Bruce Prichard has recently addressed rumours that WWF had plans to burn the American flag on television in 1991, disputing that this was meant to happen live on NBC!
During a recent episode of Something To Wrestle, host Conrad Thompson was questioning Prichard on the fifth instalment of WWF’s leading Golden Era show Saturday Night’s Main Event. During this time, the United States had declared war and were involved in conflict with Iraq, leaving many Americans unsure and nervous about potential retaliation.
Sgt Slaughter, who was the WWF Champion during this time, was the company’s top heel and portrayed an Iraqi sympathiser. Rumoured plans for Slaughter to burn the American flag live on NBC has been a talking point amongst fans since the events in 1991, however, Bruce Prichard insists these plans were not true:
“To do it on this NBC special is 100% false. There was discussion to do it at Royal Rumble, there was never discussion or there was no plan at all to do it on NBC in any way shape or form. That’s just made up horse shit that people reading the dirt rags and the made up bullshit.”
Saturday Night’s Main Event first aired in 1985 and was the first broadcasting of professional wrestling on a commercial television network since the 1950s. Should the WWF have decided to burn the flag on NBC, the segment would have potentially been available to a much larger audience, rather than a pay-per-view wrestling demographic such as Royal Rumble.
Ultimately, the company opted to burn Hulk Hogan’s shirt rather than the red, white and blue. In a 2019 interview with WFAN, Sgt Slaughter recalls pitching the idea of burning Hogan’s shirt rather than the flag. Slaughter, who admitted to feeling uncomfortable with the angle, felt ‘The Hulkster’ was such a huge part of American culture that burning his iconic red and yellow shirt would draw a huge amount of backlash from fans anyway:
“I took it pretty serious, and then again, I thought, well, I guess I did my job right. I never really regretted it. The only time that I ever really had a problem with it was when they wanted me to burn an American flag and I wouldn’t do that. So, I gave them a better idea. I thought, put the Hulk Hogan shirt on a flag pole and I’ll burn that and say, ‘It’s Americana!’ So, that’s what we did. And I think that it got the right type of ‘heat,’ as we say in our business.”
Bruce Prichard went on to describe the reasoning behind the idea for a pay-per-view burning. Although the move would create massive controversy amongst fans and media alike, WWF felt that the segment would attract a massive amount of hatred towards Sgt Slaughter, who was the company’s number one heel at the time:
“There was a lot of discussion about doing it because it was legal. And it was Jesse Ventura who came to us with the idea. It had made the news of people burning the flag in protest, this is something that Slaughter could do to get heat. Obviously, better judgment prevailed and it was decided not the kind of heat we want regardless of whether it’s legal or not, regardless whether it’s accepted. The one time we considered doing it was at the Royal Rumble.”
Ultimately, the burning never took place although Slaughter would be reported as ‘defacing’ the flag off-screen. His reign of terror would come to an end at WrestleMania VII when Hulk Hogan defeated the vicious heel to reclaim the WWF Championship.
In the years that followed, WWE would show their support to US soldiers serving overseas with the 2003 creation of ‘Tribute To The Troops’, in which the company travels to conflict areas and army bases to perform for American military personal.
Check out Sgt Slaughter as the cover star for Inside The Ropes Magazine, issue 6 where the WWE legend opened up about this topic and a whole lot more.
“About two o’clock in the morning, Gene Okerlund’s got the earpiece and all of a sudden he goes, ‘All right, here we go, New York City, SgtSlaughter!’ You know, announcing a match of mine and gave the date and whenever it was going to be, and my opponent. All of a sudden he goes, ‘Wait a minute, hang on, ladies and gentlemen, hang on, can you believe this, ladies and gentlemen? I just been told that SgtSlaughter‘s out behind the Miami Arena burning the American flag.’
“I went, “What did he just say?” So then I’m listing and all of a sudden he says it again, ‘I can’t believe it. Can you believe it? SgtSlaughter‘s burning the American flag.’ I jumped up and I went in front of the cameras, and I started waving. ‘Cut, cut, cut, cut.’ Gene stops, the professional he is, he just stops on a dime. ‘Hey, what’s wrong?’ I said, ‘You said I was burning the American flag.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, they just told me to say that in my earpiece.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m not burning the American flag.’ Here comes Kevin Dunn. And he comes out, he said, ‘What’s the problem?'”
Sarge went on to discuss how he refused to burn the flag, or even pretend he had, telling Kevin Dunne, “No. Not only am I not burning the American flag, but you’re not going to tell them I’m burning American flag. What, do you want me to get killed?” before discussing the immediate threat to him and his family thereafter. You can check out that full story in Inside The Ropes Magazine, issue 6.
Credit for interview: Something To Wrestle