The Voice Of Reason #3: Perception vs. Reality in WWE

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Bill DeMott

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Voice of Reason. I usually piece my columns together over a period of time. I’ll pick the topics I want to cover. I may write a little here & there on each one and complete my column days before I post it. Chances are, if something happens, I won’t talk about it much. However, with all that’s gone on the past few weeks in regards to public relations problems, there are more important matters to cover. I don’t expect this column to win any awards but I hope to cover things in a manner that gets people thinking.

This Week

  • Perception vs. Reality

One of the issues companies face in our society is gaining the consumer’s trust. They want to be thought of as good, caring, not-so-evil corporations. That’s why nearly every massive company and many organizations in general, has a Public Relations department to promote when they do good things and clean up messes when they occur. Companies will frequently “get out in front” when an issue occurs.

With WWE, there is a huge difference between perception of the company and the reality of the company. There are large amount of problems, it’s hard to pick a good starting point. Many times when something happens, Vince McMahon’s perspective is any publicity is good publicity. But, when will the dollars stop coming in? When will fans smarten up and realize things aren’t always as they seem? When will the WWE face an onslaught of problems like the NFL experienced this past season? What is wild is regardless of how much pressure and issues are put on the NFL, they’ll continue to thrive due to society not caring too much. The same goes for the WWE. Regardless of the problems and issues the WWE faces, fans will continue to pay their money to see the show, buy the merchandise, and buy the network. It’s crazy. So, let’s dive on in.

Racism in the WWE

During the summer of 2014, an article appeared in The Atlantic discussing the perceived racism in the WWE. The article highlighted the fact that on his way to the top, Rusev had squashed a lot of black wrestlers. The article only focused on how there had never been a black WWE Champion, even though Mark Henry & Booker T had held the World Heavyweight title, it considered the WWE Champion the face of the company. They highlighted the storyline between Booker T and Triple H, building to WrestleMania 19, and how there were some racial elements to it. They highlighted the different stereotypical gimmicks that black wrestlers have done during their time such as Cryme Tyme, the dancing R-Truth, the fake Jamaican accent from Kofi Kingston, even the Ph.D. candidate dancing Xavier Woods. It mentioned past gimmicks like the Nation of Domination or how black wrestlers’ gimmicks are based around their physical attributes. The article went on to mention how other minorities are portrayed in the WWE and made a lot of compelling points.

If you look at this as a whole and look at the product on TV, there are a lot of valid points. It’s very easy to give a gimmick to a wrestler that’s pretty much a stereotype. You don’t have to try hard to create a character with this. If you reach back in WWE, there has always been an underlying racial problem in the WWE. In 2008, there was a report that Michael Hayes used a racial remark against Mark Henry. Later in 2009, Hayes used another racial slur against a member of the writing team. More recently, we look at the gimmick bestowed upon Kofi Kingston, Big E, and Xavier Woods; a quasi-preacher gimmick. This was after the speculation they’d form a new Nation group but were held off TV, possibly due to the problems in Ferguson, Missouri.

The biggest shock of the summer came when Alberto Del Rio was released for slapping an employee. We later found out the employee had made a racial comment to Del Rio. Ricardo Rodriguez even made mention at how Triple H would say racial comments to him during his time in WWE.

Sexism in the WWE

For the most part, women in the WWE were portrayed as sexual objects. First off, I hate the label of “diva” that’s used for women. Back to the start, Sunny and Sable were the first main two women of the WWE during the late 1990s. They wore provocative outfits and had more sexually charged things about their characters. Over time, the women began to wrestle but their storylines never seemed to change. They had evening gown and bra & panties matches. There was a storyline where Vince made Trish Stratus bark like a dog. There was the storyline between Dawn Marie and Torrie Wilson. I won’t get into a complete history of the Divas division but the proof is there. Women aren’t showcased that often as true competitors. They’re labeled as crazy or some other stereotype.

In women’s sports, some are classified as lesbians, whether that’s true or not. Some women’s sports are featured on lower networks and some aren’t featured at all. We have teams in women’s sports that could easily beat some teams in men’s sports. We have sideline reporters who are knowledgeable about the sport they’re covering and some that have no clue what they’re doing but are signed based on their looks. Some women are famous or get jobs based on their looks. Can anybody tell me something Kim Kardashian brings to the table? Nothing. But yet, she’s famous & people care about her due to her looks and a sex tape.

In wrestling, looks are a big part of the deal. John Laurinaitis supposedly told someone they were looking to sign women who were 10s. That’s all well in good if you’re running a modeling agency. But if the woman you sign can’t wrestle worth a flip, I don’t care. If you look at the current WWE Diva roster, a few couldn’t wrestle a decent match while others could tear down the house. If given the time, they could put on a great show. “Oh but the crowd doesn’t react well” or “they didn’t come to see the women!” I wouldn’t care either if all they had were 2 minute matches or like one house show I went to, a bikini contest or dance off. If you think women can’t wrestle, turn on NXT. Then you had the exchange between AJ Lee and Stephanie McMahon.

Stephanie McMahon is good at what she does. She’s an excellent performer and from most accounts, is successful in business as well. She responded to actress Patricia Arquette’s call for equal compensation for women. AJ Lee called her out on it, stating that women in the WWE didn’t make as much money or get the same amount of time as the men. This is all true. I looked at a post years ago that showed the base salaries of some performers and they were low. You can look at any collegiate sports team and see that the female coaches don’t make near as much as the male coaches. I understand that point to a certain extent, mainly because some sports bring in more money than others. However, women deserve equal pay for equal work when it comes to equal jobs. It boils down again to how women are showcased.

