Here at Sports Obsessive, we stand by those who have shared their stories as part of the #SpeakingOut Movement and will continue to do so. If you or someone you know needs assistance, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is 800-656-4673.
Over the past week, pro wrestling has seen its own version of the #MeToo movement come to life. What started as a handful of British talents being exposed for sexual abuse and other forms of harassment has spread quickly, with most every promotion in the world impacted one way or another.
Wrestling has long had a strange subculture, often living in the shadows, away from other more mainstream forms of entertainment. The industry has carny roots, with a penchant for outlaw behavior but as time has gone on, changes in the world have caught up to wrestling. WWE was forced to take action in the early 1990s when the steroid scandals broke out, which forever changed the business. When Chris Benoit murdered his wife and son before taking his own life, WWE was forced to make more changes. The company began to institute more testing and medical checks, offering treatment for those struggling with substance abuse and more. A tragedy helped bring about change for the better, which unfortunately involved the loss of lives. We very well could be looking at the same here.
Over the last week, we’ve heard about rape allegations. We’ve heard about unwanted sexual advances, approaching underage people with requests for lewd photos, blackballing people from the business who didn’t comply with requests sexual in nature. We’ve heard about men exposing themselves, sex in exchange for career advancement and physical abuse. We’ve heard a lot of troubling things and as a community of fans, been faced with the difficult task of giving those speaking up a chance to do so without judgement, while also trying to not persecute anyone until these stories fully play out. It’s a hard line to walk as fans and for those who run wrestling promotions as well. A lot of information has been thrown out very quickly with calls for both justice and fairness. Those who spoke up have been brave and you don’t want that to be for nothing. Those who are forced to make decisions here, decisions about careers, their promotions and setting a precedent for what allegations and accusations like this should be punishable by, are forced to act quickly, with their decisions bound to be judged by all.
Impact Wrestling has released both Joey Ryan and Dave Crist, while suspending Michael Elgin. WWE has released Jack Gallagher. Dave Lagana has resigned from the NWA, which effectively shut down all of their operations. Most every promotion he worked with has cut ties with David Starr. AEW has suspended Sammy Guevara and sent Jimmy Havoc to treatment. While this is certainly a start, there are still a lot of names, some with substantial proof against them, that have gone unpunished.
As an industry, what happens next is going to tell the story. Are wrestling companies hoping that chopping off the heads of the most obvious offenders will satisfy those calling for justice? Or are there genuine investigations happening right now to see what else can be turned up on the talents in question? Will #SpeakingOut be treated as a PR nightmare that needs to be quelled or an opportunity for real change? Wrestling has a long history of simply “weathering the storm” with talents busted for bad behavior. Send them away, let them resurface on the indies, bring them back when things have blown over. Will Dave Crist be showing up in front of 20 people somewhere in the Midwest soon, launching his “comeback”? Will Joey Ryan wait a few months before popping an indie crowd as a surprise and beginning his “comeback”? Or will there be real change this time? Will indie promotions take a stand and say “No, I don’t want my company to be associated with this type of person”? History says these guys will get booked again, at some point, some where. How many promotions will take a stand long term and not use these guys again?
Wrestling has been slowly coming out of the shadows for a long while now. This is an opportunity to take another big step. It has to start at the top though. WWE, AEW, ROH, NJPW, Impact – all of these promotions have to set the tone and promotions that are smaller will follow suit. If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve heard the other bigger names being implicated. If WWE takes decisive action, the pressure is then on everyone else to do so. Cleaning up a culture has to start with the leaders in the industry. So far, several names from NXT: UK have a lot of credible evidence against them with no action taken. Velveteen Dream and Matt Riddle are two of the other most talked about names in this movement. Even if WWE finds them to be clear of any wrong doing, they have an opportunity to show the rest of the business how to investigate these matters and show that they went to the greatest of lengths to ensure they’re only employing people who live up to their company standards.
The ghosts of wrestling’s past are rightfully being discussed again, most noticeably Ashley Massaro. The story is out there for all to read. The legal deposition exists. Massaro went on record saying that she was violently raped while in Iraq performing for WWE by a military doctor. According to the deposition, Vince McMahon, in a meeting with other members of WWE upper management, told her to not speak up. WWE has denied these claims but the fact of the matter is Ashley Massaro is dead today, just a few years after giving that deposition. The traumas occurred during any kind of sexual abuse are long lasting and can lead to endings like Ashley Massaro’s. The industry has an opportunity right now to do its part in preventing situations like Ashley’s from happening again. Remove the predators from the business. Rehabilitate those who can be rehabilitated with a strict zero tolerance policy moving forward. Listen to those speaking up, not just now, but always.Take the momentum of these people speaking out and change the culture. Wrestling’s done it before and right now is the time to do it again.