It was probably wishful thinking on the part of the All Elite Wrestling team. I know I fell into the same trap in writing about it last week. “We’ll be making a statement just by having queer representation on the roster,” they likely believed.
Unfortunately, as AEW’s Nyla Rose obviously already knew based on how ready she was to handle an onslaught of transphobic hate when her gender became a talking point last Friday, that’s not how it goes. Wrestling has broad appeal, and it appeals to all kinds of people. Some of those people are prejudiced. And with the anonymity of the internet (where a large portion of the wrestling fanbase operates in 2019) and the mob mentality that comes in crowds (like the kind you find at wrestling shows) All Elite was going to have to address it if they want to “change the world”.
And that was pointed out to Executive Vice-President Cody Rhodes this afternoon:
Acknowledgment that many have spoken about this sexism, homophobia and transphobia goes a long way. Hiring them is one them, but protecting them and ensuring your to your fans that you won’t stand for this behavior is needed and wanted by a lot of us. Thanks.— D.A.M (@Dnellicious) February 13, 2019
We are promoting matches that’s causing this apparent debate (which I admittedly have not seen and instead have seen only excitement/happiness). The stand is in standing by those matches. Why would we signal boost hatred? Wrestling is for everybody and not everything is a scandal— Cody Rhodes (@CodyRhodes) February 13, 2019
Multiple people pointed to examples of the harassment beneath, for example, the match announcement for Rose from yesterday. It was also communicated to Cody that hatred isn’t a “debate”, and that things like a Code of Conduct for shows will help AEW employees and fans who are targeted by bigots feel safe and welcome at shows and online. He responded that the company would address the matter, and a short time later Chief Brand Officer Brandi Rhodes issued this statement via Twitter:
A safe, inclusive, respectful and very cool environment will be central to everything we do at AEW. Be who you are, and come as you are. Because we're all going to come together as a community to change the world. #AEW (2/2)— Brandi Rhodes (@TheBrandiRhodes) February 13, 2019
Probably not as strong as some hoped for, but it’s on the record, which is what those who raised the issue asked for. The real test will come as AEW is inevitably called upon to back this up. Threatening and disrespectful behavior is likely to persist as long as there are people in the audience or in the ring that others in that audience fear and hate.
The kind of change AEW is hoping to help bring about requires this be more than just a statement.
We’re a long way from the end of this. And as we’ve seen with somewhat similar issues in the past with All Elite & the folks behind it, they’ll happen as the group tries to build a company on the fly, under a very bright spotlight. A key thing is they’re willing to engage in conversations like this that are too often avoided because they’re uncomfortable, or might alienate some bad actors who happen to be paying customers.
For now, this seems a good step. I’ll leave the last word to an AEW talent whose experience will be different if their bosses do create the environment the statement envisions (and who hopefully was consulted as they crafted it):
This fight isn’t for heterosexuals to glorify us—it’s simply to have the same rights that you do. There is no “agenda.” You are more than allowed to have your beliefs. Our GOAL as LGBTQ+ people is to co-exist with you, comfortably. (1/2)— ☀️Sonny Kiss☀️ (@SonnyKissXO) February 14, 2019
Don’t take away someone else’s rights when you don’t want it done to YOU! Period! (2/2)— ☀️Sonny Kiss☀️ (@SonnyKissXO) February 14, 2019