When everything is going right for some people, it’s just preparation for everything to go wrong.
On Tuesday, February 19 after a WWE Smackdown taping in Mississippi, Jack Swagger was arrested with driving under the influence, marijuana possession and speeding. He is expected to appear in court on March 12.
Swagger had just returned to the WWE in February, bringing with him a manager in Zeb Colter and a brand new gimmick parodying the Tea Party movement. The gimmick was gaining some valuable press as Fox News and conservative commentator Glenn Beck took notice and offence to the gimmick. Swagger then won the Elimination Chamber on February 17 in a win that shocked WWE fans. Swagger was on the rise and the reason made sense with Alberto Del Rio, a wrestler with proud Mexican heritage currently holding the World Heavyweight Championship. Swagger’s heat came from manager Colter insulting immigrants and those he considered to not be “Real Americans”. And here Swagger goes ahead, smokes up after a show, attempts to speed to the airport and gets busted.
Swagger’s career was on the upswing after a failed push at the World Heavyweight Championship back in 2010, before going up in smoke immediately reminding WWE fans of June 11, 2006. On that night, Rob Van Dam beat John Cena to become both WWE Champion and ECW World Champion. The win was the spark that re-launched Extreme Championship Wrestling as a professional wrestling brand, and after years of toiling in the midcard, RVD had finally made himself a premier superstar in the WWE. It was a counter culture backlash, years of pent-up aggression in Attitude Era fans who loved ECW and the mature image it supported now seeing RVD beat the Corporate babyface in John Cena.
Less than a month after, RVD was arrested for speeding, possession of marijuana and possession of Vicodin without a prescription. RVD was suspended for 30 days without pay and dropped both the WWE Championship and ECW World Championship in 48 hours. It killed the hero of the proletariat and validated why the WWE relied so much on someone like John Cena. Apparently, clean cut meant no arrests.
Swagger isn’t in the same position that RVD was but on his way to face Del Rio at Wrestlemania after winning Elimination Chamber gave him a great shot at the title. Politically this was the worst time for Swagger to do this. Unlike RVD’s reign in 2006, WWE is firmly entrenched in their PG era, which focuses on the least amount of controversial material in their product in hopes of gaining the highest valued sponsorship. Swagger’s manager Zeb Colter (real name Dutch Mantel) dealt with his 16-year old granddaughter dying in a reckless vehicle accident in August. Finally, the WWE just successfully persuaded wrestling legend Bruno Sammartino to be inducted in their Hall of Fame. Sammartino spent years turning down such an offer due to the alleged rampant drug use in the WWE among other factors. Allowing Swagger off easy wouldn’t be a good sign of faith to Sammartino.
Today, aside from telling TMZ that Swagger was responsible for his own actions, the WWE has been a bit mum on a public punishment for Swagger. They did promptly post all of the Swagger/Colter vignettes on Zeb Colter’s YouTube page but they also released a press release inviting Glenn Beck to WWE Raw to confront Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter on their gimmick. WWE might decide to wait until after Wrestlemania to punish Swagger or might fit the arrest into his gimmick. Either way, it’s a tricky tight rope walk that is between doing the right thing for business and doing the right thing for the product. If Swagger finds himself unemployed, it won’t be for long. The 30 year old is 6’7”, 260lbs with a pure amateur wrestling background and considerable skill. TNA Wrestling would be signing on the dotted line immediately for Swagger and they don’t really have issue with wrestlers having criminal records (Jeff Hardy, Kurt Angle, and you guessed it, Rob Van Dam are all on their roster). This could, however, spell the end of Swagger in the WWE. It was the WWE who discovered Swagger, signing him not long after graduating from the University of Oklahoma.
Regardless of your opinion on marijuana, you shouldn’t speed. Especially not under the influence. Swagger was finally in a position of destined greatness after start stop pushes, a terrible World Heavyweight Championship reign that went under the blame of writers and not him and just returned after months of, “We have nothing for you” booking. His career might rebound elsewhere, but it’s rare for someone to come back after this in the WWE. It’s hard to sell a redemption story from drugs and criminal arrest when you’re selling your product to the maker of Hot Wheels and Barbie. Until then, I eagerly await WWE’s final ruling on if they are going to puff, puff and pass on Swagger’s future with the company.