Actually, Wrestling Is the Last Thing We Need Right Now

At the risk of repeating myself, it is insane that there is still professional wrestling on television right now. It is irresponsible that there is still professional wrestling on television right now. It is, depending on your level of concern over coronavirus, morally reprehensible that there is still professional wrestling on television right now. But here it is, WWE and AEW alike, two franchises bound and determined to soldier on through a pandemic like a pandemic is something you can beat by showing it that you’re not afraid, like catastrophic illness and death are outcomes one can wrestle with.

I hate it. I fucking hate wrestling right now, and every time AEW or WWE announce something—the postponement of the Blood & Guts match, the expansion of WrestleMania to a two day affair—I wonder if my relationship to this thing I have loved for longer than I can remember can be repaired. The attitude these entities are copping right now, this “let’s put on a show!” spirit that’s meant to bring us all closer and remind us of the things that make us feel good, is an appropriate one for saving the Muppets from getting evicted from their theater, but what are the men and women who perform on and produce these shows risking exposure—both for themselves and the circles in which they travel—for, a payday and television revenue? Is that enough?

The obvious answer to this is “fuck no,” and yet, there are wrestlers doing it for less. Until gatherings of 10 or more people were banned in Illinois, Freelance Wrestling was going to run a show in an empty warehouse, sponsored by Pro Wrestling Tees. Game Changer Wrestling ran a two night show, The Acid Cup 2, featuring a “Social Distancing Match” between Jimmy Lloyd and AEW’s Joey Janella, who will presumably be at next week’s AEW Dynamite despite the utter lack of accountability for where anybody in the GCW locker room has been, adding a frankly horrifying number of variables to a contact map, were it possible to draw one in the first place.

On one hand, I get it. Literally hundreds of independent wrestlers are out of bookings for the foreseeable future as promoters shut down shows without the means to run in an empty room. Call after call has gone out on social media to support independent promotions and wrestlers, to buy merch, not ask for refunds on WrestleMania week tickets, to watch streams of old shows on IWTV and uploads on YouTube just to make sure that some money is trickling in. One last show sounds like a fun idea, and given that it was a (very successful) fundraiser for the wrestlers involved, maybe a good one, too.

But man, every picture I saw of the Acid Cup’s participants hanging out in the ring together, 16 men in the tight quarters of a professional wrestling ring, made me twitch anxiously. Even if this is the end of indie wrestling for awhile, nothing warranted a send-off under these conditions.

The major leagues, though.

WWE and AEW exist on the other end of the spectrum from GCW, respectively a publicly traded global corporation owned by a man worth nearly $2B and a private corporation owned by a man worth just over $8B. One owns a football league that suspended play earlier this month, the other owns a football team in a league that will absolutely suspend play if the pandemic continues into its preseason. If one were being (extremely, overly) generous, you might say that ignoring the precautions other major sporting organizations have taken after abandoning their plans to do empty arena games is a kind of public service, the rich and secure giving the poor and terrified their circuses despite panic buying depriving them of their bread.

That’s the same stupid argument you could apply to every billionaire who is keeping their business open or suspending their presidential campaigns to endorse Joe Biden or idly tweeting that they’ll convert their factories to the production of medical ventilators when they’re personally taken through a ward of people dying for their lack. The continuing story of professional wrestling, Triple H’s “book that never ends,” is emblematic of America’s insufficient response to this crisis, its foolhardy belief that the exceptional are immune from disaster.

Unfortunately, it seems that disaster is what it will take to put a halt to these shows, a wrestler or crew member testing positive for the virus, at which point every member of the roster and staff at that show would have to self-quarantine. What’s unclear in both companies’ declarations of being there for its audiences is how merely shooting in an empty venue protects the people making the show. Are wrestlers able to opt out of shows? Are those who choose to wrestle being encouraged to isolate themselves as much as possible? Why are the secure locations these shows are held in the state with the sixth most confirmed cases? How often are wrestlers getting tested? If a wrestler from WWE tests positive, will AEW suspend their shows? If a wrestler from AEW tests positive, will WWE suspend their shows?

Beyond the logistics of things like Blood & Guts and WrestleMania, neither company has said anything more substantive than that the health and safety of fans and performers are the priority. WWE’s official statement on the matter, which could have gone a long way towards explaining how they felt it was possible for that to be true while running shows, largely ruminates on the financial impact of COVID-19, while Tony Khan’s six tweet address from the AEW Twitter account is an apology for not running a match where a bunch of people are going to bleed on each other because the time isn’t right and a vow to keep airing live every Wednesday on TNT before brazenly asking the fans to stay safe and smart. I am used to wrestling treating me like a child while itself acting like a self-destructive one, but this goes above and beyond don’t try this at home videos or anti-bullying campaigns or Stand Up For WWE. Stay safe. Stay smart. And please tune in Wednesday at 8:00PM EST to watch the biggest stars in professional wrestling do the opposite of just that.

There are other things the McMahons and the Khans could be doing with their time and money than giving Twitter weirdos the opportunity to compare their product to Samuel Beckett, but billionaires are seldom interested in being of use. That’s how we’re here, now, where the service being offered is the one of least use, one that’s meant to make me smile but is only making me more anxious with each passing show. All of this effort, all of this risk, all for the benefit of producing documentaries that burnish the legacy of these shows as something soothing in trying times, the novelty of an empty seat WrestleMania juxtaposed against Bobby Heenan riding a camel in the parking lot of Caesar’s Palace or the fake bomb scare that moved Hogan vs. Slaughter to a smaller arena. Wrestling stops for nothing, even when it should.

It should. It won’t. We should all be asking why.