By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
I don’t know where the line is.
I don’t know what differentiates the accepted bad stuff and the non-accepted bad stuff. Because last time I checked, bad stuff is, indeed, bad stuff. There are no asterisks. There are no qualifiers. There is no “Yeah, but.” Bad stuff is bad stuff.
So, I’ll say it again before asking a question …
LETHAL TO AEW
I don’t know where the line is. And can someone please offer an explanation?
First, the details. Outside of title changes, perhaps the biggest news to come out of the AEW festivities this past weekend was that Jay Lethal has signed with the company. He asked for his early release from Ring of Honor — a company about which he said not that long ago that he should get an ROH tattoo on his back because he’d be there for life — and he will not wrestle at what could be the company’s final-ever pay-per-view, Final Battle, next month.
Tony Khan seemed eager to bring him in and Jay Lethal seemed eager to be brought in, so there were smiles and handshakes and another round of “Ohhhh, I want to see [insert newly signed AEW wrestler] with [insert popular, talented, established AEW wrestler]” discussions everywhere. Lethal will now be thrust into the thick of things Wednesday when he faces Sammy Guevara for the TNT Title on Dynamite.
Now, as it goes, Jay Lethal can’t go anywhere or do anything without having the following things tag along: In 2018, Taeler Hendrix accused Lethal of sexual harassment while the two worked in Ring Of Honor, and Hendrix claimed speaking out caused her to lose her push. Kelly Klein has alleged that multiple women had complaints against Lethal as well. Ring of Honor said it was going to launch an investigation. Those results never came. Some people claimed Ring of Honor tried to cover the whole thing up. Lethal denied all accusations across the board.
And so …
WHO GETS CHANCES?
Again, where is the line?
I’m not writing this to pile on Lethal in any way because the Twitter masses have already helped themselves to that. On the other end, I’m also not writing this to defend Lethal, either. I don’t know Lethal. I don’t know Klein. I don’t know Hendrix. I don’t know what it’s like to work for Ring of Honor. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what didn’t happen. I cannot speak to any truth here because wherever the truth lies, the vast majority of us do not know.
What I do wonder about, however, is where pro wrestling draws the line for wrestlers to be banished, forgiven, accepted or reborn. And when I say “pro wrestling,” I mean everybody. The locker room. The company owners. The production crew. The talent managers. Every aspect of every company — where do people draw the line between being forgiven and being blackballed? And furthermore, what is the criteria for issuing either one of those sentences?
It’s like the Deshaun Watson situation for the Houston Texans of the NFL. The star quarterback has more than 20 lawsuits against him from various women claiming a wide array of misconduct, harassment, and everything else in between. He hasn’t played a down this year because of those lawsuits, but there was chatter throughout the first half of the NFL season that Watson could be traded. Yet each time I read about another rumor claiming another team was interested, all I could think was, “How on earth could an NFL owner, GM and coach stand up at an introductory press conference, shake this guy’s hand in front of the world watching at home, and put their arm around him, telling everybody this is one swell dude?”
They couldn’t. That’s why he was never traded.
Again, where’s the line?
I ask because I don’t think one has ever been established. And if there was some semblance of a line to which promoters or company owners adhered, I’m inclined to wonder if Lethal signing with AEW marks the end of that line being recognized. Let us please not forget that June day in 2020 when the Speaking Out movement was born. It might seem like a decade ago because a global pandemic can really do wonders for our circadian rhythm, but it was almost one year and five months to the day that David Starr was accused of sexual assault.
From there, the flood waters continued to overwhelm the flood gates as a trove of victims bravely shared their horror stories in the wrestling business on social media. And for about a month or two, it felt like wrestling had cleaned up its act. Even AEW stepped up, firing Jimmy Havoc, who was accused of everything from rape to verbal abuse to domestic abuse. The aforementioned Guevara came under scrutiny as well and nearly lost his job after confusing “a joke” with wanting to “rape somebody.” But, as history told us, Guevara kept his spot on the roster.
So, let’s just examine this for a second or two. If you are accused of rape, and you are an on-air talent for AEW, you will be sent away for treatment and ultimately fired. If you are an on-air talent for AEW and concoct a joke around the premise of wanting to rape a woman because you find her very attractive, you will be suspended, forced to go to sensitivity training, keep your job, and become a champion within a year or so. Finally, if you are accused of sexual harassment in another company and want to come be an AEW on-air talent, you could very well be hired.
Now, settle down. I know it sounds like I’m piling on AEW and I really don’t mean to do that. But before you argue that things aren’t as cut and dry as that outline suggested … well, are you sure about that? Because if I recall, the Speaking Out movement set out to clean all of this stuff up, and in truth, cleaning all of this stuff up meant getting rid of all the bad. When it comes to harassment, abuse, harm or anything in between, there is very little wiggle room to re-define bad. It’s simple. There should not be harassment. There should not be abuse. There should not be harm. Period. No exceptions. No “Yeah, but.”
So, I’ll ask again …
DOES FORGIVENESS EXIST?
Where is the line?
Are wrestlers supposed to have their livelihoods taken away from them forever if they made mistakes, learned from those mistakes, and changed who they are, how they think, and the ways they conduct themselves? You can’t find a bigger believer in second chances than me, and as I’ve said before in one of these Monday pieces, I believe forgiveness is paramount to existence. But can forgiveness and comfort coexist under these circumstances?
