To: Sports Illustrated Editorial Dept.
“At a recent New York city screening of ‘The Wrestler’, one decidedly homeless-looking fellow stood out in the smartly dressed crowd.” So begins Adam Duerson’s review of Darren Aranofsky’s new film “The Wrestler” in the 12/22/08 issue of Sports Illustrated. My name is Mick Foley-a 3 time WWE Champion and author (hand-written, no ghost writer) of two New York Times #1 Bestselling Memoirs – and I am that decidedly homeless-looking fellow who Duerson sat next to at a December 5 media screening of the critically acclaimed movie.
I play an important role in Duerson’s review; the real life man seemingly facing many of the same challenges that Mickey Rourke’s fictional Randy The Ram Robinson, an aging broken down wrestler, faces in the film. Early in the review Duerson sites my oversized duffle bag, in addition to a “billowing red flannel shirt and sweat pants and a crude Grizzly Adams haircut”. That duffle bag makes an appearance later in the review as an example that “finding dignity in retirement can be tricky”. You see, of all things, the duffle bag contained…drum roll please…a Santa Claus suit that I was to wear at a Twisted Sister Holiday Show later that evening. Duerson follows that shocking revelation by writing, “He’s not broke, he explained, but he is still making appearances on the road at least 10 days a month”.
Here is the problem; Adam Duerson, in his quest to find a theme or hook for his review, lets his omission of facts and questionable interpretation of details and events pertaining to his time spent with me, mar what could have been a fine piece of journalism.
Earlier this week, I spoke at considerable length (40 minutes) with Duerson, who seemed to have had trouble seeing why I might find his portrayal of me in the review to be unflattering. I told him it was clear to me, that based on his review, Sports Illustrated readers (according to Wikipedia, over 3 million subscribers, up to 20 million weekly readers) would be likely to see me as a former wrestling star, fallen on rough times, taking jobs as a homeless-looking Santa Claus at rock concerts just to get by.
“You did know,” I said to Duerson “ that I was there, like you, as a journalist, reviewing the movie?”
“Yes,” Duerson said, “I did”.
A few days earlier I had been asked by Slate.com, a popular and respected web site of the Washington Post to write a review from a wrestler’s prospective. I asked Duerson why he had failed to mention this little fact. Duerson told me he was pretty sure he had used the words “media screening” in his review, which would have at least somewhat conveyed the idea to the reader that I was attending the screening as a journalist. Except, as I informed him, the word “media” is nowhere to be found. Just “screening”, all by its lonesome. Duerson then told me that his editor, Mark Bechtel (a senior S.I. editor, a writer of the magazine since 1995), had decided not to include the word “media”.
“You do know I have written books, (8 of them) right?” I said to Duerson. Yeah, turns out he knew but opted not to include that little fact. Why are these omissions important? Because, in my opinion, mentioning them would be an inconvenient conflict with the guy that Duerson and his editor seem to want in this story. Let’s face it, if Duerson mentioned the Slate review, or five New York Times best-selling books (only two went to #1), his suggestions that follow would lack a certain amount of credibility. Apparently, they did not want to infer that the homeless looking fellow with the Santa suit might actually be doing just fine; that he not only had been legendarily thrifty with his wrestling money but had other income sources as well.
And about that Santa suit? The one that illustrates the trickiness in finding dignity in retirement? “Did you really think I was doing it for money?” I asked him. Duerson told me that I had referred to the Twisted Sister appearance as “my next gig” O.K. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one, even if the Oxford American Dictionary that I am looking at right now makes no allusion or mention of payment or compensation in its definition of “gig”. So let me be clear – I was not paid for this “gig” which I had penciled in on my calendar last New Year’s Eve when the band’s lead singer Dee Snider, a longtime personal friend, asked me to. Besides, I love being Santa – go ahead google Mick Foley and Santa or Mick Foley and Santa’s Village. I dare you.
I asked Duerson if the very act of putting on the red suit and hat was undignified. If dressing up as the big guy in front of thousands of service members in Iraq in 2004 was undignified? If doing likewise in Afghanistan a year later was undignified? He assured me it was not. So, what exactly made this Twisted Sister situation so utterly lacking in dignity? Granted, helping out a famous friend may not be the same as entertaining troops in a war zone, but was it really that demeaning? According to Duerson, it was the association with a band, Twisted Sister, that was “stuck in the 80’s” that seemed undignified.
As it turns out, omitting the word “media” was not Mark Bechtel’s only decision (at least according to my conversation with Duerson) to alter the original text. Let’s return to an earlier sentence “He’s not broke he explained, but he is still making appearances on the road at least 10 days a month.”
