WWE had no good options for how to handle the death of “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka on this week’s edition of Monday Night Raw. The wrestling legend had just been in the news earlier this month after he was deemed incompetent to stand trial for the 1983 death of his then-girlfriend Nancy Argentino. Snuka’s alleged role in Argentino’s death was the main public narrative around him over the last few years, and there was no escaping it. Still, he was a Hall of Famer and the father of WWE roster talent Sarona “Tamina” Snuka, so they had to acknowledge his death in some form or fashion.
The prevailing belief going into the show was that any mention would be limited to a quick graphic, maybe condolences from the announcers towards’ Snuka’s family. Short and to the point, not lionizing. Early on, it seemed like that might even be the plan, as the show opened with a quick Snuka memorial graphic before moving on to the annual Martin Luther King Day video. Even then, though, the positioning felt wrong: Was it really the best idea to put on that video right after the Snuka slate?
It didn’t really matter, because it was nothing compared to what came later.
Snuka got the full WWE deceased-legend treatment, complete with solemn announcers introducing an overly slick video package using either a Coldplay song or something that sounds close enough to one. If anything, it might have been more gushing than the usual tribute video, with praise of Snuka the person coming off particularly tone deaf. Imagine being at home, flipping through the channels, and seeing the man who admitted to causing your sister’s or daughter’s fatal head injury getting that kind of treatment.
But perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised: The number of news outlets who got the story majorly wrong was staggering, including newspapers in New York City and Philadelphia writing that Snuka had been cleared of all charges stemming from Argentino’s death. The Ringer published a piece that said Snuka paid the Argentino family a $500,000 wrongful death judgment; he actually lost by default and pled poverty while filing bankruptcy. At the same time, he was reportedly making five-figure sums per tour of New Japan Pro Wrestling, getting paid in untraceable cash. With so many outlets either falsely reporting that he was exonerated, or misinterpreting the facts to somehow suggest he paid his debt to society, the groundwork was laid for that WWE tribute video, with minimal to zero mainstream pushback.
Let’s go back to that wrongful death case for a moment: While the facts of the case aren’t identical, Jimmy Snuka is nonetheless comparable to O.J. Simpson. Both were never convicted of a crime, but lost wrongful death lawsuits alleging they caused the death of a woman they had serially battered. Hell, unlike Snuka, O.J. was legally exonerated in his criminal trial by a jury of his peers.
But whenever O.J. Simpson dies, he’s not getting a laudatory music video tribute package on Sunday Night Football. His death will surely be acknowledged, but there will be restraint, for obvious reasons. Why should Snuka be treated any better?
David Bixenspan is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and view his portfolio at Clippings.me/davidbix as well.