Most regulars here at Cageside Seats are pretty familiar with me by now. In case you are not, allow me to formally introduce myself.
Hello. My name is Tonya Rodgers. I have been a proud member of this community for over two years and a member of the staff for more than a year. I started to become one of the more known members when I started writing fan posts, which Sean and Geno always put on the front page of the site. I started a group called the Anti-Smarks early last year, which is totally not what you think it was until (completely out of my control) turned into exactly what I did not want it to be. So I had to end all the jazz.
But, I digress. Through my fan posts, I always talked about my favorite wrestlers, past and present. I had, on occasion, revealed intimate details about myself as well. I never really saw it as a big deal. I consider myself a really open person. I proudly wear who I am and what I have been through on my sleeve.
There is one intimidate detail that I have not discussed at length because it is rather personal and has affected my life since the day it occurred. A select few Cagesiders, including the General and his long-suffering life partner, know the basic story but I have always been apprehensive about sharing the full story.
Before I get down to the nitty-gritty, a little backstory is needed. I was born and raised in central Mississippi and still reside to this day. In fact, I live a mere few blocks from the apartment where I grew up. Having been a wrestling fan as long as I can remember, the one thing I always wanted to be was a professional wrestler. I can imagine that isn’t particularly surprising as most little children who are into wrestling have that same ambition. Most grow out of it. Others become Daniel Bryan or Bayley.
I desperately wanted to be a wrestler. By the time I was thirteen, I was spending countless hours in chat rooms on Yahoo and other sites dedicated to wrestling. I am a part of the original "internet wrestling fan". An OG smark. By the time I was a teenager, I was wrestling boys outside on the school lawn. Then, one day, right before I turned 15, I started corresponding with someone in my area who ran his own backyard wrestling shows.
Yes, people. For about eight to nine months, I was a janky backyard wrestler. My ring name was One Woman Militia. I was "self-trained" also known as I watched a whole lot of wrestling and read as many wrestling magazines and dirtsheets as I could and felt I knew what I was doing. I did not. I sucked. But that did not matter because most of the dozen or so people I did shows with weren’t any good either. The ring I wrestled in was total crap and I could feel the wooden 2 x 4 whenever I took a bump. Fortunately, I did not take that many bumps because the "promoter", a white 24 year old who I’m pretty sure sold drugs as his day job, had a crush on me. I was kind of like a black version of Chyna, expect I was not nearly as muscular and I used more submissions than power moves.
Now, I know you have to asking yourself: How in the World was a teenager able to "wrestle" in what I am sure were total illegal back yard wrestling shows without her mother finding out? I had an older friend who was a senior in high school who would take me and I would tell my mom I was going to hang out with friends. That worked for the first few months. However, I started getting hurt. And the lies I told my mom simply did not fly with her for long. So she actually followed us one day and busted me right as one of the shows was about to start.
The embarrassment and guilt I felt for lying to my mother was definitely not a good feeling. I have a very difficult time even thinking about that day. I probably would have never written this article had Vince Russo not opened his big mouth this week in defense of how he booked women during the Attitude Era. Oh, he is so freaking proud of the fact that treating women as T and A attractions was a draw. His bragging about this fact stirred memories of the conversation I had with my mother that day and is the reason I felt I needed to get this out.
You see, One Woman Militia was shortened to simply Militia after my second show. And the badass little black chick in army fatigues who made guys tap out was a hit with the fifty or so drunk Southerners who frequented these shows. One of the guys I worked with was actually training to be a wrestler and he would drive from Tennessee to Mississippi to headline these shows. He saw something in me and begged me to come to Memphis with him in the summer of 2000 to train with him.
At first, I had turned him down because how in the Sam hill was I going to get to Memphis without my mother finding out, right? Well, a month before he wanted me to go with him, my mother caught me. And, even though I was in trouble, I decided to explain to my mother that I actually had a shot at this. This wasn’t just a pipe dream. I could actually really do this.
I’ll never forget what she asked me.
I started to go on a tirade about how much I loved wrestling and how great it made me feel when my mother cut me off.
"No, girl. Why would you want to go through all this for nothing?"
I looked at my mother like she was crazy. What did she mean for nothing? I was going to be in the WWF. I was going to be the Women’s champion. I was going to get rich and famous and be the biggest female star the business has ever seen.
"You see how they treat the women on that show. That’s why I can’t even watch that junk anymore." My mother started, "All you see are white women with fake breasts stripping out of their clothes. What makes you think they’re going to let you wrestle. And you’re black! You see how they treat black wrestlers. Do you want to go through all that pain and work for years and years for next to nothing just so you can have those people you’re not good enough? You wanna have plastic surgery like all those women do and still be told you’re not good enough?"
"You’re a smart girl." My mother continued, "You have so much going for you. Do you know how many people you’ve never heard of end up injured and unable to take care of themselves doing that stuff? Obviously you love it or otherwise I wouldn’t have caught you where you were. But you’re still a child. No way am I going to let you go to another state with people I don’t even know for this."
"But I tell you what. If you still feel this way when you turn eighteen, if you see that something has changed in the WWF by then, I’ll support you on this. Even though I want you to go to college, I’ll let you make that mistake. But I’m telling you now it is a mistake."
I was grounded for what seemed like the rest of the year. I still wanted to be a wrestler. I kept in contact with the guy from Memphis during this time, telling him what my mother had said. He was still working back yard shows and still very much wanted to help me. Nothing changed about the way WWF booked women. In fact, it seemed like it only got worse and worse after that talk with my mother.
The next year, I sat in my living room and watched as the owner of WWF made Trish Stratus strip out of her clothes and bark like a dog. That is when my dream officially died. I realize Vince Russo was no longer the booker at the time but his fingerprints were still all over the treatment of women in wrestling. I stopped contacting the guy from Memphis and never mentioned being a wrestler to my mother ever again.
I can honestly say I always felt like I made the right decision in the long run. Even with the strides that women have made in wrestling since then, I do not think I would have had the patience to wait it out. I would have left wrestling bitter and broken. I also would not have became a mother to my three beautiful children, who are my reason for living and I could not imagine my life without them in it.
I do have hope, however, that my two daughters, who are eight and four years old, will not have to have the same talk with me as I had with my mother that day. Their dreams won’t have to be crushed because some talentless hack of a writer thought the only value a woman had to the business was by taking her clothes off.
And, you know what?
Knowing that feels damn good.
*Any and all names were omitted from this piece to protect the guilty.
In case anyone is interested in those fan posts I wrote which helped me become a member of the staff, they are linked below:
Why I Will Always Be a Fan of the Shield
Under the Influence of the Kliq
I want to end with thanking everyone for reading this article. By far, this is the most difficult piece I have ever provided to Cageside Seats.