AEW has diversity but lacks when it comes to overall inclusion

Red Velvet, All Elite Wrestling
Red Velvet, All Elite Wrestling /

Let us have a conversation about the terms diversity and inclusion within All Elite Wrestling. While not new, the last few weeks have seen growing debate about the presence and participation of people of color within the AEW roster. While the talks may come off as either comical or controversial, it is a discussion worth having as the United States begins to reflect more of the diversity found around the world. As AEW becomes more mainstream by the minute, these are the types of discussions wrestling fans should have about the promotions that they support.

When AEW was started two years ago, the promotion made the stance that it would be one of, if not the most diverse wrestling company seen to date. EVP, Cody Rhodes was saying all the right things about AEW, and the plans for diversity in the future.

“We wanted to put a product out that’s congruent with today’s society and a snapshot of what American and the world looks like,” Rhodes previously said about the AEW roster. “I think we’re doing a good job, but that work is never finished.”

His words even caught the attention of United States Congressperson, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who tweeted out support of what AEW was doing early on. But looking back at those comments and the AEW product today, is the company living up to those accolades?

This is where it is important to talk about the terms diversity and inclusion because there is a clear difference between the two. Does AEW have a diverse roster? In many ways, the answer is yes. Look to names like Andrade, Lee Johnson, Will Hobbs, Ricky Starks, The Lucha Bros, Diamante, Thunder Rosa, Sonny Kiss, Nyla Rose, Riho, Michael Nakazawa, and plenty others. AEW has a list of names that they could point to if needed to tout the diversity on the roster. But the question is whether the promotion is failing around the inclusion portion of the conversation and many within the wrestling community are watching very closely.

Diversity and inclusion go hand-in-hand

The first part of this conversation begins with looking at the top of the AEW card. In two years, AEW has done an exceptional job booking their titles as top prizes with very few title changes happening at the biggest of moments. Baker is the first white woman to hold the women’s title, a belt that was held by Riho, Rose, and Hikaru Shida prior. Scorpio Sky, along with Frankie Kazarian, were the first men to hold the tag team titles. Starks holds the FTW title, which is more of a prop than an actual belt. And that leaves Miro as the TNT champion. Again, diversity within title holders, but let us look deeper at the inclusion portion of the equation.

AEW Dynamite has become one of the hottest wrestling products in the industry. After hitting multiple weeks of one million viewers, it continues to create a buzz of excitement around the product. AEW Rampage is set to kick off on Friday with fans equally interested in what is to come on that new product. And it is here where viewers are beginning to ask the question about inclusion in AEW, especially now as fans are back at ringside.

Let us use Shida as an example. According to Cagematch, Shida’s title run was 372 days. She carried the women’s division and was a pillar to AEW during the global pandemic. She dropped the belt to Baker at Double or Nothing on May 30. Three months later and she has not had a match on AEW Dynamite. She was immediately placed on Dark Elevation and has been on a winning streak since. But the former champion’s presence on the flagship show has been non-existent.

This fact lends itself to an even bigger conversation about the lack of time that the women in the incredibly talented AEW women’s division see on Dynamite. This is another issue that comes to light when talking about the inclusion portion of this conversation.

Sky was off to a hot start in AEW. He pinned Chris Jericho and was one-half of the first tag team champions. But all of that came to a sudden halt of sorts. Twice, Sky was built up on the Dark and Elevation platforms to challenge for the TNT title, only to lose to Cody and Darby Allin. He was then slotted back into a tag team with Ethan Page, with Page versus Allin being the focal point. His last singles match on Dynamite was back in March where he lost to Allin in thirteen minutes.

The examples do not stop there, but the pattern is the same. Dark and Dark Elevation features a lot of talent that fall within diverse spaces, but their presence is not truly felt in impactful ways on Dynamite. Red Velvet has been built up to face Baker on AEW Rampage in what will be an important moment in her career. It’s clear that Baker is going over, but what will happen with Red once the moment is over?

Take Joey Janela’s split from Sonny Kiss. The team was a popular duo, with many fans wanting to see more of Kiss across all AEW’s platforms. That split happened on Dark just to be featured in a brief video recap on Dynamite. Why couldn’t that moment happen on Dynamite to kick off what could be an important feud for both performers? What is keeping AEW from consistently featuring more people of color in highly successful fashions on Dynamite as they do for Jungle Boy, Darby Allin, Cody, and others.

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And it is not just wrestling fans commenting on this situation. AJ Gray openly talked about his questions and frustrations back in July of 2020. It is a noticeable issue that can be fixed, but the dedication to doing so has to be there.

Professional wrestling has a lot of work to do when it comes to diversity and inclusion. AEW puts itself in the spotlight by saying the promotion will do the best job seen in that area within the profession. In some ways, the company is doing decent work, but there are a lot of ways the company could improve in the eyes of the diverse viewers that enjoy professional wrestling each week.