WWE has 7 hours of weekly programming to fill. I understand that you can’t get everybody on the roster involved in storylines. But, how did we go from having 2 storylines in the summer to having 26-second matches on the company’s flagship show? As I mentioned earlier, typically the women are portrayed as crazy or bullies. Remember Alicia Fox’s crazy outbursts during the summer? What about Natalya’s farting gimmick? How about LayCool calling Mickie James “Piggy James.” How’s that for Be-A-Star?

Why can’t we have legitimate storylines like they do in NXT? Look at the 4-Way at NXT: Rival. Those ladies tore down the house. You have the U.S. Women’s soccer team that’s full of talent. You have UConn and Tennessee women’s basketball teams that could be some men’s teams. You have Ronda Rousey, who wants to get involved in WWE, knocking people out like crazy. You have women in CEO positions in major companies. YET, in WWE, you have a single 26-second match? Like Brie Bella stated, if I was in NXT, I wouldn’t want to get on the main roster based on how they’re treated. I’m thrilled Renee Young has such a prominent role, especially because she’s good at it and is very likeable. If I’m Ronda Rousey, I wouldn’t get involved with the WWE. Hell, they could do her like they did Lesnar in his first match back, lose to Eva Marie or somebody else that’s not on her level. I still can’t believe Cena and Triple H own victories over Lesnar. Anyways, #GiveDivasAChance.

Bullying in the WWE

Be A STAR was founded in 2011 as a way to “show tolerance and respect.” It was an anti-bullying campaign in hopes to foster goodwill and show that the WWE was a good company. But, you can go through the storylines in the last 15 years and pick out the ones that involve some type of bullying. Then, you look at how JBL treated The Miz when he first joined the roster. It’s easy to see over the years how Jim Ross was bullied by Vince McMahon. Enter Bill DeMott.

First off, we don’t know how much of it is true and isn’t true. None of us were there. We don’t know who is lying and who is exaggerating the facts. I’ve got firsthand experience on how people will say things to cover their own butt and make the other person look bad, when their behavior was just as bad. So again, we weren’t there. All we have to go on are the allegations made and the denials by the people involved.

Secondly, I can’t speak to the “investigation” that the WWE carried out. I don’t know who they talked to and who they didn’t talk to. I know “investigations” can sometimes be one sided. Triple H has talked about on different occasions the camera setup that he has a feed of in his office. He’s mentioned in different interviews he can watch what’s going on in the training center in Florida from his office in Connecticut. Were these cameras installed before or after the complaints were made? It’d be easy to go to the video if any of this was caught on camera.

Next, the mindset of today’s generation is different than when DeMott, Triple H, etc. were coming up. They’ll even tell you that in interviews, how things are different now, for the good and the bad. Things that could fly when they were coming up are taboo these days. It’s like that in all sports now. I used to have coaches that would question players’ manhood or say things that if they were said with today’s youth, they’d most likely be fired. Have today’s kids gotten “softer” to a degree? Perhaps. There are so many rules and regulations now that you can’t ask a kid to just “tough it out.” I remember practicing in 100-degree heat at 3PM in the afternoon when I was in high school. Now? That would be a no-no. There are ways to reach today’s generation without resorting to old school verbal beatdowns. Does it make them tougher? I don’t know. What I do know is some stuff you say will get you into trouble.

Next, these allegations happened sometime during 2013 if I remember correctly. I didn’t go back and look at the initial report but I think DeMott was told to “lighten up.” I don’t know if he lightened up or not. If this stuff happened in 2013 and he’s cleaned up his act, then why voice your opinion now? Are we honestly going to start retroactively punishing people for things they do? I can see it now. People who speed on the highway are going to get tickets for all those years they were speeding. Students who sneak a candy bar into class two years ago are going to be given detention tomorrow. If he’s cleaned up his act and this stuff happened years ago, why are we drumming up complaints retroactively?

Could it be that we live in a society where everybody is afraid to say something because it might hurt someone else’s feelings? Are we going to become a society where everybody tells on each other? We cannot become a society where we get offended at every turn of the page due to what someone says. This continues to happen across America. You did or said something 5 or 10 years ago so we’re going to punish you for it now. You made a mistake when you were young so you can’t have that job when you’re older. Booker T got in trouble but he cleaned himself up and turned into a star. What happened to second chances?

There was also a report of sexual harassment by a strength & conditioning coach. I found one threat on Reddit and it looks as though the coach in question does have some issues with females. Some of his posts and comments were inappropriate and it is alleged that DeMott covered this up and kept him safe. This strength coach should probably be the next guy fired.

How does WWE fix this?

For starters, we must look at the people that are still around. If you have toxic friends, they will only bring you down. If there are toxic employees within an organization, morale will suffer no matter how many more chances they are given. WWE must not just do a few things here & there while it’s on everybody’s minds. They must make wholesale, long term changes to foster a better environment for their employees. I’m all for keeping former wrestlers around to teach the new rising stars. I’m not for keeping former wrestlers around who are harmful to the environment in which they work. If you have an employee who is sexually harassing workers, they need to go. If you have an employee who is bullying other workers, they need to go. If you have an employee who is acting in any discriminatory fashion to other workers, they need to go.

This isn’t about allegations. I know how damaging allegations can be to someone. However, it’s someone’s consistent actions, words, and thoughts that will do more damage than allegations. Nobody is perfect. The WWE needs to send a clear message from the start of someone’s employment to the company. They also need to quit tolerating the behavior of some of their employees, whether they are loyal to the company or not. As an old expression goes, if you lay down with dogs, don’t be surprised if you get up with fleas. In this case, if you employee questionable people, don’t be surprised when their questionable behavior puts your company in a negative light and you have major problems on your hands.

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