Mick Foley's latest TNA website column is up and is about TNA's "Eliminate The Hate" anti-bullying campaign. He digresses a little, so some stuff is edited out below:
I received a handful of comments from wrestling fans describing themselves as gay, just thankful that something was being done about the problem.
Perhaps most seriously, concern was voiced about pro-wrestling's long history of playing off gay stereotypes for cheap pops and easy reactions.
It was brought to my attention that the "F" word, (the one that isn't followed by a "U") was used by one of TNA's top wrestlers in a past episode of Impact . The word choice was unfortunate an unacceptable and will likely never be used again, but I think the landscape in regard to derogatory euphemisms towards people of every kind - especially African-Americans has changed for the better. Indeed, I think the wrestling business has improved dramatically from days gone by when crowds enthusiastically chanted the "F" word, much to the faux dismay of the presumed guilty party in the ring.
For starters, the segment where A.J. Styles called a rival a "f*ggot" is the tip of the iceberg with him. He's a conservative born-again Christian who refuses to use any kind of expletive other than that word. Once, at an IWA Mid-South show, he threatened to Michael Shane that he would "kick his f*ggot...head" when he realized that he didn't want to use "ass" or a similar term. More infamously, he once told fellow wrestlers that he had recently seen the movie "Jack-A-S-S." All this while constantly calling opponents "f*ggot" during promos and even exclaiming "Ow! F*ggot!" while selling during matches. The latter caused some fans to joke that "it sounded like he was calling his knee a f*ggot." He loves to call people "f*ggot."
Getting away from that word for a moment, he memorably sounded disgusted when a Wrestler Observer Live caller asked him about his "following in the gay community" ("THE GAY COMMUNITY?"). On top of all that, fellow wrestler Lazz (who worked with Styles for years in NWA Wildside), a gay man who did a comedic face-painted Britney Spears impersonator gimmick (and got over as a babyface everywhere he went) once told an interviewer that Styles used to preach to him about giving up his "lifestyle."
As far as the segment in question goes, he was asked about it in an interview with Slam Wrestling:
To me "f*ggot" is a word you just say when your when goofing off. Unfortunately it is not the right thing to say, I wouldn't say it in church so I shouldn't say it anywhere else. It just slipped out. It surprises them that I said f*ggot in Nashville, of all places, but when I said bastard, which really bothered me the week before, it didn't bother them at all. The week before that show, they wanted me to say SOB, I compromised and said bastard. Nevertheless, it was wrong, and I apologize.
While "bastard," when used literally (like in the first season of The Ultimate Fighter) is an incredibly hurtful epithet, it's generally become a lot more...umm...bastardized than "f*ggot" has. I don't want to get into an argument about this, but the latter is a lot more loaded and always carries the same meaning. There's also the matter of the modern usage originating from the term being used for a bundle of sticks for kindling (hence "flaming f*ggot") and the arguments about whether or not homosexuals were commonly killed by immolation in the past, which would make things even worse. So yeah, the wrestler known professionally as A.J. Styles has much deeper issues with homosexuals than using an epithet on TV once.
That said, Foley's right that at least we're past the point where babyfaces encouraged fans to chant that word at heels, though that was probably due to outside pressure more than anything else. From the 12/12/91 Wrestling Observer Newsletter:
WWF found itself in some hot water over an incident in Vancouver during a Bushwhackers vs. Beverly Brothers match. British Columbia gay activist Ken Walker demanded an apology from the WWF over the "F*ggot" chants by Bushwhackers and portrayal of the Genius character. "They sent the message that it's okay to abuse gays and make them an object of hatred." The WWF verbally apologized to Walker but it's gone farther as Vancouver City Hall has asked the WWF to send in a written apology for the behavior of the Bushwhackers.
The Bushwhackers had been leading the chants on house shows across North America before that happened.
Anyway, back to Foley:
For a bad guy, dating back to the days of Gorgeous George, nothing was more effective at garnering heat in the ring than displaying traditionally feminine characteristics in the testosterone driven world of the ring.
While Gorgeous George did push the same buttons, George Wagner did not play the character in feminine or foppish manner. He had his entrance, the clothers, the hair, the atomizer, the valet, the "Get your filthy hands off me!" shtick, etc, but was otherwise a pretty standard heel for the time, especially once the bell rang.
