[Content Warning on this piece for discussion of sexual violence and trauma.]
It feels odd to ask people to care about wrestling right now. This has been a theme in pretty much everything we’ve published in the last three months, but it’s the truth. In April I asked why pro wrestling can’t happen under ethical conditions. I was talking about AEW and WWE’s decision to have people work in close physical proximity during a global pandemic, but the question is relevant to a lot more than that, and has been for a long time.
Sexual violence is not a new problem for pro wrestling, just like it isn’t a new problem in any part of the entertainment industry or our wider culture. It’s part of the fabric of our society, as essential to how power operates as any other form of exploitation. It is endemic not just to heteropatriarchy, but to imperialism, white supremacy, and capitalism. It is a treasured tool of hierarchical power structures and dominance, perfectly scalable from the highest offices of government to religious organizations to the workplace to niche local subcultures to the family unit. It’s adaptable, flexible, and even easier to get away with than it is to commit.
There is nothing I can say about how sexual violence operates that hasn’t been said more eloquently by better qualified, smarter people. In the last few years in particular, we’ve watched a spotlight be shined on difficult, vital work being done by brave, intrepid people to begin to break down some of the cultures of silence that have existed around the subject.
Wrestling is always a little bit behind the curve.
This week has seen dozens of wrestlers and wrestling fans come forward with stories of sexual assault, grooming, coercion, harassment, and domestic abuse by wrestlers, promoters, trainers, producers, and other people in the professional wrestling world. A small number of people have been released, resigned, and been taken off of shows. A larger number of people have denied allegations. An even larger number have remained silent.
This is not the first time allegations of sexual harassment or violence were made against a wrestler since the creation of this vertical. But it is the first time we’ve addressed it. One reason for that is that we don’t really do news coverage, another is that I have no background in the kind of investigative journalism required to really cover sexual violence allegations responsibly and no one has ever pitched me on it. It’s not something I would ask someone else to cover.
In full honesty though? The main reason is that I don’t want to think about it. I don’t talk about sexual violence. When it comes up, I quietly file any facts presented to me away in my mind as coldly and impersonally as I can and adjust my actions and support according to that information. It feels wrong to do that this time.
If you know you know, but in case you don’t: Sexual assault turns your body into enemy territory. Coercion and grooming poison the way you feel desire. Sexual violence takes all of it, from the ability to feel connection and trust to the simple delight of physical touch, and weaponizes it against you. It alienates you, not just from other people, but from yourself. You lose ownership of your body, feeling sometimes like a hostage, other times like a guest. Some people recover from it and some people don’t. Most lie somewhere in the middle.
It’s hard to describe without feeling like I’m being trite or maudlin or overdramatic, while still somehow underselling it. It’s hard to describe without feeling like I’m speaking out of turn for other people. So, I’m sorry. My point here is that it’s a singularly cruel thing, a traumatic injury you can physically feel but can’t ever pin down.
For sexual violence to be so pervasive in an industry that is so physical feels especially cruel. The physical demands of a professional wrestler are already very, very high. These days, almost every professional wrestler is expected to be strong, acrobatic, flexible, fast, and in excellent cardiovascular shape. They are mechanisms for spectacle. The look of their bodies is also expected to be spectacular—sites upon which the audience can project our collective dreams of strength and desire and mastery. They are often expected to not just be beautiful, but to be beautiful in ways we can never be, in ways that range from unlikely to almost impossible. Most importantly, they’re expected to have Presence. They’re expected to be physically dynamic and magnetic.
Wrestlers live in constant pain, whether it’s from injuries or soreness. They skip dessert and drag themselves to the gym for us. They fall on their heads for us. They bleed for us. They tan for us. They get cosmetic surgeries for us. They damage their bodies for us. The prospect of having to do all of those things while experiencing the alienation and trauma of having survived or continuing to endure sexual violence is horrific. Seeing more and more wrestlers and trainees come forward to confirm that they did just that is horrific. Trying to imagine the number of people who gave up on their dreams—who decided they didn’t want to express themselves with their bodies anymore, for whom wrestling was ruined—is both heartbreaking and infuriating.
To top all of that off, the fact that wrestlers have no form of collective bargaining, no healthcare, no job security, and nobody overseeing their well-being who isn’t trying to directly profit off of them feels like a miserable joke. Wrestling has all of the conditions that allow things like comedy and music to be breeding grounds for abuse with the added curveball of being a dangerous, difficult, physical performance.
I’ve talked a lot here, probably too much for an editorial statement, and I didn’t even get to the apparently very widespread problem of wrestlers abusing and harassing fans, or to this kind of behavior leaking out into wrestling adjacent spheres. I didn’t even get to abusers not only using the language of feminism and social justice to hide behind, but flagrantly benefitting from it. I didn’t get to the number of times allegations and charges have been brought to people in wrestling, to the number of stories where wrestlers openly admit to committing sexual violence only to become jokes or open secrets.
I’ve said before that I want to raise the bar of what we expect from wrestling, and I am reaffirming that commitment. Lastly and most importantly, I want to express that I am awestruck and full of respect for the growing number of people who have been courageous enough to be honest and tell their stories. Thank you. I promise to do my utmost to do right by you.