I spoke with someone who attended Saturday’s George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame banquet in Waterloo, Iowa, to get their account of what transpired when Bret Hart went off on wrestling journalist Greg Oliver, as there have been some conflicting reports on some of the details.
The first thing that needs to be clarified is that Hart’s rant did not take place during his speech for the induction of his late father, Stu. There were two separate events on Saturday. The actual induction ceremony took place in the afternoon, and Hart gave the formal induction speech without incident. That evening, there was a banquet that was attended by approximately 100 people. The honorees or people speaking on behalf of the honorees made less-formal speeches, and that was when the incident occurred.
Here is what happened when Hart spoke at the banquet, according to a source who was there and wished to remain anonymous:
Hart “was wandering all over the place and rambling [during the speech]. Then he said there was something he wanted to get off his chest, and he starts defiling ‘guys who write about wrestling that never stepped into the ring.’ It was not directed right at Greg at that point. He kept saying, ‘you guys.’ It was a real nasty attack. He said books were full of lies and [wrestling writers] reported nothing but lies. Then he mentioned [Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Candadians, which was written by Oliver, who ranked Hart at No. 14 on the list of the greatest Canadian wrestlers ever] by name and referred to his ranking in the book.
“He said writers had no business whatsoever being in a Hall of Fame with wrestlers. [Note: Oliver and writing partner Steven Johnson were not being inducted into the Hall of Fame; they were receiving the James Melby Memorial Award for wrestling journalism.] He said they had no business being in a room with him and it made him sick. He said, ‘Either you guys go, or I go.’ At that point, Steven Johnson and his wife left.”
When Oliver did not leave, Hart did. Prior reports said that other wrestlers left with him, but the source said: “I don’t think wrestlers followed him, but some fans did.”
The source speculated that in addition to Hart being upset at his ranking in Oliver’s book, he also might not have liked Oliver’s review of his autobiography.
“It was surreal,” the source said. “It was so out of proportion to what the evening was about. It was not only inappropriate, but Bret was really on the edge.
“The sad thing is that Jim Melby’s daughter came down from Minnesota to present the award, which meant a lot to her because it was named for her late father, and she was humiliated and embarrassed. And Greg’s elderly father was there sitting next to him the whole time.”
The notion that a writer or critic is unqualified to write about a sport or an entertainment genre because “they never played the game” is narrow-minded. Being a journalist, of course I have strong feelings on the subject. But even if that is how Hart feels, he still could have expressed his opinion in a classier and more mature fashion.