c/o Michael Kennedy

c/o Michael Kennedy

Professional wrestlers never know who is going to be released from a company due to budget cuts or creative differences. You also never know who is going to add brilliance and spontaneity to a professional wrestling storyline. The intricate realities of wrestlers’ professional careers has a dark side: Many wrestlers of color feel uncomfortable in the workplace due to stereotypes perpetuated by higher executives.

Cultural stereotypes of people of color (POC) are often inserted into wrestling storylines to make viewership more appealing. These choices dehumanize wrestlers of color.

One example is Apollo Crews, who, for his wrestling appearances, was transformed into a Nigerian king with an accent, despite being an African American born in California. The focus on Crews’ Nigerian heritage and identity reduces him to the color of his skin in the interest of what is best for business.

Let’s also not forget Cryme Tyme, a Black tag team who were focused on stealing treasure as their gimmick—enforcing the stereotype that black people steal. WWE continues to focus on stereotypes when billing wrestlers of color—often fluctuating among many possible ones—instead of highlighting their talent, despite pushback from viewers and other wrestlers of color on the roster.

On the other hand, I read an article detailing the hyperfixation on the idea of the white, patriotic male wrestler, which opened my eyes to the purpose of the character of John Cena. While I think it is important to note that Cena did not choose the character or personality he was subjected to, it is essential to note the issues with the characterization.

One of the main flaws is Cena’s catchphrase, “Hustle, Loyalty, Respect.” On the surface, this catchphrase seems harmless. However, this implies that with those characteristics you can earn anything, and does not take into consideration marginalized communities who face discrimination and microaggressions, despite having those characteristics. Furthermore, the use of a white, heterosexual, male as the main face of WWE demonstrates a desire to prioritize whiteness and privilege.

While there has been a slight uptick in the numbers of wrestlers of color, with Jade Cargill, Damien Priest, and Bayley joining the ring in recent years, this has come after years of disrespect toward POC. One must wonder: Why did this take so long?

Who’s to say? Many factors influence the decision of what to put on a viewer’s television screen, but a key reason for the increased focus on wrestlers of color was that Triple H succeeded Vince McMahon as the WWE head of creative in 2013. If you know anything about McMahon, you would know that all he ever cared about was the success of WWE. While it is never wrong to feel passionate and determined towards a company and project, it is another story when you want success at the expense of others. McMahon has demonstrated a lack of respect towards female, POC, and LGBTQ+ wrestlers by only focusing on characters who play the white, patriotic male who will ultimately save the day.

When Triple H became the head of creative, he explicitly stated a desire to focus on more wrestlers of color, especially Latino, Latina, and LatinX wrestlers. That change in leadership led to an increase in covering POC in wrestling, while also covering their capacity to have a tremendous storyline with inclusivity and understanding of their talents. 

I will always be a wrestling fan, but being a fan also means rightfully critiquing the decisions that higher executives tend to make on behalf of wrestlers of color. It is always beneficial to understand more about what’s going on behind the scenes of wrestling, just in case you want to get involved as a fan, a wrestler, or anywhere in between. It is also important to validate the experiences of wrestlers of color—you never know who is going to make it onto your screen.

Oluchi Chukwuemeka can be reached at ochukwuemeka@wesleyan.edu.

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