Wrestling fans get upset all the time. It’s kind of our thing, and WWE is used to riding out the storm when, say, a lot of us are upset that Roman Reigns won the Royal Rumble.
But it doesn’t look like the company is going to be able to get past the uproar caused by Jinder Mahal’s promo on the Sept. 19 SmackDown. The WWE Champion was scripted to make several stereotypical “jokes” about his rival, Japanese Superstar Shinsuke Nakamura, which prompted the crowd in Oakland’s Oracle Arena to chant “That’s Too Far” and left many at home upset by the racism on display.
Even with the words being delivered by a villain, for a lot of viewers the segment failed to create a distinction between Mahal’s fictional character and the fact people backstage thought it was good idea to have him say those things. Worse, it reminded of wrestling’s long history of depicting ethnic stereotypes and other racist or xenophobic practices.
Despite not publicizing the promo as they normally would and downplaying it from moments after it aired, wrestling fans have remained upset. Now, mainstream media has begun to pick up the story.
A story by Marissa Payne at The Washington Post called “WWE has dealt with racism before, but a scripted rant has fans chanting ‘that’s too far!’” includes quotes from people in attendance and tweets from television viewers angered by the scene. It includes an interview with Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer, who provides context on the business’ historic use of foreign heels while discussing how the promo failed as a fictional device.
There are those quoted who weren’t offended, but even then, it’s not exactly a passionate defense. For example, Oakland fan Fernando Padilla brought up the Mexicools and said “that’s kind of what you expect from WWE.”
Payne reached out to WWE for comment, and was sent this:
“Just like many other TV shows or movies, WWE creates programming with fictional personalities that cover real world issues and sensitive subjects.
As a producer of such TV shows, WWE Corporate is committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide.”
Unfortunately for the company, when one of the things a Washington Post article does is point out how similar that statement is to the one issued when you fired a Hall of Famer for using racial slurs two years ago...
Is this the worst of the public relations fallout from this story, or is there more to come? Will WWE learn any lessons from the controversy this has created?
We shall see.