By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
I was wondering who Fred Rosser’s next opponent would be.
For those who missed it on this past week’s edition of New Japan Strong, Rosser defeated TJP to retain his NJPW Strong Openweight title. The stories on NJPW Strong with Fred Rosser as champion are usually pretty simple. Rosser wrestles. Rosser wins. Rosser celebrates. Someone attacks him or calls him out. A match is set up for the next batch of tapings. We see that match stream about a month later.
And so, as the camera was staying on the NJPW Strong champ just a little too long after his victory over TJP and the celebration looked as though it may never end, a guy in a hoodie and a ball cap came through the crowd to attack him. That guy?
And … here we go again.
Earlier this year, two women wrestlers accused Dickinson of abuse in some form. One of those accusers was pro wrestler Christina Von Eerie, who said Dickinson allegedly verbally, physically, and mentally abused her. In part, her story read:
“People ask why I didn’t come out and say this all sooner. It’s because I was scared of the backlash. He’s got so many people fooled thinking that he’s a good person. All the girls he works with think he has respect for them, but he doesn’t. Because he doesn’t have respect for women in general. Another reason was because I didn’t want to relive this trauma. Having to talk about it is painful, and gives me so much anxiety. I thought, what’s the point. He’s dead to me. I don’t have to see him. I’ll just work on myself and move on with my life, but the reality is that this still affects me.
“I have to see his face on flyers He interacts with my friends and peers that don’t know the whole story of what he did to me. He just flat out got away with it. Suffering zero consequences, and maintaining a false image of decently [sic], and retaining the respect of people around him that would actually have no respect for him if they knew the truth.”
Dickinson responded by posting a series of statements (that, combined, I suppose, make up one full statement) on Twitter and those things read, in part:
“For those of you that have been weaponized by my accusers to hate, attack, abandon critical thinking and want to draw negative attention to myself without being provided any actual proof or context other than false allegations and he said/she said information, I ask you this: What would you like me to do? Plead my innocence in imaginary Twitter court? Share years of conversations, private information, screen shots, tell my side of the story? Hope I’m forgiven and everything goes back to normal? No matter what I can say and prove, we all know that will not help me at all.
“There’s so many details conveniently left out of my accusers’ individual stories, yet a mass of contradiction, fabrication of the truth, embellishment and lies are all present. This is not about awareness. I promise you I can provide more than enough information and truth to reveal my accusers as nothing more than bitter ex-girlfriends with their own separate motives bent on destroying my career.”
Dickinson has since filed a defamation lawsuit against his accusers.
I had grown to really like Dickinson’s work over the years. He wrestles somewhat of a Strong style (even if that phrase is wildly out of vogue anymore), he has his own blend of tough guy charisma, he appears to be a strident student of the game, and above all else, he’s a drummer. The drum geekdom community is real and while I can’t say for sure if he’s a drum geek, the amount of videos he used to post of him playing the drums always made me smile.
And yet with all of those things established …
… I just can’t do it.
When I saw him appear on the screen to confront Rosser, any excitement I had running through my blood dissipated like mist into a speeding car. It was kind of like when I was sitting a few rows back in Philadelphia earlier this year and Dickinson’s return to New Japan Strong came when he took on Tanahashi. The moment was supposed to be magical. Tanahashi was on American soil. He’s one of the best in the world. I was 20 feet away from him. But watching him wrestle Dickinson just made me go … eh?
It’s the inherent problem I have with anyone who’s been cleared to wrestle but continues to find themselves standing under a shadow that casts its net far and wide. I’m consistently told Jay Lethal is still one of the best wrestlers in the world. But as I wrote here a while ago, when I see him hit the AEW ring, it makes me go … eh? MSK (or The Rascalz, whatever you want to call them) were electric in NXT, but once Nash Carter’s alleged dirty laundry was aired and WWE released him almost immediately, the only reaction when I see his name on the independent scene now is … eh?
The thing is, I don’t even know if I’m being fair in doing so. I’m a firm believer in second, third, fourth, 20th chances. I do think we mess up. I do think we often don’t learn from our mistakes. I do think we’ve done things for which we are ashamed. I do think nobody is anywhere near perfect and I do think without forgiveness, we can’t ever grow, change or even exist. And if these are my convictions, perhaps the truth behind the abuse allegations in professional wrestling is moot and perhaps the gospel I preach is predicated on healing and pardon.