Guevara got it right when he messed up. He came out, he recognized he said what he said, he offered what felt like a sincere apology, and then even reached out to Sasha Banks, the subject of his joke, to apologize. On the other end of this, Lethal has denied all the allegations, and that, to a lot of people, doesn’t sit well. That was evidenced by the reaction AEW received online Saturday night as a result of him being signed. Some people love his wrestling work and were excited. Some people argued that the allegations against him were never proven. Others, meanwhile, clamored for results of the ROH investigation and shook their virtual fingers at AEW for bringing him in.
So, what’s the answer? If Lethal never messed up, why should he be held back from an opportunity in AEW? If Lethal did mess up, why should he be given an opportunity in the first place? And you want to know who should answer those questions? Certainly not me; instead, it should be the women that will have to share the backstage space with Lethal. Are those women comfortable? Are they aware of the past accusations and do they have strong feelings one way or the other?
Then, of course, there’s the fading construct of forgiveness in this day and age and maybe that’s where this situation becomes murky. For those who missed it, here’s part of Lethal’s response to the allegations last year:
“The #speakingout movement has given me hope that the industry that I’ve chosen to give my life to will become a better place. I’ve wanted to stand in support of all those brave enough to share their painful stories. Unfortunately, I was afraid to due to the lies that are being said about me. I have never and would never sexually harass, sexually assault, rape or force myself on anyone. I would never use my status to deny anyone opportunities. Even now, it pains me to know that defending myself might somehow tarnish an important movement and cast doubt in real, troubling experiences.”
That’s fine. Those are the right things to say, if not admittedly a little self-aggrandizing. But what I never understand is when a person takes the position that whatever was said about him or her is entirely fabricated. So, Klein, Hendrix, and however many other alleged women had all these things to say and they all painted you in a pretty sketchy light, and you’re telling me not a single word of it holds weight? I’m not so sure about that. Even if you really are innocent, it’s clear you made someone somewhere at some point feel not great. It might be an idea to at least acknowledge it.
But I digress. Because, beyond these interpersonal relations and the allegations and the questionable things that make everybody wonder if the wrestling business really is cleaning itself up after decades of futility, I have one more question to ask, but this time on a macro level, and that question is …
WHERE THE BIG BOYS PLAY?
Where is the line?
Where is the line when it comes to the way the top two mainstream wrestling companies conduct business like this? AEW is in the news for this now, but let’s not forget that one-half of the Raw Tag Team Champions, Matt Riddle, faced some pretty intense stuff last year. Riddle’s accuser dropped the lawsuit earlier this year, but that came after a bunch of non-flattering private information became public. Riddle kept his job, of course, but Jack Gallagher was let go. So was Travis Banks. Jordan Devlin, however? He’s still around.
And then, of course, there’s “Velveteen Dream” Patrick Clark. Even though the allegations kept coming and the pressure kept mounting, WWE stuck with him until they absolutely could not do it anymore. When Dream was over with the live crowd and became one of NXT’s top stars, WWE insisted its investigation didn’t find anything. Then the Dream wrestling act became stale, the accusations became more commonly known, crowds became apathetic toward Dream, the guy wasn’t getting over, and … well, it’s probably not just a coincidence that WWE let him go once they realized he wasn’t a star anymore.
Which, of course, leads us precisely to the point: Does Jay Lethal only get this chance because the decision-makers at AEW believe he’s one of the best workers in the world and they think he’ll become a star? And if you’re, say, a Peter Avalon, but you have the exact same allegations haunting your career, do you get this chance?
It’s all to say that the line is subjective, which means, in truth, the line doesn’t exist. If you are the wrestling business and you publicly promise to clean yourself up, and you were just rocked less than a year-and-a-half ago by a big moment that should wake you the hell up, and it takes you little time at all to make people start to question your motives again, you have no line. You have no moral compass. You have no consistent, established code by which you live in order to ensure the people in your line of work will always feel safe.
AEW was and is supposed to be an alternative to WWE — and that goes beyond “offering wrestling and not sports entertainment.” It includes culture, a culture that everyone who works there says is the best culture they’ve ever been around in the wrestling business. That’s great. I hope it stays that way. But it makes no sense to me, how both companies can actively look at some people and fire them or not hire them because of checkered pasts and then look at others who also have checkered pasts and give them the green light. It’s irresponsible and disrespectful to the change that was supposed to infiltrate the wrestling business after so many people gathered the courage to tell their stories publicly.
I don’t know what happened with Jay Lethal. In fact, the only thing I know for sure about him is that he obviously does a hell of a Randy Savage impression. What I do know is that the wrestling industry took a lot of steps forward on June 17, 2020, when the Speaking Out movement began in earnest. But in the ensuing months, the wrestling industry took some of those steps back and the reasoning for as much can only be reduced to ignorance, greed and a historically short memory.
I know this isn’t a business that prides itself on consistency, but in this case, it could do all companies well to pay a little more attention to definition when it comes to the line — whenever they ultimately allow one to be established. Because the last thing anybody should be saying is what I said at the beginning of this.
I don’t know where the line is.