Times change and wrestling changes too, sometimes ahead of the curve, sometimes behind it. Wrestling was actually a harbinger of change in the deep south, where white wrestler Sputnik Monroe became a hero in Memphis by teaming with wrestlers of color and attending "colored only" establishments during the era of Jim Crowe - where wrestlers of color had previously faced each other for the "Negro Title" and fans of color sat only in the balcony.
While Monroe was very progressive when it came to '50s racial relations in Tennessee, in the end, the integration of fans at the Ellis Auditorium was because the "black" section was selling out and the "white" section wasn't coming close, which cost him money since he was paid on a percentage of the gate like all wrestlers back then.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the gay issue, I feel like pro-wrestling has been behind the curve, squandering chances to really make a difference in fostering a better atmosphere of acceptance and understanding toward the gay community. The wrestling world failed to take advantage of a unique opportunity with Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo, who went from being the subject of a positive New York Times article, "Billy and Chuck, Accidental Crusaders" to mid-card also-rans, simply because of the long standing (but never scientifically proven) notion that wrestling fans were just not ready to embrace gay characters, especially as fan-favorite.
On one hand, he's probably right that with the right push, they could've gotten over as babyfaces doing a camp gay gimmick. He's ignoring a lot of what went down, though. WWE courted GLAAD to endorse the Chuck/Billy wedding when they were planning on revealing that they were straight guys doing a publicity stunt and turning them in the process (and honestly, GLAAD should've known better). After the turn, they were handled terribly, with various segments designed to push how straight they were, like judging bikini contests. The combination of their appearance (they looked like stereotypical gay prostitutes) and the "Have I mentioned I am heterosexual today?" behavior made them come off a lot more like gay dudes than when they did a camp gay gimmick.
Perhaps those notion- followers had never seen Adrian Street, the flamboyantly androgynous Welshman who repeatedly drew enthusiastic cheers in the deep south (Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee) with antics that did not adhere to the cultural norms of the time or the place. I was an Adrian Street opponent many times, and have to feel that if his character played well at the Dothan Farm Center, it was going to play just fine in Peoria, or anywhere else in the United States.
The same Adrian Street who was only a babyface once it was made clear that valet Miss Linda was his significant other? The same Adrian Street who feuded with an evil gay guy (Terry Simms as Terry "The Beauty" Garvin) who was clearly the "real" gay because he didn't have a woman with him like fake gay Adrian during the period that Foley's talking about (while Foley was in the territory, no less)? Granted, when he was a heel, Street generally played the gimmick as being a guy who might not be gay but was "acting gay" to disorient his opponents, but his turn didn't prove that a gay character could be a top babyface. On top of that, you have Street's actual feelings on the subject: Gay men bring it on themselves because some of them act over the top at pride perades.
TNA may just have an accidental crusader in its midst - and with it, a chance to put a positive foot forward on the road to progress, and a face to our "Eliminate the Hate" campaign. Orlando Jordan is handsome, chiseled, well-spoken, flamboyant, talented, and gay. For the past several months that flamboyance has been portrayed as a largely negative trait, with Jordan himself being looked at as creepy, surreal; someone to be feared, even avoided. In truth, I think that both TNA and Jordan have been guilty of trying too hard to be shocking, and some of the antics have been over the line; too overtly sexual for younger audience members, and lacking in the fun and subtlety that made Billy and Chuck's evolution so much fun to watch.
What!?!?! "[T]he fun and subtlety that made Billy and Chuck's evolution so much fun to watch"!?!?!
But I applaud Orlando's willingness to take chances with his character,
Oh come on.
and will applaud even louder if TNA displays the courage and creativity needed to showcase an athlete like Jordan in a more positive light. Perhaps he can retain all of the flamboyance - the brilliant costumes and make-up - while simultaneously shedding some of the antics that seem solely designed to shock and offend. In doing so pro-wrestling as an industry may partially shed the cloak of cultural insensitivity that has kept it from seeing the bigger, more important picture for far too long.
I guess it's possible, but nobody should hold their breath.
I am so proud to be part of this "Eliminate the Hate" campaign, and I hope to be persistent in finding as many more unlikely allies in this war against pain. Maybe some of us can just agree to disagree on other challenges facing the gay community - marriage, military service - while agreeing that no child or adult should be picked on, ridiculed or bullied.
I get that he's trying to make this as apolitical as possible by adding that sentence, but I'm pretty sure that keeping homosexuals from being able to marry or join the military is bullying them.