By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Senior Staffer (@wilpruett)
There has been a deluge of sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct allegations across all areas of culture in the last few months. This moment has seen prominent politicians, actors, producers, directors, orchestra conductors, and all manner of powerful men forced to step away from their professions due to their actions. It’s a dam that has broken and we are living in the flood. The last week has seen professional wrestling forced to deal with this reckoning and wrestling media has failed at every level.
It’s important to understand what wrestling media is before we look at how it has failed. At its heart wrestling reporting is access journalism. Stories are given to reporters, sometimes by involved parties. While many reporters strive to be fair, it can be difficult to do so. There is also very little accountability in wrestling journalism. While major publications are held to a high standard, this doesn’t exist at the same level in wrestling. Think about the major wrestling publications you read; when was the last time you saw a retraction or correction? While the Associated Press makes it clear every time they delete a Tweet, wrestling journalists can (and sometimes do) pretend their mistakes never happened. Wrestling publications, even when they run stories contrary to each other, don’t hold each other accountable.
While major media organizations often have large corporations backing them, lawyers on staff to look at each story, and insurance should they be sued for something they print, these are lacking in wrestling media. Most wrestling media is reliant on a small base of subscribers or advertisers. They lack the capacity to put together and defend a story as paradigm-changing as The New York Times’ Harvey Weinstein story. The threat of a prolonged legal battle could put the writers of wrestling publications at risk, even if the story they are reporting is perfectly sourced and completely true.
Wrestling media is a space inhabited mostly by men. For a long time, wrestling itself was seen as a boy’s club. The group of people with access to wrestlers became a boy’s club as well. As a man, I have no idea what it must be like to be a woman trying to come forward with allegations of misconduct. With so few women in the wrestling media, where are the safe spaces for women to bring any such allegation? Where are those with empathy for what they’ve been through? Men do not know what it is like to be constantly threatened in the same way women do. Men, sadly, are not as likely to believe victims when approached.
This brings us to what we have seen from the wrestling media thus far. How have wrestling media outlets responded to allegations of sexual misconduct in wrestling? The outlet I write for and am publishing this on, prowrestling.net, didn’t try to cover the Glory Pro/Moses Malone/Sean Orleans/Michael Elgin allegations. It ran CWF Mid Atlantic’s statement on Brad Stutts but offered no additional details. Prowrestling.net did not touch these issues and this is not good.
On the CWF Mid Atlantic story, Bruce Mitchell at PW Torch was the only major reporter to come out of Twitter direct messages and offer any details on the story. Bruce is close to the promotion and this must have been a hard piece to write. While I could take issue with it at times reading like the redemption narrative script for Stutts, Mitchell is more than fair in saying it is time for Stutts to step up and take responsibility for his past and future actions. This is a good piece.
The Moses Malone, Michael Elgin, and Sean Orleans situation gives us the other end of this coverage. Multiple websites have reprinted statements from Michael Elgin (who has been accused of abuse), including Pro Wrestling Sheet and Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter (which is behind a paywall). Meltzer, in his member’s forum, doubled down and questioned the validity of the accuser without offering a reason and linked to a shady anonymous tumblr that not only questioned her statements, but also gave out personal information about her. This could open her up to doxing, stalking, and threats upon her life. This is the wrong way to treat anyone, let alone a victim coming forward.
Dave Meltzer abdicated his responsibility to readers and the wrestling industry by assuming the accuser in this situation was lying, believing unsourced convenient information over one of the parties involved, and misleading the public. He has yet to apologize on Twitter, his website, or his member’s forum, for doing any of this. He has yet to print or podcast a retraction to the many incorrect statements he made while covering this story.
While both of the above sites (Pro Wrestling Sheet and Wrestling Observer) reprinted statements from the accused without contacting the victim, Jerome Cusson at PWPonderings did, and this compelling interview was the result. Would it have been hard, via direct message, email, or anything else to talk to Malone about what she has been saying? No. Not at all. In fact, it was the journalistic responsibility of anyone covering the story to do so.
Where are we now? How can wrestling media, and the professional wrestling community in general, be better? I have some incomplete thoughts on this.
First and foremost, believe the accusers. Coming forward with any kind of accusation against those in power is difficult. It often has negative consequences, ranging from online threats to much worse. No one is coming forward hoping to profit. No one profits from accusations of sexual misconduct. The idea that there is some billion dollar lawsuit around the corner for any person telling the story of their abuse is absurd. And before I’m asked, no one is demanding reporters not do the journalistic work of asking questions and finding out more information. Ask questions of all sides and present them. Don’t just reprint one side of the story without offering additional context.
For fans, understand that it could be a person you admire being accused. Believe the accuser. Over the weekend accusations about Aziz Ansari surfaced. If you’ve read my writing over the last couple years, I’ve heaped praise and admiration upon Ansari’s body of work. It sucks to find out someone you admire has been accused of sexual misconduct. I think many lean into denials because it’s easier. We need to deal with the dissonance of admiring someone’s work and knowing they’ve done bad things. When it’s potentially your favorite wrestler being accused, please do the same.
Support women in wrestling media. This space cannot change without getting more diverse. We need more women. We need more non-binary writers. We need more than just straight white males contributing to wrestling media. Tell your favorite website to seek out and hire women. Amplify women’s voices by seeking out awesome women who write about wrestling and linking to their work! If you’re a woman reading this wanting to write about wrestling, start a wrestling website or blog! You can always submit a writing sample unsolicited to your favorite wrestling media outlet as well. This will lead to this space being a safer place for those needing one within the wrestling community.
Understand that we already have and we will fail. As I mentioned above, wrestling media is based largely on access journalism and exists without the resources to do much more than pick up the phone and ask a question. There is no multi-million dollar investigative force coming to help out. Wrestling media is not equipped to handle this movement and it will fail at doing so. My hope is those in wrestling media will learn from this, add some badass women to our numbers along the way, and do better after each failure.
While wrestling media is not equipped for the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement, it is what those in wrestling, especially indie wrestling, have. Websites like this one, PWTorch, Pro Wrestling Sheet, PWInsider, Wrestling Observer, PWPonderings, SC Sirens, and any I’ve missed are what those in and around wrestling have. These are the places their stories can be heard and understood. We in wrestling media owe it to the victims of misconduct, harassment, and abuse to tell their stories.
In the last few months, it hasn’t just been celebrities and high profile men being taken down into the garbage fire of sexual predators. I’ve seen it happen to people in my personal life. Sarah Silverman, on her Hulu show, talked about this by saying: “This recent calling out of sexual assault has been a long time coming, it’s good. It’s like cutting out tumors — it’s messy and it’s complicated and it is gonna hurt, but it’s necessary and we’ll all be healthier for it. It sucks, and some of our heroes will be taken down and we will discover bad things about people we like, or in some cases, people we love.”
Author’s Note: Pro Wrestling Sheet did include a link to the text logs posted by Malone in their post about Jeff Cobb. This story originally did not reflect this fact and has been updated to do so.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video series “What I Love About Professional Wrestling” subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.