If you are comparing wrestling companies at this time, kindly take a step back and see the real problem.
Abuse of power, sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment, emotional gaslighting, physical abuse, and emotional abuse are all problems not exclusive to wrestling. The #SpeakingOut movement has highlighted these issues within wrestling, however, and they have shown just how pervasive abuse and sexual assault are in this form of entertainment.
Other industries have had their reckoning with sexual assault and harassment in the workplace, such as Hollywood during the #MeToo movement. And still other industries need to have one. While much is out in the open now that brave wrestlers, mostly women speaking about abuse done by men, have opened up publicly about their experiences, there’s still plenty left uncovered. And that includes within wrestling’s largest companies, such as WWE and AEW.
Because of their platforms, AEW and WWE’s inadequate responses to recent allegations against their performers have been rightfully highlighted as such.
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AEW, for example, submitted an absolutely abysmal statement addressing allegations of physical and sexual abuse by Jimmy Havoc, who remains signed with the company and is receiving paid counseling. The statement seemed to be written on a notes app with little thought to the severity of Havoc’s reported actions, let alone a literal acknowledgment of what victims have said he has done to them.
As for WWE, they released Jack Gallagher, but failed to release a statement specific to other performers with serious allegations against them.
Matt Riddle, who was accused of sexual assault, still had his match with AJ Styles appear on SmackDown on the day of the allegations. He defeated the current Intercontinental Champion in the match.
Yes, the match was pre-taped, but WWE could have played a dot com segment or past match in its stead, especially on the same day. I doubt many wrestling fans could stomach the sight of Riddle, thinking about what he may have done.
WWE released a catch-all statement, stating they will terminate wrestlers who are convicted. But according to RAINN, out of 1,000 perpetrators of sexual assault, 995 will not be convicted. These numbers don’t even account for how unlikely it would be for an individual with a high profile – meaning, even higher than Jack Gallagher’s – to face conviction.
WWE’s threshold matching the burden of proof set by the legal system is higher than other corporations, and WWE, if they were worried about releasing someone innocent, could have chosen to swiftly take wrestlers off television with allegations and wait before making a decision on returning them to television or making a release as with Gallagher.
Impact Wrestling has Dave Crist, TJP, Michael Elgin, Joey Ryan, and other members of the roster who have allegations of sexual assault against them and should be released. There are so many abusers wrestling for the company that it’s fair for fans to question how much Impact Wrestling knew or cared about addressing this serious issue to basic human rights and safety within their ranks. Sierra Loxton specifically called out Impact for needing to have a meeting about sexual predators in their company.
Impact Wrestling will reportedly cut ties with Ryan, which is the easiest decision ever, but they have not made an official statement nor are there reports of how they will address the other talent.
Yet, because independent wrestling promotions have even fewer regulations and less spotlight, but also place fewer pressure against talent to speak out than a large company might, most of the stories we’ve heard are from smaller promotions.
PROGRESS Wrestling has been forced to make leadership changes after years of allegedly covering up sexual assault and abuse within their company. The accounts of their cover-ups and active attempts to hide abuse by several high-profile talents, such as David Starr and Travis Banks, are harrowing. Even with the changes, it’s hard to see them surviving as a company. How can any fans or wrestlers trust them at this point?
Other promotions have already disbanded, such as Bar Wrestling, whose founder, Joey Ryan, has been accused of sexual assault by countless women. With Ryan, the conversation is about imprisonment and his danger to society in light of the unspeakable harm he has caused.
There is no wrestling promotion that has been untouched, because every wrestling promotion has poor safeguards in place and plenty of men willing to wield their power to abuse women. The abuse isn’t restricted to men, and there are many LGBTQ+ talent who have been victims of abuse in wrestling over the years. But it’s clear that, as with other industries, the abuse is mostly perpetrated by cis men against people whom they have wielded power over, especially trainers over their trainees.
Wrestling promoters, fans, and wrestlers will all need to come together across promotions and across the industry to affect change. There are no ‘good guys’, as the surprising revelations about Mark Adam Haggerty’s messages to minors taught us. No promotion can say they are absolved of accountability, least of all the major promotions or the ones specifically implicated to this point.
Don’t play sides, don’t look the other way, and don’t take this movement lightly. So many people have shown their courage over the past few days to put everything in the open. This isn’t a dark moment for wrestling. No, wrestling has been in the dark for decades, and if there have been decades of rape culture and abuse in the industry, then it will take all of us working our hardest to deconstruct our current power structures and turn wrestling into something we can actually say we are proud of.
Yes, this is a systemic issue and an endemic issue, meaning it is constant and exists throughout society. But as members of the wrestling fandom, we can affect change here and do something profound here in light of the obvious, horrifying abuses. It’s time to empower ourselves, because the structures that failed so many people, especially women, are not the same structures that will lead to change.