On last night's episode of WWE Raw, Divas champion Paige joined the announce team to watch a match between Alicia Fox and Naomi. It was standard pro wrestling storytelling...the Funkadactyl is next in line for a title shot (a match that will happen on this Sunday's Money in the Bank pay-per-view (PPV)), so babyface Paige was going to build up her challenger as a worthy opponent before a post-match staredown.
(I'm ignoring Naomi's tag partner also being on commentary, both because it was epically bad and because it's not germane to what we're here to discuss)
That's where everything gets problematic. As Geno mentioned in his Raw Reactions (and discussed on last night's post-show edition of Cageside Live with Matt Roth and myself), industry legend and long-time Raw color commentator Jerry "The King" Lawler is caught on camera learing at Paige's derriere as she stands up to head to the ring for her moment with Naomi.
Here's a screen capture:
And in gif form?
Now, it would be one thing if I had scoured the internet and spent my own time to review the show bit-by-bit to find the incident. But I didn't have to. You know why? Because Jerry Lawler tweeted it out on his official WWE Twitter account:
Best seat in the house...mine and hers! pic.twitter.com/0CBbeqPhro— Jerry Lawler (@JerryLawler) June 24, 2014
WWE also saw fit to include it in the clip of the segment that they released on YouTube (that link is cued to the exact second in order to spare you from Cameron's verbal stylings. You're welcome).
And that's where the real problem lies.
I am a sexual being, of the male variety. I have been known to glance and even gawk at an attractive person, especially if a flattering feature of their anatomy is presented for public viewing (e.g. Summer Rae's legs, Seth Rollins' abs).
What I do not do is stare until the person that I'm admiring feels uncomfortable. Or post pictures and videos of me checking them out online.
So, there's that. That's just the tip of the inappropriate iceburg here, though. Laciviousness is part of The King's character; his post-Memphis catchphrase is basically "PUPPIES" for crying out loud. But there is also some real world history that most people would consider before posting a "funny" picture of themselves staring at a 21 year old woman's ass on the internet.
In 1993, Lawler was charged and indicted for statutory rape of an underage female. He was declared innocent when the girl revealed that she lied, but he was taunted about it during his appearances in ECW and in remains a "joke" among hardcore fans and industry folks (such as AJ Lee's line that she was "too old for him" during a similar stint at the announce desk for the former Divas' champion).
A man who is, at this point, the voice of a publicly traded company which prides itself on family entertainment should not be doing anything to call attention to such history. His employers should be taking care to not promote any behavior on his part that would remind fans of that past, and reprimanding him for celebrating it.
Some will say that this is reactionary, and that a man who was cleared of charges should be allowed to do whatever he pleases. To that I'd say, "talk to any public relations professional or image consultant", but okay. It's his right to look like a creepy old man.
But WWE's lack of shame in this regard is part of a pattern of behavior that alienates female fans and has to make at least some of its female employees feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Women are already objectified in pro wrestling to a ridiculous degree. There is a certain standard for male attractiveness, but Dolph Ziggler's offense is not almost exclusively ass-based like Naomi's. There's a double standard for behavior as well; CM Punk's alleged backstage promiscuity was not storyline fodder like Lita's infidelity.
Most of society is male-dominated, and like so many aspects of society, pro wrestling amplifies that. Throw in the attitude that everything is a work and the locker room antics like passing around a pornagraphic cartoon of AJ are just excused as "all in the game", and it has to be an intimidating environment for even the strongest person. Just because some of the women who are a under wrestling's bubble like Stephanie McMahon or even the Divas are apparently complicit with that doesn't make it okay.
Anywhere in the business world, if a woman has an issue with the behavior of a long-tenured male higher up, she faces an uphill battle in getting management to address her situation. Another thing that is exaggerated in WWE/pro wrestling culture is respect. Factor in that any younger person backstage is expected to smile and accept insults or "ribs" from veterans, and a young woman who feels disrespected or harrassed would be committing career suicide by attempting to document or officially resolve a situation where an industry legend like Lawler made her feel uncomfortable.
Maybe Paige is okay with the whole incident, and would herself tell me to relax. She re-tweeted the picture from Twitter and seemed to play it off:
But maybe she's not okay with it, and simply knows from growing up in the business that she should grin and bear it.
Either way, it's still not okay. If any other Diva, or future female employee, or fan watching at home or following along on social media is disturbed by the incident and the direct or indirect publicizing of it by Lawler and WWE, why should we dismiss their reaction?
WWE, and Jerry Lawler, do a lot of good in the world. They entertain a lot of people. But if they truly want to be PG, family-friendly, anti-bullying and a positive force in the world, they need to know that this is not any of those things.
As much as I'm not a fan of Lawler's commentary, I'm not calling for The King's crown. But he should be talked to about his behavior (and especially his use of social media). The video should be edited and the tweet taken down. The status quo of sexism and racial stereotyping keeps pro wrestling and WWE in a pop culture ghetto that effects the bottom line by driving away fans and advertisers.
Addressing this incident would at least be a start toward becoming a better place to work, a better example in the entertainment marketplace and a better investment for their shareholders.