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Florida's DeSantis defends making WWE an 'essential' business

To suggest that WWE belongs in the same category as grocery stores and pharmacies is difficult to take seriously. Ron DeSantis made the pitch anyway.
Image: Newly Sworn-In Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Makes Announcement Regarding Florida Supreme Court In Miami
Newly sworn-in Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during an event at the Freedom Tower on Jan. 09, 2019 in Miami.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Every state with a stay-at-home order makes at least some exceptions for "essential businesses," though as we discussed yesterday, the specific details of how the label is applied tend to vary from state to state. Some officials have played a little fast and loose with what counts as "essential."

But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) seemed to break new ground when he extended the label to World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE). The Miami Herald reported this week that the politically connected wrestling company "will continue taping and airing live" from an empty performance center near Orlando, despite the state's month-long "shelter-in-place" directive.

Yesterday, as the Tampa Bay Times reported, the Republican governor -- who's been under fire for a series of controversial decisions -- publicly defended his decision.

DeSantis said people are "starved" for new entertainment, a day after it was reported he gave the green light to the wrestling giant WWE as an essential business to tape events in Orlando. "I think if NASCAR does a race and can televise it without having a large crowd, I think that's a good thing," DeSantis told reporters at the Capitol.

The governor added, "People are chomping at the bit. If you think about it, we have never had a period like this in modern American history where you've had so little new content, particularly in the sporting realm. I mean, we are watching reruns from like the early 2000s.... People are starved for content. We haven't had a lot of new content since the beginning of March."

It's a tough sell. I can appreciate the fact that there are a lot of families looking for things to watch while at home, but -- and this is important -- we're in the midst of a pandemic. The only meaningful tool at our disposal is keeping people away from other people.

I won't pretend to be an expert in wrestling, but as I understand it, the performers tend not to stay six feet away from one another. What's more, as the Tampa Bay Times article added, a WWE employee has already tested positive for the coronavirus.

To suggest that a wrestling company belongs in the same category as grocery stores and pharmacies is difficult to take seriously.

And while there's no apparent evidence of anything untoward, it's probably worth re-emphasizing for context that WWE was co-founded by Linda McMahon, the company's former president and CEO, who went on to serve on Donald Trump's cabinet, leading the Small Business Administration.

McMahon, who's married to current WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, now heads a leading pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, which is already making sizable investments in support of the president's re-election campaign.