By Jeff Lutz, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@JLutz82)
Pro wrestling needs a break.
Advertised by WWE executive Paul Levesque as an escape from reality, professional wrestling has instead become a painful and almost daily reminder of it. It’s drearily comical to consider the hubris of WWE in particular, offering its brand of entertainment as a distraction as if its performers and personnel can sidestep the problems everyone else is enduring.
Wrestling isn’t only blending in with the darkness around all of us, it’s creating some of it. The #SpeakingOut social media movement has named dozens of wrestlers as alleged perpetrators of sexual harassment, exploitation, and/or violence, marking a monumental achievement for the brave women who have told their stories but a criminally embarrassing snapshot of the business in general.
The information in the previous paragraph was slow to reach Ring of Honor, which finally released a corporate statement on Thursday. The National Wrestling Alliance hasn’t bothered to publicly comment on the allegations or support the movement, even though former Vice President Dave Lagana was among the most prominent men accused of misconduct.
ROH booker Marty Scurll offered a pair of half-hearted and hardly believable explanations for his sexual encounter with an inebriated 16-year-old girl in England, where 16 is the legal age of consent, several years ago.
Looking in from a tumultuous world and expecting a brighter perspective inside professional wrestling has become such a futile exercise that looking at all is no longer feasible. It’s time for wrestling — the major American companies, anyway — to take some time off. The business is not contributing to a healing process in the United States that has seemingly been non-existent, so the only answer is to shut it down temporarily and come back as something easier to support.
I realize that I’m writing this on a website whose owner depends on the daily and weekly existence of professional wrestling for income, which definitely pokes a hole in my argument. Covering the industry seems more difficult than ever, but for those who depend on it to make a living, the idea of undergoing even a brief stoppage probably isn’t palatable.
Still, we’re seven paragraphs into a commentary on a low-point in wrestling’s not-so-decorated history, and the debacle that is WWE’s inaction toward COVID-19 hasn’t even surfaced. Because how can you discuss it without losing any semblance of sanity?
Multiple WWE workers reportedly tested positive for COVID this week, a serious situation in most other companies, but not in WWE, which has refused to get ahead of acceptable testing procedures or accept responsibility for the inevitable positives that have now materialized. All four were non-wrestlers, which makes even the least skeptical person wonder how in-ring talent continues to dodge the disease.
WWE’s sanity-testing statement on Wednesday night only mentioned its plan to continue testing, which it didn’t begin in earnest until last week. It should have included a plan to at least drastically scale back its ambitious weekly television taping schedule, if not suspending it altogether.
The bubble within which WWE Chairman Vince McMahon has encased himself for decades still isn’t offering him a glimpse at the real world. If it were, McMahon would see a distressed public that he no longer possesses the ability to appease through frivolous entertainment that, for the record, needs in-person fans to feel fun.
Short of a shutdown, which we know McMahon will resist at all costs, financial and otherwise, WWE would be wise to actually connect with its fans. A little recognition that the audience is suffering through the country’s most chaotic period of their collective lives would go a long way.
Imagine, for example, WWE humanizing Roman Reigns and allowing him to address the Smackdown audience from his home each week. Or permitting Black stars such as Kofi Kingston, Big E, Apollo Crews or Sasha Banks to discuss, on television, their experiences with racial injustice.
Pro wrestling is its best when it shows us a microcosm of the world, not when it tries to depart from it completely. Fans don’t want an escape, they want to feel like they’re part of something important. Young fans especially want to feel connected, and to support entities that offer those connections. WWE doesn’t, so its audience skews older by the minute.
I’m singling out WWE because it is the industry leader and the company making many of the gravest mistakes in the brightest spotlight. The company does deserve credit for quickly firing 205 Live wrestler Jack Gallagher last week after he was accused of sexual misconduct.
I’ve held off on writing for a while because wrestling has been in a depressing state and I didn’t want to contribute negativity toward something that many readers might actually be viewing as a welcome diversion. Now, though, it feels like everything happening in wrestling is negative. Enough, anyway, that a logical, rational next step is to shut it down. Not forever, but for now.