But then I see some of these people pop up on television and there’s a barrier around which I cannot get. Maybe it’s the defiance in the responses of the accused (then again, if you didn’t do anything wrong and someone’s saying you did something wrong, maybe it’s fair to be defiant?). Maybe it’s how realistic some of these alleged scenarios feel (while I’m sure there are some pro wrestlers who aren’t obsessively narcissistic, it’s hard to think an industry based so much on aesthetics doesn’t breed narcissism and so many of these allegations coincide with narcissism). Maybe I just … don’t know?
Actually, that’s what it is. I don’t know. And I’ll never know. I’ll never know what exactly happened between two people I’ll never know. Each person’s experience is their own and the moments that lie between partners are moments nobody on the outside of that partnership could ever understand. Things are never cut-and-dry. There’s nuance everywhere.
Perhaps that’s why I have the same internal response when I see these people who have been accused of mostly the same things. Nobody says sorry anymore. No matter what the objective truth might say about Dickinson’s relationship with Von Eerie, there’s no denying that Von Eerie walked away from it scarred. And that means something. Or, at least, it should. So, even if Dickinson thinks he was never in the wrong and even if he thinks all of this is nothing more than a hit job, there should be a little room for compassion on a strictly human level.
But, if his Twitter statement was any indication, that’s not there. And as a result, I find myself with another wrestler on my mental list of people that make me half-cringe when they step into a ring. It’s not unlike the feeling I get when I read stories about NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson coming back later this year to play for the Cleveland Browns after being accused of lewd behavior with message therapists. Amid all the scandals, accusations and hurt, he was rewarded with the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history.
Which makes me go … what?
And that sentiment extends across all platforms. Do I think Watson should be allowed to play this year? I don’t. Do I think he should be banned from the NFL for life? Boy, that’s a hard one. Give him a few years to rehab himself and express true change – which is something he has not done at all during any of his press conferences since joining Cleveland – and giving him another shot might seem reasonable. Just make sure he isn’t booking any massages in the foreseeable future.
Conversely, do I think Chris Dickinson should be blackballed from wrestling forever? I don’t know if that’s the answer, but that suggestion is a hard one, too, because the accusations against him didn’t just come from women; they came from coworkers. Coworkers he allegedly dated in some form, but coworkers nonetheless. If I’m a woman in a locker room with him, do I feel safe? That’s a question to which I could never know the answer.
Such is why the blurred lines in these scenarios are enough for me to want to turn away from wrestling sometimes. Sammy Guevara thought it was funny to say he wanted to rape Sasha Banks. He got a couple weeks off TV and we’re supposed to think his sense of humor has matured in an extremely profound way since those comments were made? You can forgive, but forgetting is a lot harder to do when these people are put in successful positions in their workplace. WWE told Nash Carter (a/k/a Zachary Wentz) to get lost the second they heard the case against him.
And then the company’s CEO … well, that was a different story.
Which again raises the question: What’s the accepted protocol for these situations? And while that was a question I asked in one of these columns months ago, it’s worth expanding now to this: Does a protocol even matter? If someone loses a job, is that enough of a price to pay for what that someone did to another person’s well-being? More so, are we, as fans, complicit in holding wrestlers accountable for accusations made against them if we don’t turn away from them whenever we see them wrestle?
Vince McMahon was outed as an alleged serial sexual predator and he walked into an arena filled with thousands of fans chanting his name. Chris Dickinson was accused of mental, physical, and emotional abuse and a group of a few hundred fans in LA booed him. If there’s a more blatant example of how gray the lines are when it comes to alleged misconduct in pro wrestling, I can’t find it.
At the end of the day, none of it leaves a good taste in my mouth. While real life is complicated, some of us try to escape it for a few hours a week when we tune into this stuff – stuff that should never be more complicated than “Did the ref see him hit the other guy with a chair?” And yet it continues to be just that. To know that it falls on us as fans to be moral judge, jury and executioner for some people, based solely on the stories, talent, legacy, allegations and rebuttals … it seems counterintuitive to one of the things that makes pro wrestling great, which, at its core, is entertainment.
Can I be fully entertained by someone who might not be the greatest human being outside of the ring? New Japan thinks so. Me? I’m not so sure anymore.