by Irvin Muchnick
Like others, I was heartened by the unpretentious coming out of gay WWE performer Darren Young. It fell to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Dave Meltzer, who has far superior knowledge of the background, to bring the mainstream media — and me — back to Planet Earth on this one.
Meltzer called it a non-story. I still think that was overstatement — especially after Meltzer went on to explain that the fallout likely will include the Young wrestling character’s leadership in a more mature treatment of this subject in his industry moving forward. John Cena, WWE’s leading star, came out with an immediate statement of support. Cena also uses relentless gay-baiting as a trope in his promos. In concert with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, with whom he headlined the last two WrestleManias, Cena even landed an endorsement deal and his picture on the box of Fruity Pebbles cereal.
Like most things pro wrestling, this is a joke on a bad joker’s idea of a joke. In my book Wrestling Babylon, I define this sport as “homophobia locked in mortal combat with homoeroticism.”
Meltzer is certainly right to characterize the Young story as a pure business calculation and transaction — which, in the real world as well as in wrestling, becomes part of the narrative of progress, too. He wrote:
“It was no secret that Orlando Jordan was bisexual when he was with WWE, but at the time, the company never publicized that fact. But he not only came out but it was part of his gimmick when he worked for TNA. Over the years, there have been numerous gay wrestlers, including Pat Patterson, as well as gay executives in the business, from Jim Barnett, a legendary promoter, to Jane Geddes of the WWE Talent Relations department today.”
When I talked to Meltzer, he emphasized that the reason he labeled this a “non-story” is that the closet kick-out of Darren Young — right now a “non-pushed” mid-card guy — was a corporate decision based on “the power gay pressure groups have on sponsors. Vince McMahon can’t get away with the characters he did for 20 years — he can’t do Rico or the Adorable Adrian Adonis today.”
But WWE can still do its damndest to feed off the headlines, all the while continuing the tightrope act, personified by Cena, between TV-PG and TV-14.
Southern California media sources say WWE image-meisters were trying for days to plant the Young story with a major media outlet. In the end, they were reduced to staging the “spontaneous” airport scene captured by TMZ.
Of course, tolerance of gays isn’t WWE’s only do-gooderism in the days leading up to SummerSlam, the company’s second-biggest annual pay-per-view show. As they did last year, celebrities and local politicians are making the rounds of the anti-bullying “B A Star” campaign, in conjunction with assorted WWE good guys and bad guys.
In 2012, I chided Congresswoman Linda Sánchez for taking part in this profit-driven puffery with the de facto biggest bullies on the block. In 2013, I do so again. In this context, it makes no difference that I and others have given Sánchez credit for being the strongest voice in the 2009 House Judiciary Committee hearings that called National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell on the carpet and marked a watershed in the public’s understanding of the cover-up of traumatic brain injuries.
Last year Sánchez’s communications director, Adam Hudson, called to complain to me, and to explain that his boss cares so deeply about the national toll of bullying that she will go anywhere and consort with anyone in order to promote the cause. This year I hope Adam saves it. I don’t expect to be on the holiday card list of this congresswoman or any other member of the nebulous, abstract, gesture-filled “Anti-Bullying Caucus” headed by the useless Mike Honda.
I don’t hear from Sarah Burt, either — nor does anyone else. Sarah is the 16-year-old Illinois swimmer whom my colleague Tim Joyce has written about. She killed herself in 2010 after being molested by her coach. There has been no justice for this crime, or for scores of others like it in this and other amateur sports hovering under the political cover of the Olympic “brand.”
I know Linda Sánchez cares about the safety of kids. When she’s finished bloviating with carnies about the need to be nice to each other, maybe she can join Congressman George Miller’s office in grilling USA Swimming “safe sport director” Susan Woesnner and the other flacks who are now being counseled by the “crisis communications” specialist Ground Floor Media PR team.