By Jay Kirell
Full disclosure. I’m a fan of professional wrestling and have been for…oh, the last 25 years. It’s not that I’ve been waiting to incorporate wrestling into my blog, but if something actually news-related to WWE scrolled across my eyes, I’m going to pounce like a fish to a worm.
The event that prompted this is Frederick Rosser aka WWE superstar [because “superstar” is the preferred term for anyone who appears on-camera in the WWE, even if they aren’t the WWE equivalent of NBA superstars like Kevin Durant or Lebron James] Darren Young admitting to a TMZ cameraman that he was gay.
Young follows NBA player Jason Collins in being the first male athlete in his sport (or pseudo sport) to come out.
Young, much like Collins was most of his career, isn’t a high up in the hierarchy of his industry. He often teams up with a wrestler named Titus O’Neil in a tag team called the “Prime Time Players.” Their gimmick being that of spoiled athletes who are in the business for “millions of dollars,” per their catchphrase.
The team has never held a championship – not that the tag team championship is highly valued anyway – and is featured sporadically on television, the real kiss-of-death for any young wrestler trying to cement his place in the WWE.
His announcement doesn’t appear to be part of any storyline, as neither Darren Young nor his partner have been featured on recent television or are scheduled to perform at the WWE’s second largest Pay Per View of the year – Summerslam, taking place this Sunday.
It appears that Young was answering a TMZ question openly and honestly, and on the spot – without regard for how that might effect his future prospects in the company.
Which is a weird thing to read if you’re not a wrestling fan and just assumed that professional wrestling – with it’s tight clothes and oiled bodies and flashy showmanship – would be welcoming of a gay performer.
Well, then you don’t know the WWE. It’s not exactly a normal publically-traded company with regards to its product. It’s product is performers playing characters and its selling point is the ability to get the audience to suspend disbelief that what they are seeing is truth.
And sadly, part of the audience they’re asking to suspend that disbelief are conservative – some would say redneck – fans who have tended to always react negatively to gay stereotypes in wrestling. It’s part of the reason characters whose gimmicks ranged from merely effeminate [Rick Martel] to disturbingly asexual [Goldust] a full on gay wedding [Billy & Chuck] have been villains. Fans would have booed them anyway.
Even in recent weeks, we’ve seen effeminate characters debut, being portrayed as villains – Fandango, with the ballroom dancer gimmick. His character was reported to be a creation of Vince McMahon himself, the Walt. Disney of pro wrestling.
And just like Disney, everything in the WWE is a creation of his vision, for better or worse.
Outside of the steroid allegations against Vince McMahon that almost bankrupted his company in the early 90s, there have been longstanding rumors of racial prejudice and sexual harassment in the workplace.
In 1992 Ron Simmons became the first black heavyweight champion in wrestling history when he won the championship in Vince McMahon’s main competitor, WCW.
The WWE, formerly the WWF, formerly the WWWF – has been around since Eisenhower was president. Since the inception of it’s most coveted title – the WWE championship – in 1963, it has never had a black WWE champion. [Some will say Dwayne Johnson [the Rock] was a multiple-time champion, but he was half-Samoan, and owes most of his wrestling lineage of the Samoan side of his family.]
Becoming champion, and being successful, in the WWE means being worthy in the eyes of Vince McMahon. Because McMahon has been around the wrestling business since he was a young man and takes as much credit as the wrestlers for building the empire from the territorial days, nobody can tell him what his audience does and doesn’t want to see.
And seeing as how everything that appears on WWE tv is signed-off by McMahon, and any break from the script is grounds for punishment from a boss long considered to be borderline tyrannical, the question becomes what does Darren Young, the performer, have to look forward to because of this unscripted announcement about his personal life?
Wrestling performers have always guarded their private lives for a reason. To protect who they are from how they’re portrayed as a character. It’s why back in the day bad guys and good guys used to travel separately to shows. It’s why wrestlers who portrayed Russian bad guys had to speak to fans with a Russian accent even if they didn’t speak with one in real life.
The illusion. The fantasy. The willful suspension of disbelief that requires no CGI, just an emotional connection with a character.
Darren Young may have cost himself professionally for coming out. It’s impossible to gage what the real reaction is in the upper offices of the WWE is right now, even though I’m sure there will be an official press release supporting Young’s announcement.
But behind the scenes…Well, Vince McMahon has killed performers’ careers for doing less. He could completely bury Young in matches, keep him off TV, demote him to the WWE’s minor league roster in Orlando.
Although that would be just a minor step down for a performer who doesn’t appear to have much of a developed character and has never connected with fans. In fairness, the fans have never had a reason to connect with his character. His personal revelation is the closest fans have come to seeing development with him, and its not even part of the storyline.
However, there is also an optimistic view that McMahon might see his performer’s coming out as an opportunity to make a new star and jump off the publicity Young created for himself without exploiting him. He could make him a good guy [he’s currently a bad guy] and have the fans rally support behind him and his admission.
Wrestlers have been given shots for less. Heck, the biggest wrestler of all time – Stone Cold Steve Austin, got pushed straight to the title scene after an off-the-cuff remark became the popular Austin 3:16 t-shirt.
McMahon has a history of seeking press anywhere he can, for good or bad. One of his own superstars coming out for the first time is as noteworthy as anything the WWE does that breaks into the mainstream, and it certainly qualifies as good.
So while it’s probably too late to squeeze Young into a spot at Sunday’s PPV, it’s not too late to, going forward, put the spotlight on the young performer whose career was treading water. If anything, due to the fact that he brought national attention to his company without a single wrestler having to die is proof of worthiness.