To many, child trafficking might seem like a modern issue — one that has only reared its ugly head in recent years, as morality and societal standards have sunk like a stone.
But children were being commoditized long before the 21st century.
In a recent interview conducted by former NFL great Shannon Sharpe, professional wrestling legend Ric Flair confirmed the tragic story of his childhood abduction in 1949 when he was a newborn.
Flair, 74, seemed reluctant to give details about his birth family when Sharpe brought up the story of the wrestler’s childhood history on the “Club Shay Shay” podcast.
At the beginning of the clip, Sharpe asked how long he had spent in Memphis, Tennessee, before moving to Minnesota as a child.
“Well, I only spent a month. I’m adopted,” Flair replied.
“Is it true that you were stolen?” Sharpe asked.
“Stolen, yeah,” Flair answered.
Flair apparently didn’t care to address much of that back story, so the interview quickly moved on to him talking about his adoptive parents in glowing terms.
But the superstar previously acknowledged in his biography, “To Be the Man,” that he was placed for adoption out of the notorious Tennessee Children’s Home Society, “an orphanage whose Memphis branch operator, Georgia Tann, was surrounded by controversy,” Sportskeeda reported last year.
“She was involved in kidnapping children and subsequently giving them up for adoption,” the outlet reported. “Flair was among these children and said so in his book.
“Tann … was reportedly involved in the kidnapping and selling of 5000 babies on the black market.”
In an excerpt from his book on Simon and Schuster’s website, Flair elaborated:
“My mother probably thought I was stillborn.
“That’s what they told a lot of the girls whose kids ended up with the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis — their babies were dead, and they just needed to sign a couple of papers. Adoption papers. Most of these girls were poor and uneducated. Some were even under sedation.
“They had pulled the same scam on single mothers, promising that their kids would be kept in a nice, safe place until the girls could come and get them. A corrupt judge had been in on the whole scheme, taking away infants from people on public assistance.”
The stolen children often went to prosperous couples, including such Hollywood stars as Joan Crawford (of “Mommie Dearest” fame) as well as June Allyson and Dick Powell, along with “the people I grew to love as my mother and father, Dick and Kay Fliehr,” the wrestler recalled.
In last week’s interview with Sharpe, Flair indicated he had little interest in dredging up that dark past.
He said a biological brother contacted him six years ago. The wrestler, however, declined to meet him, laughing off the contact attempt by making a joke about someone wanting to borrow money.
His demeanor changed when asked about the couple he knew as Mom and Dad.
“I’m gonna get emotional,” Flair said in a nearly 10-minute clip of the interview posted to YouTube on Nov. 25.
The only father he ever knew, he said, had two doctoral degrees. His mother was a published author who worked in a theater.
Sharpe noticed that Flair still had an emotional reaction to thoughts of his adoptive parents.
“When you talk about your dad, you light up. He was a big influence on you, wasn’t he?” the interviewer said.
Flair confirmed that his father taught him everything he could. And that memory prompted a series of recollections.
Flair recalled, for instance, that his parents sent him to a speech therapist to help with a childhood lisp. They bought him braces, though he seldom wore the retainer. Then, when he tried to buy alcohol at 15 by passing himself off as a college student, they sent him to boarding school.
In short, the wrestler described not a troubled childhood but certainly one filled with enough problems that parental love made a difference.
“When you think about it, they really loved you, Ric, because they could’ve –” Sharpe said before making the hand gesture that signifies washing one’s hands of a problem.
The interviewer then asked if Flair ever thought about how his life might have unfolded without his adoptive parents.
At that point, he indicated that he might get emotional.
“Even though I didn’t do anything that is illegal or anything bad, I just feel like I was — I didn’t do them justice. Does that make sense?” Flair said after a pause of several seconds.
“Cause they were such good people, but I was just — just wild,” he added.
Flair’s story of having been stolen as an infant reminds us that child trafficking takes on many forms.
Nowadays, the most evil manifestations of that apparently lucrative traffic dominate headlines.
This summer, for instance, the anti-trafficking blockbuster “Sound of Freedom” scored huge box-office success.
Of course, Jeffrey Epstein — the world’s most notorious convicted child sex offender and accused child sex trafficker — died in his jail cell while awaiting trial on Aug. 10, 2019, and more than four years later, few powerful people seem interested in identifying Epstein’s alleged clients.
This week, Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois — chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee — has blocked her request to subpoena Epstein’s infamous flight logs.
Likewise, those involved in Georgia Tann’s alleged baby-selling scheme were never held to account.
Less than two years after Flair’s adoption, in 1950, the governor of Tennessee launched an investigation and revealed in a news conference that her ill-gotten gains had enriched her to the tune of $ 1 million (nearly $11 million in today’s dollars), according to Business Insider.
But just a few days later, Tann died of cancer. The orphanage was closed not long after, and the corrupt judge “quietly resigned,” according to the report.
It’s heartbreaking to think of all those families ripped apart by human greed.
While some children, like Flair, ended up experiencing a happy childhood, many others — and their biological parents — suffered lifelong, irreparable damage.
Thankfully, reforms in child welfare agencies and family law have once again made adoption a powerful, positive option for those parents who choose it.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.