Written by DJ Aaron Omar
So a few weeks ago, I wrote a piece (HERE) just after Hulk Hogan's racist audio comments hit the media loop. It wasn't so much an article expressing by disappointment in Hogan - that was a given. Instead, as the day went on I kept coming across mentions of WWE's history of non-white performers playing disrespectfully stereotypical characters while white performers were seen in a more legitimate light. The most glaring example was the Booker T vs Triple H angle leading up to the 2003 Wrestlemania. This was a storyline that I had never seen before so I was outraged and promptly cancelled my WWE Network subscription. How could I continue to financially support a company that didn't "get it" by now? It's 2015 for fuck's sake.
In the time since then, I decided to look into a few things. The Cheap Heat podcast (hosted by DJ Peter Rosenberg, "The Masked Man" David Shoemaker, and Stat Guy Greg) had a heartfelt and in depth response immediately after (HERE). One of the questions that conflicted Shoemaker was 'where do we go from here?' Hulk Hogan aside, WWE has a lot of shit to fix. So I began to look into the new talent in an effort to figure out what direction WWE would be going in.
Aside from a handful of examples, the WWE has always treated Women's wrestling as nothing more than an afterthought. But in 2015, the 2 most recognizable women in sports are Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey - not just the best women in tennis and MMA respectively, but the absolute biggest stars in their sports - male or female. Accordingly, the WWE has put a more than respectful emphasis on presenting women's wrestling in a serious way. One of the women leading the way is Sasha Banks - an INCREDIBLE athlete who just happens to be a person-of-color. Former Women's Champion, incredibly popular...she's killing it.
|The New Day|
The New Day is another example. Originally the trio of wrestlers were given a stereotypical "black preacher" gimmick; horrifyingly corny and uncreative. On Chris Jericho's podcast, the team described the issues they had with the new direction and how they planned to fix it. Fast forward to now and they're easily on the list of the top 5 most popular acts on WWE TV. Sure, they're a comedy act mixed with amazing athleticism but that's no different than what Edge & Christian were when they ran the tag team scene. And they're now 2-time Tag Team Champions.
|The Prime Time Players|
The Prime Time Players should be mentioned for their recent tag team title reign and the fact that WWE promotes the hell out of them for public appearances and charity events. Titus O'Neil has been celebrated as the Celebrity Dad of the Year and his teammate Darren Young is openly gay, coming out exactly 2 years ago. There was some fear that WWE would brush Darren to the side but instead, they promoted him to relevancy.
Finally, I'm very excited about NXT's newest big name, Apollo Crews. Much like Kevin Owens and a number of others, Apollo (formally known as Uhaa Nation) was a HUGE deal on the independent scene and when he was announced as a new signee, the wrestling world rejoiced. What made me even more intrigued was how the current NXT boss and future WWE head-honcho Paul Leveseque (you'd know him as Triple H) seemed as excited as the fans. In the recent NXT Brooklyn conference call, he made it a point to say that he doesn't care where he gets talent from...he just wants the best of the best. And that's all you can ask for.
So where does this leave me? Optimistic. Hopeful that the WWE is moving forward and joining us in a world where the playing field is increasingly equal. There are enough heinous incidents in real life; I don't want to be reminded of them when I watch professional wrestling. I was angry as hell when I came across the Booker T & Triple H footage but the truth is, that was over 12 years ago. Was it distasteful? Duh. But I've also been a fan of pro-wrestling for my entire life and I'm willing to give WWE another chance as long as they continue in the right direction culturally.
So, my WWE Network subscription is reinstated and I'll be at the Barclay's Center for Monday Night Raw tonight.