Discourse and nuance are often hard to find in professional wrestling. Especially when it is time to have conversations about some of the things that happen in and out of the ring. While many just laughed at Cody Rhodes’s promo from last week, there is a need to have a conversation around the narrative tone being built for his singles match against Anthony Ogogo for AEW Double or Nothing on Sunday, May 30. What wrestling fans have seen to date from this angle is a sad wrestling troupe that is not coming across in the best of light so far.
On Wednesday, May 12 Cody gave a fiery promo as only a Rhodes family member can. When this family wants to display emotion verbally in the middle of the wrestling ring, there are few in the business that can do it as well as they can. But that is not the issue. The issue is the substance of what Cody said, or instead of the lack thereof and cognitive dissonance wrapped within.
“Our empathy outweighs our anger,” Cody said moments after deriding Agogo for apparently taking advantage of American freedoms while being here on a visa. “You didn’t come here to live the ‘England Dream.’
Is that the same empathy that saw millions of people disavow the struggles of Black and Brown people as civil unrest pulsed throughout the United States for much of 2020?
Cutting a promo wrapped in nationalism and xenophobia isn’t new in professional wrestling, but it’s certainly played out in the year 2021. Wrestlers, just like professional athletes are more than welcome to show pride in where they are from. But when that pride turns into an “I’m better than you because I’m from X,” that changes the complete tone of the story being told.
Then there is the complex nature of Cody mentioning his unborn daughter. Cody is already a proud dad that is ready to sweep his daughter off her feet as he should. Outside of the love and excitement he has for her; everything else about this portion of the promo completely missed the mark with many fans watching at home and discussing the promo on social media.
“Prior to 1961 in Atlanta, Georgia, there was segregation. Blacks and whites could not attend the same school. In 2021 in the very same city, my wife will give birth to a beautiful white, a beautiful black, American princess that will have both identities and shun neither.”
That is great Cody. Interracial children were born in 1961, during slavery, and will be born for years to come. But what if you learned that segregation is not completely gone in 2021. What was once laws allowing the idea of “separate but equal,” has changed in other ways to cause continued segregation. This is the same Georgia that passed an outright voter suppression law in response to the GOP not winning the 2020 Presidential election. School choice, redlining, the privatized prison system and so much more keep people of color in grief-stricken positions in ways that the old Jim Crow laws of lore would hope to achieve. Yes, he is having a child with a Black woman, we are aware – they have made it clear multiple times how proud they are of that – but that does not absolve the United States of the numerous, evidence-backed aspects of racism and discrimination that still thrive in this country today.
A tale of two Americas that Cody so vehemently talks about in this promo. But he only lives in one of them. Cody gets to call himself and live the “American Dream,” but there are so many Americans still dreaming about having that same experience firsthand. And let’s not get started on the random fan standing in a Black Lives Matter t-shirt during his speech. That did not help the situation at all. Take all of that in, and layer it on top of the fact that Cody is talking to and about a Black man from Britain and the promo is even more mind-numbing.
Then, there’s Agogo on the other side of this equation. If any socially conscious wrestling fan has listened to his promos, it is hard to understand how this man is the heel in this storyline. Listening to what he said during a promo released on AEW’s social media channels on May 17, it is hard to find the lie at all.
“Let me be real for a second, ok?” Agogo started. “I hate this place because it values money, more than it does life. People are left to rot and die on the streets of American because they cannot afford healthcare. That is unfair. Right now, in this great country, there are a thousand kids trapped in cages that have been taken away from their parents, and that is unfair. That’s the America you people are proud of and Cody Rhodes is the epitome of that.”
Find the lie. Even the biggest Cody fan would not be able to because everything he said is factually correct. Where is the freedom Cody talked about? Where is the ability to do whatever, you want, and the overall freedom Cody mentioned? Does not quite seem to be so true for everyone in the same fashion.
This is not the first time Brandi or Cody have cut questionable promos that have raised the eyebrow of Black professional wrestling fans. It probably will not be the last. AEW presented itself as the wrestling promotion that will be welcoming of everyone. Yes, the company has taken strong strides to do so, but at the same time, they have made some mistakes such as this promo by Cody Rhodes that cause viewers to just shake their head. Here is to hope this is something the still-young promotion improves on in the future.