By Jake Barnett, ProWrestling.net Co-Senior Staffer (@barnettjake)
Much like the rest of you, I have observed social media in utter horror as the seemingly endless stream of misconduct allegations against wrestling personalities have poured in over the last few days. I do not seek to address any specific allegation in this blog, nor am I in a position to proclaim anyone’s guilt or innocence, but I will say that my first instinct in these cases is to believe victims. The alleged conduct is appalling, including various forms of rape, grooming and soliciting minors, sexual favors traded quid pro quo for jobs and promotions, spousal abuse, gaslighting, and other forms of personal and workplace misconduct.
In many cases, prominent wrestling personalities have spoken up in support of the victims, with some even acknowledging that they are yet unprepared to tell their own stories. The trauma, anguish, and regret conveyed through these stories is simply staggering, and something that is difficult enough for me to process as an observer, let alone being a victim. I could not help but think of my own 9-year-old daughter, who has attended several wrestling shows with me, and how uncomfortable I have suddenly become with recommending wrestling to her as a form of entertainment. I imagine many of the victims of these incidents at one time being wrestling fans as children, and how that passion may have led them into the paths of predators that they wanted to believe had their best interests at heart.
The ugliness of these allegations was met with an equally ugly response from portions of the wrestling community who do not wish to believe their heroes capable of depravity and moral failure. I saw many who would demand impossible levels of evidence to be produced or would immediately question the motives and credibility of accusers. The truth of these allegations will be sorted in due course, but the net effect of this knee jerk anger at victims creates a chilled atmosphere where people are afraid to tell their stories, and emboldens predators who continue to traumatize people without fear of repercussions. I would encourage everyone to embrace empathy for victims, because the consequences of being taken in by a lying victim are far less severe in scope than further enabling monstrous behavior by forcing victims to live in fear of speaking out.
Throughout the process of reading these stories and the subsequent reactions, it is hard for one’s mind not to wonder how many people in a position to do something about these situations were generally aware of their occurrence? How many were participants? Whether it is fellow performers, small time promoters, or corporate executives, it seems impossible for this type of atmosphere to persist in locker rooms without leadership adopting a permissive attitude towards it. We have all read the same stories and shoot interviews for decades about political maneuvering and bullying in wrestling locker rooms, but extraordinarily little about this other elephant in the room. If the situation is this bad now, what does that mean for other eras? The situation feels like an iceberg, where the few cases that have been made public throughout the decades must be dwarfed by what still lies beneath the surface.
The response to this explosive situation from wrestling companies has been a mixed bag. Some have done the right thing and immediately terminated relationships with certain wrestlers until the matters are resolved, but others have remained completely silent or released carefully worded PR statements that did not acknowledge or condemn the behavior directly. This lack of leadership, especially from major promotions that carry significant weight in the community, has been both maddening and disheartening to witness. Each of these situations presents an opportunity to set the right example, both publicly to fans and internally to the organization. The cat is now out of the bag. This problem is prolific, and it must be pursued and eradicated. If that means legendary wrestling personalities, leaders, executives or even entire organizations need to be humbled and shamed, then so be it. This seeming amorality in the pursuit of celebrity and profit betrays the dignity of both fans and performers.
I am certain that over the weekend, and in the weeks to come, we are going to hear more from people whose lives have been upended by the traumas inflicted upon them at the hands of people in wrestling. It is vital that their voices be heard, and that we encourage those who may feel paralyzed to act to stand up and be counted. This situation is a cancer that eats at the very bones of this industry, and it cannot be allowed to persist. To all the victims out there that have yet to be heard, I hope you find the courage to share your story in due time. I will support you in exposing and condemning this behavior whenever and wherever I can.