The Brand Extension 14: Speaking Out on #SpeakingOut

The Brand Extension 14: Speaking Out on #SpeakingOut

The Speaking Out Movement in Wrestling

By former Lords of Pain 205 Live reviewer, “205 Clive”.
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Writing about a topic such as this was always going to be difficult. Especially when one considers potential legalities surrounding certain names who may well currently be under promotion or police investigation. As well, though, morally, a discussion like this is so incendiary.  So affecting and emotive for fans and wrestlers around the world. For someone as minuscule as me in the wrestling community as a whole to make a call for change seems inconsequential. Pointless, even. Therein lies the problem, however. As we have seen in some avenues surrounding this, silence can be deafening. 

The abuse suffered at the hands of wrestlers and promoters in the industry has gone unspoken for years. The hardship was finally given the loudest voice it has ever had three weeks ago, when details began emerging of David Starr’s severely unhealthy treatment of several women in his life. In seventy-two short hours, the scandal snowballed into the Speaking Out movement that saw victims in their hundreds find the courage to come forward with their own ordeals. The stories of abuse ranged in category, but were plentiful. Too plentiful. From online harassment and grooming, to outright assault and long term psychological destruction of trust. For some, even reality. No matter the severity, the end result was the same. One that speaks of a widespread and institutionalised abuse of power by people considered idols. 

While a global problem, this rotten fruit’s nucleus seems to be ingrained in the community found on my own doorstep, with dozens implicated either calling the United Kingdom their home by birth, or plying their trade predominantly in its wrestling scene. With Great Britain being a small island in the grand scheme of things, and promotions taking advantage of the resultant proximity, abusers’ actions reached far and wide over several years. Sadly, as well, today’s technology allows for wrestlers to communicate with fans and do their damage at the touch of a button. The countless messenger screenshots we have seen online will testify to that. 

This betrayal is a hard pill to swallow. Many wrestlers, some among my personal favourites in recent times, have been complicit in a culture that sees many now sever ties with them. Thankfully, several independent companies are following suit, as promotions up and down the country are stating publicly of their intention to never work with certain wrestlers or bookers again. More importantly, some are going so far as to implement real change. Not only with prestigious championships being declared vacant. But change in the office that strives to make wrestling, and its fandom, a safe place for those on either side of the barrier. 

Trust has been lost by some promotions due to Speaking Out. Some have even put their foot in their mouths with admittedly immediate but misguided responses, engaging in futile social media back-and-forths with both accusers and accused. It speaks to my own concerns above, over how to broach such a delicate matter. How even professional bodies struggle to handle things appropriately, such is the sensitivity of the situation. One thing that should go in their favour, however, is that they are speaking out at all. Which is more than one can say for Scotland’s Insane Championship Wrestling. 

Barring posting of its upset over the scandal, and its introduction of talent welfare officers and mental health first aiders, ICW has been far too quiet since Speaking Out began. Where other companies have made public their ending of relationships with those implicated, ICW has not. Where others are visible with by-the-day updates of changes made, ICW remains mute. Furthermore, although apparently done so before Speaking Out, owner Mark Dallas deleted nearly all trace of his social media footprint and has been silent ever since. What was meant to be a time of celebration and respect for ICW on the one year anniversary of Lionheart’s tragic death, became a time of hiding. 

Why this is such an alarming issue is due to two reasons. First, the apparent hypocrisy in ICW’s words that it does not tolerate such inappropriate conduct. For the amount of individuals who have worked there and have been implicated as abusers is astoundingly high. An afterparty culture where drink, drugs, and impressionable fans or trainees is the norm is not in keeping with ICW’s public stance. On top of that, ICW’s standing in independent wrestling is a well known one. Not only in the British scene, but that of the western hemisphere in general, what with its role as affiliate and somewhat feeder system for WWE. 

It feels like one cannot watch a single episode of WWE’s various brands without seeing a wrestler who initially made their name in the Scottish company. During the times where many unsavoury accusations have been made, too. Although the more prominent ones such as Drew McIntyre and Finn Balor are so far unscathed by the Speaking Out movement, their association with peers in NXT’s UK counterpart plants a seed of concern going forward. Because NXT UK seems rife with ne’er do wells, From the main event scene down. Triple H et al may be content in continuing with the brand once the Coronavirus pandemic subsides. How much of a bad taste, however, has been left in the mouths of fans who have supported the regularly scoffed at branch of WWE’s developmental? To the point that any plans to support it hereon have been severely damaged? 

I know I fall into that category. And the same goes for ICW, a local promotion I have hitherto held in high regard. Not just for the complicitness of its clientele in all of this, but also for its disappointing lack of action. Of responsibility. For not being that beacon of change it was in the early 2010s when putting British wrestling back on the map. Now, instead of leading that change, ICW’s future looks precarious at very best. 

The question over whether to feel the same regarding WWE overall becomes a harder road to navigate. Yes, many of its Superstars have been accused of genuinely heinous behaviour. The tentativeness, or even silence, by the company regarding some is questionable, to say the least. Especially when you take into account what has been claimed regarding some and has not yet officially been addressed. However, with others such as Jack Gallagher, Travis Banks, and Ligero being fired without much delay, it tells me action is being taken. Adding two NXT UK referees to that list, as well as Joe Coffey’s suspension some time after the initial Speaking Out spark, shows WWE is handling it professionally and carefully. Albeit at a frustratingly slow pace.

Other more household names within WWE have certainly been implicated. To date, their status remains unknown. Though, with investigations ongoing as evidenced above, it could be a matter of time before wrestlers initially primed for WWE’s dizzy heights in the near future have their career crash down around them. If justified, then it is more than deserved. Any damage they potentially suffer is karma coming to collect for their own wrongdoings. Also, it is nothing compared to that which they will have inflicted upon others

WWE does have to live by its statement. In that such behaviour will result n the strictest of punishment after due diligence is taken. The company States-side may not be at the Speaking Out epicentre. It may not be setting in motion the changes made by other wrestling bodies. But a huge onus is on the face of professional wrestling to set an example for others to follow.

Now is the time for WWE to rid itself of the cloak and dagger modus operandi it has been accused of for decades. For it to be brave and make those hard decisions, regardless of immediate fallout. It’s the least WWE can do for those brave enough to speak out in the first place. So, too, for those still living in fear. To let them all know that wholescale measures are being taken to make wrestling safe for everyone. If not again, then at least for tomorrow’s generation.

Let me know your thoughts on the above column in the comments below, or @RickyandClive on Twitter.

Read my previous Brand Extension columns here.

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