The phrase “he’s not broke”, Duerson explained to me, was not his idea. Duerson’s original text (according to him) read: “He doesn’t need the money”. Is this just a subtle editorial alteration or is it a sizable shift in tone, message and implied inference? It is my belief that the text was re-worded in order to show me in a less enviable financial position. “Doesn’t need the money” is simply not the same as “He’s not broke”. One sentence implies success, the other failure. One sentence suggests winner, the other loser.
Now, lets get to those 10 appearances a month on the road. Duerson has already established that I am a homeless looking fellow, finding dignity in retirement to be tricky. In his review, Duerson actually does an effective job in describing the harsh reality facing Rourke’s washed up, broken down Ram character; writing of “dreary autograph shows where no one shows up” and “tussling in 500 seat hotel ballrooms.”
So, given Duerson’s previous description of me, given the description of the Ram’s depressing appearances, and given a total lack of information of any kind about my “10 appearances a month”, what kind of conclusion can a reader be expected to reach? Would a reader guess, for example, that I’d lectured at MIT? Apparently, Duerson failed to do much res earch concerning my actual appearances. Five minutes (or less) of research would have shown him that five of those monthly appearances are for TNA Wrestling; four of them on Spike’s nationally televised and internationally broadcast TNA Impact and one on national Pay Per View.
A little more background work on Duerson’s part might have unearthed even more information about my appearances. When I spoke to Duerson on the phone for the first time – December 10th – I was in North Carolina to support the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which raises money for troops suffering from brain trauma and injury. Two days later, I drove seven hours in the rain, sleet and snow to take part in a toy drive for needy children. He might have even mentioned my November trip to the West African country of Sierra Leone where I attended the dedication of four small community schools that I had funded. There is a nice little story on www.poststar.com (search Mick Foley) if anyone wants to look at a slightly different portrait than the one that Mr. Duerson offered to the Sports Illustrated readership. And hey, I just spent part of my Christmas Eve with a few hundred homeless people – real homeless people too, not just homeless looking, like me. Real kids in need, living in shelters, wondering if Santa might have a little something for them too. Real parents, down on their luck, depending on the kindness of strangers and the magic of Christmas (a wonderful group called Christmas Magic) to make their holidays a little brighter. Maybe I should have shared the SI review with them – they might have gotten a kick out of Adam Duerson’s insensitive stereotype of what he seems to think homeless people look like.
Which brings me back to Duerson’s opening line, “One decidedly homeless looking fellow stood out in the smartly dressed crowd.” Decidedly homeless? Who exactly made that decision? Did the smartly dressed crowd (which Duerson apparently considered himself one of) reach some kind of consensus while I was busy being caught up in Mickey Rourke’s remarkable performance? I am well aware of the casual nature of my wardrobe and will admit to an occasional fashion faux pas. As a matter of fact, I just received a Christmas card from General James Conway, the commandant (head honcho) of the United States Marine Corps and I immediately thought back to my regrettable decision to wear sweat pants and work boots when I was a guest in his home.
At a couple of points during our 40 minute conversation, Duerson claimed that I didn’t fully understand what it was like to work with editors. Actually, I do. I have written eight books, remember? I have worked with several editors, including a tough but very helpful one on my Slate piece. I certainly don’t know everything about the editorial process, but I do know this: A writer fights for what he believes is important in a piece of work, whether it be a memoir, a novel, a children’s book or a movie review.
I wonder if Adam Duerson fought for his viewpoint when faced with his editor’s proposed changes. I think he knew his editor’s changes would alter the reader’s perception of me in a negative way. I would like to think he knew that his initial way was more accurate; still misleading but slightly more accurate. But, I believe Adam Duerson lacked either the ability or willingness to effectively fight for what he should have known was right.
In a way, it is a shame Mr. Duerson chose to sit next to me at all. At the time of his arrival there were plenty of available seats at that small media screening. He chose to sit next to me, he told me during that December 10th phone call, specifically because he knew who I was and thought that a wrestler’s insight would be helpful. It’s a shame because it seems like I got in the way of what is in some ways a well written review of a great movie. Certainly, I second Mr. Duerson’s belief that The Wrestler is the sports movie of the year. As anyone who reads my Slate review will see, I did feel a distinct emotional connection to Rourke’s character. If Duerson had chosen to examine that emotional connection instead of concentrating on a misleading representation of my current status in life, I may have made a valuable addition to his review. Sadly, he let his sense of fashion and musical taste stand in the way of a more nuanced parallel between life and art.
You know, that Adam Duerson phone call had me down for most of the day. For a kid who grew up with SI covers plastered to his walls, being depicted as a homeless looking fellow, having trouble finding dignity in retirement was a pretty severe blow. But, then I received a phone call that brightened my day. It was Mickey Rourke, calling to say he had read my review for Slate and really enjoyed it, that my words had meant a lot to him. Words that millions of Sports Illustrated readers would not have known the existence of.