It was reported earlier today that David “Fit” Finlay, a longtime WCW and WWE veteran, and more recently, road agent/segment producer for the latter, was relieved of his duties by the publicly held Stamford, CT near-monopoly after supervising a angle in which The Miz interrupted the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner”. On the overall scale of provocative gestures by the WWE, this seems like rather small potatoes, however, it served to raise the ire of “Raw” sponsors the U.S. National Guard. While Finlay has been made the apparent fall guy, Cageside Seats’ David Bixenspan points out playing fast and loose with anti-patriotic themes is nothing new for the Vince McMahon empire.
In 1991, Sgt. Slaughter sided with Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, burned a Hulk Hogan shirt, teased burning an American flag, invoked Saddam Hussein often, fought Hogan in “Desert Storm Matches” etc. In 1993, the Yokozuna vs Jim Duggan feud had to be toned down due protests from Japanese-American groups. In this case, the protests were about the overly jingoistic commentary by the announcers during the angle where Yokozuna injured Duggan and a fake Japanese newscast that celebrated Yokozuna’s actions as if it was a great moment for the nation.
After-9/11, they held off for a little while (Kurt Angle was immediately given the WWF Title while positioned as an American hero, but it felt more like an attempt at cheering people up than being exploitative) before going way overboard. Heels in the following years included The UnAmericans (Canadians and an Englishman who carried upside-down American flags and once came close to burning one), La Resistance (a French-Canadian and a Maritimer as Frenchmen at the height of anti-French sentiment during the “freedom fries” era), and Mohammad Hassan (actually Italian-American Mark Copani) with manager Khosrow Daivari (legitimately Iranian-American wrestler Dara “Shawn” Daivari).
Hassan and Daivari somehow evolved from American-born Muslims frustrated with discrimination (who were still heels for some reason) to leading around a gang of masked men dressed like the terrorists in various beheading videos. The gimmick came to an end after an angle where they all choked out The Undertaker with piano wire, which was used in one of the beheadings. On the day that the angle was about to air, the London train bombings happened. WWE brass reportedly decided that American fans didn’t care about world issues and left it in the American broadcast on the now defunct UPN (who left it in, but added a “viewer discretion” crawler) while editing it out of the international version of the show. The backlash was disastrous, with UPN banning Hassan from the network and the character being written out at the next PPV event.