that shtick simply doesn’t float in a serious arena.  Vince is simply not funny.  Some people in WWE are naturally funny.  Vince is not one of them.  

Murray’s comeback was so good it sounded like it was scripted from a TV drama.  His poise and words were so smoothly delivered that he elicited a round of applause from the crowd and everyone believed every word he said.  He said Vince’s lawyers attempted to pay him off so he wouldn’t come forward with the allegations, and quoted a document in which Vince stated Murray had a very stable job with the World Wrestling Federation.  When Murray said that a fellow employee felt so bad about his termination that he offered to house him until he found a job, Vince said that simply showed the good nature of WWF employees.  Needless to say, he was laughed at by the entire crowd. 

Hankins and Orton gave their stories.  Orton said he was sitting in the backseat of a car at age 19 and was sexually harassed by Terry Garvin.  Garvin, who has since passed away, was an assistant booker to Patterson and McMahon during the 80s glory years.  Orton was believable and did pass a lie detector test, but didn’t have the poise or the crowd behind him like Murray did.  Hankins, who said he was happy to be a jobber as long as he was involved with the wrestling business at all, was also believable.  Still, Phil never came back to him after that segment.  Hankins claimed his career was dead ever since he rejected Pat Patterson’s sexual advances. 

It should be noted that Phil said the WWF grossed $1.7 billion a year.  That figure is so incredibly ridiculous and it just shows how easily Vince can dupe the media when he wants to. 

After the break, all guests were seated across the stage horizontally.  Meltzer was introduced as the editor of the Observer, which Phil called the, “New York Times of wrestling.”  Dave tried to exemplify how people simply don’t snitch in the wrestling business by telling the story of Bruiser Brody’s murder and how nobody came forward with their testimonies that likely would’ve incriminated Jose Gonzales.  Phil didn’t like Dave’s off-topic comment, but that story helped answer the question (which was asked earlier by Vince) of why more people hadn’t come forward and why those who did had waited so long.   

The other highlight was this brief interplay: 

Arezzi: “Didn’t Vince say he was devastated by Hogan’s comments on Arsenio?”

McMahon, with a look of disgust: “I wasn’t devastated.” 

Meltzer: “That was the word you used to me.”


Crowd erupts in, “Oooh” and laughter in one of the great clown moments of all-time. 

A defeated Vince simply uttered, “I don’t remember using the word, ‘Devastated.’”  Nobody believed him.  This wasn’t Vince’s day. 

Graham told a story of how he saw a ring boy being grabbed in a sexual way hours before an arena event.  While that is a strong story, Graham came off bad because it begged the question, “Why didn’t you do anything about it?”  One lady in the crowd did point that out, to which the crowd applauded and Graham had nothing to say.  Bruno came to his defense saying it was reported, but that nobody in WWF cared.  Another male audience member said even if Graham or Bruno saw something like that, it wasn’t worth risking their careers over.  Bruno shook his head vehemently in agreement and said, “Absolutely not.” 

Arezzi recounted a story of how midget wrestlers Lord Littlebrook and Karate Kid were on his show telling their tales of sexual harassment.  Amazing how the crowd chuckled at the mention of those names.  Phil tried to insinuate how we don’t see midget wrestlers any more because of that incident.  Don’t worry Phil, there’s always NWA TNA around to use and exploit midgets like you’ll never see in this country. 

Orton went on a rant about how he was finished in this business by coming forward with these allegations.  Too bad NWA TNA wasn’t around then; they’ll take anybody.   

Bruno Sammartino expressed sympathy for the crowd for applauding for Vince, saying something like, “You poor people, sitting there clapping your hands.  If you only knew this man.”  Luckily for Bruno, everyone today knows all about the real Vince.  I’m not saying Vince is 100% evil because he certainly isn’t, but I don’t think audiences today would be clapping for him so naively.   

Oh, and what an audience.  I’ve never seen such a sorrier bunch of saps.  Where do I begin? 

One lady with an ugly hat scolded, “That man” for not stopping a ring boy from being harassed.  Hey Mrs. Fashion Disaster, “That man” happens to be the most influential wrestler of the 70s.  Graham had no comeback to Hat Girl, which isn’t the Graham I know.  While she does have a valid point, I’m not sure how many people would risk their high-flying careers over a teenager getting grabbed in the crotch.  And looking at Graham’s financial situation these days, I don’t think he had the financial freedom to walk out in protest like some sort of Steve Austin.  By the same token, why didn’t the teenager tell the police?  Likely for the same reason Graham didn’t: He wanted to keep his job. 

 A skinny teen with buckteeth got on the mic and quickly insinuated that Bruno was being bitter toward Vince because his son David was fired under very suspicious circumstances.  This kid, who was a hardcore fan and later defended himself on a radio show, was someone who had good background knowledge of wrestling but was a little too young to see the big picture.  The poor guy was clowned by Bruno, who told him, “Sit down young man, you don’t know what you’re talking about.  Maybe when you grow up you’ll understand.” 


That shut him up, and the crowd ate it up.  He was obviously embarrassed, but hey, he got to be on TV and speak to a legend like Bruno.  Actually, that kid is lucky Bruno didn’t say something even more relevant, like, “How can you claim to be a smart wrestling fan while you stand there wearing a t-shirt that says ‘Lex Luger’?” 

We then go from buck tooth to missing tooth, as some Mike Tyson look-alike asked the panel what percentage of wrestlers currently in the WWF is homosexual.  Phil blew him off and said, “Oh come on, how many people in YOUR neighborhood are homosexuals?!”  Crowd laughed, and the guy’s question was ignored. 

Another funny moment was this blond who asked Orton how many wrestlers today were performing homosexual acts to keep their jobs.  The humorous part was Orton rambling on and on and on and on, and Phil was motioning with his hand for Orton to either get to the point or shut the Hell up.  No such luck for Phil, so they simply cut to a commercial in mid-babble.  Jeez, who’s producing this show, David Crockett? 

By far the biggest lame-o was this arrogant, snobby bitch with manly short hair who got up and showed her intelligence to the world by saying something akin to, “I’m just wondering why anyone would want to be in wrestling.  Because it’s just so sleazy!” 

BITCH!  Who the F cares?  Teenagers are being molested and lied to, and all your artsy ass can say is, “It’s so sleazy?”  I think priests are sleazy, but does that mean we should ignore dozens of young boys being molested too?  Think about that next time you go to your art exhibit in San Francisco and debate about the value of Picasso’s inner meaning.  Oh by the way genius, Picasso was a fan of that sleazy wrestling too! 

On the same note, another ignorant woman asked a question that ended up being the final comment of the show.  Her brilliance?  “Isn’t wrestling fixed anyway?” 

Why yes, Virginia, there isn’t a Santa Claus, and yes, wrestling is fixed.  So let’s ignore these sexual harassment issues.  Keep your day job and don’t ever become a judge.  Can you imagine?  Folks, because wrestling is fixed, its employees are free to commit all the illegal crimes they want!  Go wild!  Have a party!!!  Who cares if kids are scarred for life or that drugs are being bought and sold, IT DOESN’T MATTER!