Wrestling Fans Do Not Own Wrestlers In Their Worst Moments

Content Warning for discussions of suicide, expressions of suicidal ideation, law enforcement’s role in crisis intervention, and depression. If you are in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Trans Lifeline (currently operating at partial capacity) at 1-877-565-8860.

Last night, as AEW Dynamite came to a close, news began circulating that Shannon Spruill, best known for her time in WCW and Impact Wrestling as Daffney Unger, had done a live video on Instagram where she threatened self-harm. Propelled by fellow wrestlers and friends expressing concern and pleading with anybody who knew her whereabouts to try to get in contact with local authorities, a subsection of fans did the unthinkable and began spreading her Instagram Live video around.

This afternoon, Shannon Spruill’s family publicly acknowledged her passing through Lexi Fyfe and SHIMMER Women Athletes, putting an end to a half day’s worth of rumor and speculation over a woman’s life. I mean “rumor and speculation” in the worst possible sense, too, as scrolling past Fightful editor Sean Ross Sapp’s updates and tweets by Mick Foley and Crowbar led to a miasma of worst-case scenario making, outright terrible things to say about depression and mental health, and calls to delete or re-posts of her Instagram video.

Unfortunately, for reasons made clear below, I don’t have an obituary in me for Spruill. But I think an element of this story requires an examination, which is why fans felt so comfortable re-posting video evidence of a woman’s insurmountable trauma and pain.

I want to make clear that there are two things I am not doing in writing this: I am not criticizing people who were seeking help for Spruill, nor am I criticizing journalists who reported on the matter respectfully. I am criticizing the fans who posted that video. It takes a certain kind of person to screen record, edit, re-watch, and post it on Twitter. What I am doing, in the gentlest possible terms, is suggesting that disseminating such a thing, even if well-intentioned, is, at best, ugly and cruel.

Have I seen the video? No. I’m not going to do that to myself. But before I even knew what was happening I had friends checking in on me to suggest that I should get off of Twitter if I hadn’t, and before long I saw a tweet containing it, and the preview still of Spruill mid-sentence is going to haunt me for awhile. I am going to say why, and then I am going to return to her.

The morning of July 7, I was supposed to have an appointment with my psychiatrist to talk about how an adjusted course of medication was working to combat my suddenly dangerously low levels of lithium, a medication I take for bipolar disorder. Instead, I told her that if something wasn’t done immediately, I was going to kill myself. When I say “said” I mean “screamed,” “sobbed,” and “cried to God.” I howled. I have edged around this on Twitter and in some of my writing since being released from the hospital, but I was in an indescribable amount of pain, something it would have killed me for my closest friends and family to even have the option of seeing.

I say this because I got to see it. My appointment and my intake were done over Zoom, so in the corner of the screen I could see and react to my face as words about how and why I was going to commit suicide tumbled out of it. My face was a smear of reddened peach behind my fogged, tear-streaked glasses. I couldn’t recognize it, I wouldn’t recognize it now, but the pain etched into it was and would be unmistakable if I had access to it. I am glad I don’t.

Shannon Spruill had no choice in the matter. Beyond her choice to put it on Instagram Live, she had no agency in the question of who got to see her low enough to threaten self-harm, or how. Many people, regardless of whether or not they even wanted to, saw her like this, have this image of her living next to ones where she is a bright spot in late-era WCW or the independents or Impact. Unaccompanied by updates on her condition or so much as a hotline number for over 12 hours, the video is a cudgel, the kind of thing that can potentially trigger people like me and make recovery difficult for a survivor.

I’m going to make this as plain as possible: distributing her Instagram Live video is an act of harm. It is also a symptom of a kind of fandom that feels entitled to the personal lives of the people who create the media they enjoy, as if purchasing a ticket or watching a television show grants a fan access to a person’s darker moments. Did Spruill post that video to Instagram? Yeah, the same way I kept an ad hoc journal detailing my spiral until the moment my psychiatrist began telling me why I couldn’t have hardcover books and underwire bras in the hospital.

Before she was confirmed dead, thousands of wrestling fans were happy to consign a woman to the knowledge that her pain was out there forever. This is the culture of professional wrestling at its very worst, but it’s where wrestling culture has sat, idling, for decades, making clickbait out of podcast and shoot interview confessionals and monetizing the early deaths of dozens of wrestlers, even the murderers, even if none of us—fans, critics, and journalists alike—have nothing to add to the narrative. We regurgitate these stories, whether they’re routine or grisly, as if they’re ours to tell, as if we’re members of a brotherhood dedicated to keeping the memory of as many people as possible’s worst possible day intact for no reason greater than keeping the memory.

If this happened to me—if this happened to someone like me—the cruelty of the gesture would be obvious, but the rules change drastically when you have notoriety in a field that is known for the early deaths of its laborers. I want better for Shannon Spruill, but once a video is out there, it’s out there.

Here, then, is what I hope to see from this corner of the story: an effort from fans who did mean well to step back and consider whether other people need to see someone in that much pain—whether you need to, for that matter. If the answer is yes, your motives likely aren’t as pure as you think. If the answer is no, back down from Twitter and check in on your friends. Odds are you have someone in your life who needs you, even if it’s just to say “hey.” You can be an aid to the depressed, or you can be the edgy guy your depressed friends can’t trust. That this is even a choice speaks loudly to where we’re at as a fandom, but fixing it starts with making the right one.

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