Paul Heyman spoke on inclusivity in professional wrestling, but some things need to change if that’s going to truly happen.
Professional wrestling really is a mixed bag. It’s an industry where fans of different backgrounds, worldviews, experiences, and more can gather to cheer on their favorite stars. Whether it’s cheering when The Usos finally kicked Roman Reigns in the face, to crying when CM Punk made his long-awaited return, wrestling boasts itself as a place that offers something for everyone. But is that totally the case? Some will argue it’s not, especially as fans continue to push for a more inclusive space with characters that represent the full breadth of fans consuming the product.
Few will argue that Paul Heyman is an excellent mind in the business. The man has nearly 40 years in the industry, a career that spans nearly every position available in wrestling. Now, he’s one of the best parts of weekly WWE programming, offering his own screen abilities and behind-the-scenes knowledge to elevate everything he touches. While speaking with famed music producer Rick Rubin on the Tetragrammaton podcast, Heyman had some interesting things to say about inclusivity in professional wrestling.
"“The safe answer, to sound pseudo-intelligent, is inclusive storylines,” Heyman said. “A transgender hero. A female that competes at the same level, with the same marketing behind her as any of the male competitors. That [they] get a platform as lucrative and that carries as much opportunity on a global basis as any of their male counterparts. That’s a very safe thing for me to say. I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that’s a place we should go, could go, and will go.”"
This is quite the stance to take. Heyman is right. Wrestling should have more inclusive storylines that feature people from all backgrounds, worldviews, demographics, and experiences. And most importantly, present those individuals with respect and care. But professional wrestling is a space that at its highest levels remains mostly male and mostly white. Without diversity at the top, can these companies be trusted to present an inclusive product on the screen and arenas around the world?
Let’s start with WWE. In its current state, it’s almost impossible to believe WWE could accurately reflect a truly inclusive storyline as Heyman points out. This is the same organization that continues to book foreign competitors in a way that causes fans to shake their heads. Whether it’s performers like Indus Sher being cast as yelling brutes, to the glass ceiling that has impacted fan favorites like Asuka or Shinsuke Nakamura – there are several current examples of WWE failing to truly present inclusivity within the product.
And don’t forget that the highest player in the company, Vince McMahon, is currently facing a lawsuit for racism and discrimination, right after an investigation that found multiple instances of sexual assault. Believing he could lead a product that promotes inclusivity is a tough pill to swallow.
All Elite Wrestling crafted itself as a promotion that would elevate diversity in professional wrestling. Many will point to Nyla Rose’s rise to become AEW Women’s World Champion as a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, fans still push the company to see more from their talented women’s promotion. Britt Baker is presented as the star that Heyman outlined in his interview with Rubin. But the rest of the division is waiting to get an increased portion of television time each week. Even as AEW continues its weekly footprint on television, the women are still getting one match per card. AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door II is one of the most-anticipated shows of the year and doesn’t feature any women’s matches on the card that is five days out as of this writing.
Sonny Kiss is frequently promoted in the company during Pride Month. But she can’t find a way to get time on AEW’s product. She’s appeared on Ring of Honor three times since April, but her only appearance on AEW television in the last year was a one-minute match against Parker Boudreaux on the August 10 episode of Rampage.
There’s still a lot of work to do in professional wrestling when it comes to inclusivity. This is the same industry that has a hard time cutting ties with the men that are found to be frequent abusers and facing allegations on multiple fronts. Believing this industry can right itself without wholesale cleaning out from the top down is a big ask. But Heyman is right on one front. Professional wrestling should move toward a more inclusive product that features more stories and talent that represents the fans.