Homosexuality in sports, always a potential powder keg issue, sparked up earlier this week again when three prospective NFL players, Nick Kasa, Denard Robinson and Le'veon Bell, claimed they were asked questions about their sexual orientation at the recent NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. This is likely a practice that has always gone on, but only now do athletes feel comfortable enough to publicly complain about such a line of questioning.
The impetus for such "concern" about their potential signees love lives is clearly the bizarre story about Notre Dame's Manti Te'o where his dead girlfriend Lennay Kekua turned out to be a male hoaxer named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Well, I suppose that's if you can believe that someone in a deep online relationship would never make the effort to meet their lover in person when she was in a serious car accident, diagnosed with leukaemia and spent months in hospital on the brink of death.
You may be wondering what on earth this has to do with professional wrestling? The link is that former WWE announcer and personality Jonathan Coachman, aka "The Coach", now a broadcaster with ESPN, was filling in on Friday for Colin Cowherd on his radio show and this was a key topic of discussion.
He might not have brought up his time spent in WWE, if it wasn't for a caller suggesting that NFL teams had a right to ask such questions regarding a player's sexuality because they get naked in front of a locker room of other men and that discomfort might be caused if one of them was gay. Of course, this shows a complete lack of understanding that gay athletes don't take great pleasure from stripping in front of a bunch of homophobic jocks either.
In response to this borderline offensive opinion, Coachman trumpeted his experience backstage at WWE events where according to him a wrestler being openly gay was never an issue (though it's worth noting that other than veteran Pat Patterson, no gay WWE performer has outed themselves to the general public while working for the company):
"That's an interesting point and to that I will say this I spent ten years in the WWE and there were several openly gay wrestlers and some of our old school guys as well. Never an issue and not only were we getting naked in front of each other, but we were wrestling each other in the ring and it wasn't an issue."
This progressive behind the scenes environment in a business that is often viewed as backwards and reactionary, seemed to genuinely surprise his co-host Linda Cohn and she took this to be a positive sign for the future regarding out players in more mainstream sports leagues:
"Coach, when you told me about your years in wrestling, when you told me there were openly gay wrestlers, OK, competing in a sport like wrestling and we know what goes on in wrestling, it's a contact sport, it's skin to skin. Uh, you're not telling me that this can't happen in other sports? I say it can!"
The Coach concurred saying that when you get to know someone properly their sexuality becomes absolutely meaningless, you just accept them for who they are:
"Absolutely. When I say that it was never brought up, it was never brought up. It was never an issue. And we were together five days a week, you know, on the road where when you're on the road you spend so much time together than if you're at home. And maybe that's why it was no big deal, because you get to learn about the person and the sexual orientation really not only becomes secondary, but it just doesn't matter."
That's certainly a refreshingly positive message to hear, but does the rosy picture Jonathan Coachman painted about being gay in wrestling really hold water and stand up to scrutiny?
If you've been reading our site for any length of time, then you'll realise that question is a resounding "Oh hell no!", as there's been a laundry list of incidents that prove that homosexuals don't have it much easier in pro wrestling than any other sport.
The most damning story was WWE's treatment of Chris Kanyon, a vulnerable individual who went to extreme lengths to keep his sexuality a secret from the boys in the back and was paralysed with fear that he would one day be found out. In the end, he realised that he was only fooling himself that his colleagues didn't know or at least suspect his sexual preferences, so he came out to the company and pitched a unique angle to the WWE creative team of being the first non-stereotypical, openly gay wrestler, but that idea fell on deaf ears. This eventually led to one of the most mean-spirited and reckless burials in company history for reasons that have never been adequately explained.
Upon his return to WWE televised programming after 15 months of injury problems and setbacks, he was made to take part in a skit clearly designed to mock his closeted homosexuality. Coming out of a crate as one of Paul Heyman's surprise gifts to The Undertaker, dressed up as Boy George and effeminately singing "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?" so everyone got the point, he then received an utterly brutal gay bashing that was capped off by a completely unprotected chairshot to the head.
With his wrestling dream having turned into a living nightmare, back to being a glorified jobber despite his immense talent, he attempted suicide in September 2003 by swallowing a large bottle of sleeping pills and was fired by WWE shortly thereafter. Later overtures to do his proposed first ever openly homosexual wrestler gimmick were rebuffed by both WWE and TNA, and he spiralled into an even deeper depression. He eventually went through with his threats to commit suicide on April 2nd, 2010, just four days after Orlando Jordan had unleashed his bisexual nature on apathetic TNA Impact viewers.
Speaking of which, Jordan's experiences of being openly bisexual in wrestling weren't much better than Kanyon's.
He was fired by WWE under strange circumstances on May 26th, 2006, before the first angle could be shot to repackage him with a bisexual gimmick, also his own idea as the creative team had run out of ideas for him by that point. The rumours at the time were that his dismissal from the company was for travelling with his boyfriend, believed to be 16 years old, and taking him backstage to WWE events, despite being ordered not to due to the potential scandal if it got out that he was dating someone who was underage in certain states. In a Highspots shoot interview in 2008 Jordan denied the story, though he did admit to bringing guests to shows like every other wrestler in the promotion did.
His stint in TNA was beset by controversy too, as his boyfriend, who briefly played his on-screen male companion Cameron, wasn't welcome there either.
Just as the bisexual angle was getting off the ground, Ric Flair, a drunken flasher who's also a big supporter of Republicans Jesse Helms and Mike Huckabee, angrily confronted OJ's boyfriend about his behaviour at a bar in a manner that left him shaken and in tears.
Insiders quickly rushed to the Nature Boy's defence that he was completely justified in browbeating the young man, as his actions had grossed out the wife of a major executive that was also in the establishment at the same time. His big crime? Making out with his boyfriend and apparently doing something almost as embarrassing after being asked to stop, activities that no-one would have batted an eyelid at with a heterosexual couple. Rather than stand up to such blatant homophobia, TNA took the easy route out and decided to never use Cameron again.
Even then, Orlando Jordan was still a heat magnet in TNA with suspicious complaints that he was "hitting on various people".
I'm sure after these experiences, Jordan was left wondering why he bothered prostituting his sexuality for a five minute push. Rather than being a positive portrayal of a bisexual man, the gimmick was crass, exploitative and tacky with him dressing up in gaffer tape like some bondage S&M slave and squirting
cum melted white chocolate on his chest upon seeing the muscular Rob Terry. The icing on the cake to this story was when TNA announced an anti-bullying campaign called "Eliminate The Hate" after a spate of high-profile suicides among gay teenagers, while still promoting Jordan as an evil depraved bisexual character. The Wild Card was released by TNA on July 11th, 2011. Instead of being given a second chance, he was tossed aside like a used piece of meat after Vince Russo had killed his career, as so many guys are after they get saddled with one of the booker's ideas that shouldn't have seen the light of day.
We would also be remiss if we forgot to mention all the times homophobic slurs like faggot and homo had been publicly uttered by wrestlers such as AJ Styles, Matt Hardy, Michael Cole, Jay Briscoe and CM Punk during their day jobs.
Thus, being openly gay in pro wrestling may be a much easier path to follow than in the equally macho sport of American football, but it's hardly one without any perils or pitfalls, as the cases of Kanyon and Orlando Jordan prove.