Over the New Year’s weekend, AEW and its founder & President Tony Khan were at the center of social media firestorm after his defensive reaction to quotes from Big Swole, a former member of the company’s roster, about diversity at AEW.
Khan’s tweet and the general backlash to it brought an array of responses from other persons of color currently on the AEW roster. Two men, one who was initially critical and one who’s been supportive from the start of the controversy, have since offered updates or added more detail to their stances.
Lio Rush was openly angry on Friday (Dec. 31, 2021) after Khan’s pre-Rampage tweet. On Saturday, Rush tweeted this statement after speaking to Khan and AEW Senior Vice President & Chief Legal Counsel Megha Parekh:
I want this to be clear.
I do not consider this to be a diversity issue, and I at no point have thought or said that AEW or Tony is racist. We can all clearly see that wrestling as a whole and the AEW roster is perpetually diverse. The issue at hand was a racial insensitivity issue.
Having spoken to Tony and Megha, we have discussed the endeavors to further understand the struggles of the Black community. I am grateful to be able to understand more about Tony and Megha’s own ethnic backgrounds and glad they are actively seeking input from an African American perspective.
I am proud to work for a boss and company that try to make these strides in social equality. I look forward to working with Tony to keep making steps towards positive change.
I pray that 2022 is a year of positive change in all aspects.
Happy New Year and GOD BLESS
Powerhouse Hobbs was one of the Khan and the company’s biggest advocates in the early hours of the flap. Last night (Jan. 3), he issued a more complete statement in support AEW and their diversity efforts, also via Twitter:
There is so much that goes into AEW that those online don’t see.
It often flies under the radar that Tony and Megha are people of color, and having them in charge of AEW represents progress for pro wrestling. I see firsthand how hard they’re working to make wrestling more diverse.
I want you all to know that I consider Tony and Megha family, and I’m disappointed to see their efforts dismissed. People have no idea the time and effort it takes to put shows on and to make AEW an open environment where people like me are seen and heard.
Tony works hand in hand with people of color on the roster all the time about their story ideas, input, matches, etc. Not every idea will work, but every idea is listened to and valued. My personal voice has been heard and I’ve had input for many of my opportunity. As a Black male, I plan on using my voice to do what I can to make sure that this company is diverse. I’m also very aware that diversity comes in many forms — Women, Black, Latinx, East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, LGBTQ+ and more. The more diversity, equity and inclusion we can build in wrestling, the more fans we can engage with, and the more fun we can all have together.
AEW is a young company led by people of color heading in the right direction. I’m proud to be a part of that momentum, and I know my colleagues stand beside me when I say that.
With these messages, and the speed of the internet news cycle, AEW & its top man have probably weathered the worst of this storm. As an outsider, it’s noteworthy — and a little disappointing — that the issue of Khan publicly sharing a negative appraisal of Swole’s work has been brushed off by her former colleagues. The diversity issue is key obviously, but the precedent that AEW management will react to criticism with potentially professionally damaging statements is a dangerous one.
Time will tell if that ever becomes an issue for Khan and AEW. Meanwhile, here’s hoping the company and the entire business continue to represent as many different backgrounds and perspectives as there are in the audience.