News Articles

WWF denial of blame in murder case at odds with child violence studies

WASHINGTON (BP)–When a 13-year-old boy brutally and fatally beats up a 6-year-old girl, who is really to blame? The parents? The boy? Or the media? The World Wrestling Federation says it’s not them.

“We at the WWF believe that the verdict and the public statements made by individual jurors unanimously support our position that professional wrestling should never have been involved in this case,” said Linda McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc., in a statement after a Jan. 25 verdict in a Broward County, Fla., case.

“Sadly, an innocent little girl has died. Lionel Tate by his own actions, the actions and decisions of his mother and defense attorney, have changed his life forever.”

Tate, a 180-pound boy, was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 166 pounds at the time of Tiffany Eunick’s death. The girl was only 48 pounds. Medical experts testified in the trial that Tiffany’s skull was fractured and part of her liver had been detached. One prosecution witness described Tiffany’s injuries as consistent with falling from a three-story building.

Tate was found guilty of first-degree murder, and because he was tried as an adult, faces life in prison without parole. State law required that jurors only had to prove that Tate’s actions were intentional and abusive. They did not have to conclude that Tate meant to kill the girl.

CNSNews.com reported Jan. 30 that one parenting group is taking aim at the WWF for sending the wrong message to its young fans — a message that the lawyer for Tate says the Florida boy imitated.

The Center for Successful Parenting, a national parenting group dedicated to educating the public about the effects and dangers of media violence, thinks the case demonstrates the effects media violence can have on children.

Joanne Cantor, author of “Mommy, I’m Scared” and a spokesperson for CSP said, “There’s a lot of evidence that exposure to violence on television can contribute to children’s violent behavior and this includes wrestling. There’s been research in Israel that showed that after World Wrestling Federation was introduced there, there was an epidemic of playground injuries caused when kids actually performed what they saw the night before.

“They had to do a massive intervention at middle schools, and they all had to change their rules about what could be done during recess. They had to teach kids not to behave the way they saw, and these were children who were old enough to tell the difference between fantasy and reality,” Cantor told CNSNews.com.

Tate’s attorney, Jim Lewis, explained why he used pro wrestling as their main defense, saying Lionel is “immature” and didn’t understand that pro wrestlers are trained not to hurt each other.

“He wanted to emulate them,” he said. “Like Batman and Superman, they were his heroes. He loved to play.”

But the World Wrestling Federation said that defense was irresponsible.

“The WWF has stated consistently that the suggestion that wrestling had anything to do with Lionel Tate’s murderous acts was a contrived hoax,” said Jerry McDevitt, a partner in Kirkpatrick and Lockhart and the WWF’s litigation counsel.

“The jury easily and quickly repudiated the defense counsel’s claim that pro wrestling was somehow to blame for this intentional homicide, and individual jurors have reiterated this in public comments. The evidence proved, and the jury found, that this was death caused not by mimicking wrestling moves, but rather by a deliberate, prolonged and savage beating,” McDevitt said.

Cantor said it’s important for parents to realize the powerful role the media plays in a child’s behavior.

“I’m not in a position to evaluate this individual child, but what I can say is that it is not uncommon for kids to incorporate what they see on television into their behavior.

“And this does not, to me, go to the question of whether he is guilty or innocent, but what I think is important is that the message get out that kids are strongly influenced by what they see on television, and media violence is a very powerful contributor to kids’ violent behavior. And so parents need to recognize that it’s not a benign fantasy healthy for the kids to spend their time,” Cantor said.

The answer, Cantor said, is better information about programs through television ratings and the use of the V-chip.

“What we need to do is find some way to ensure that programs like this get adequately labeled, that parents have a way of blocking them if they want to and that parents get correct information about the possible risks and so that parents aren’t confused by the television industry repeatedly saying, ‘There are no risks, this is totally fantasy.'”
Hunter is CNSNews.com’s evening editor. Used by permission.

    About the Author

  • Melanie Hunter