Style and Culture Writer, Blatant Homerism
Too often in professional sports, our heroes lose track of what it takes to be great. Hard work and dedication take a backseat to appearance fees and endorsements. "Competitors" chase the almighty dollar instead of championships.
Maybe fans would be better off worshiping athletes who already have millions, instead of those dreaming of seven-figure bank accounts.
Earlier this month, the WWE reminded us all of the impact that a well-heeled performer can have on a sport. When the WWE Hall of Fame inductees for 2010 were announced, no star shone brighter than the "Million Dollar Man," Ted DiBiase.
(I can't wait for the the induction ceremony. What happens when you get a bunch of old wrestling superstars together at an event with literally hundreds of folding chairs?)
DiBiase competed in wrestling's pre-steroid era–a time when being a master technician in the squared circle actually mattered. He wasn't the biggest or the strongest, but he may very well have been the best tactical wrestler of his time.
A quick toss against the ropes and–BAM!–his arms would be draped around your neck. In a matter of seconds, his opponent was talking to the angels in the sweet embrace of the "Million Dollar Dream."
(The best part about losing to Dibiase: The opponent would come out $100 richer every time. DiBiase would pull out a freshly printed Ben Franklin and stick it in the mouth of an unconscious opponent. Not a bad surprise when you wake up, if you ask me.)
An old school style seemed perfectly suited to an old money playboy like DiBiase, who clearly relished the glitz and the glamor that accompanied stardom in America's pastime. Of course, the Million Dollar Man quickly became the white-collar heel that wrestling's blue-collar fan base loved to hate, incessantly flaunting his wealth.
We're talking about a man who once grew so tired of not getting the respect he deserved that he had his own diamond-encrusted title belt made. If you can't win a championship, why not buy your own? Or at least spend some major bucks on the most lavish belt ever created.
No part of the Million Dollar Man's shtick symbolized this obnoxious air of blue-blooded entitlement better than the exploitation of his sidekick, Virgil. DiBiase dressed his bodyguard up in a monkey suit and let Virgil handle his business when things got heated in the ring. Every time Virgil was about to turn his back on his boss, DiBiase always had a wad of cash ready to lure the big man back.
And DiBiase wasn't about to stop there. In 1988 the Million Dollar Man made a deal on national television with Bobby "The Brain" Heenan to purchase gargantuan wrestler Hercules for an undisclosed sum. The ill-advised transaction quickly went south, but DiBiase's legend continued to grow with every high-profile deal.
The Million Dollar Man's introduction into the WWE Hall of Fame represents a painful reminder that the glory days of wrestling are long gone. Now, it's all about chumps like John Cena or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. (I can smell what The Rock's cooking, and it stinks like new money.)
DiBiase had the courage to live the the million dollar reality we all know, but so few will admit.
Everybody's got a price.