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Rethinking our approach to WrestleMania in a post-#SpeakingOut world

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We don’t know if this year’s show will have fans, or when WWE will bring the Showcase of the Immortals back to a ‘party city’ like New Orleans. But here’s why it won’t feel the same when they do.

Having been to WrestleMania both in New Orleans and in my hometown of New York and New Jersey, I thought the former was the only way to go. If you’ve never been, WrestleMania in NOLA is a wild theme park ride where wrestlers are everywhere, and you can often find yourself drinking with them. Or at the very least, drinking near them while you’re all on the street talking.

In 2019, that was a glorious moment. I yakked Drew Gulak’s ear off about his no-ropes match with Timothy Thatcher in Evolve. I nearly fainted when I saw Nia Jax and the rest of the Total Divas cast walk down Bourbon Street. I raised drinks with some of the pillars of BritWres, and saw friends nearly faint when Seth Rollins walked into the same Walgreens we were in.

Post-2020, though, I don’t know how eager I am for such outings. No shade to the above names, I’m more thinking about the people who I don’t want to even reference. That I gleefully talked to some wrestlers who I was not aware were utter monsters. People whose names are so cursed in this industry now that you only see their names when diving through the archives.

I’m not naming some of those wrestlers because this isn’t about them, and because honestly I hate thinking about how I cheered them on, bought their merch and how much I valued them remembering my name. The #SpeakingOut movement changed what it meant to be a really dialed-in wrestling fan for me, and for many others. And while this is true for any WrestleMania week, I especially don’t think New Orleans can be the same thing again.

It’s not the biggest loss, especially in comparison to what the victims of some of those wrestlers went through, but it’s something I want to wade into here — as this cursed year ends and a new one begins. Time is just a construct, but in this moment I want to use it to try and think about being better and smarter fans.

Yes, this might sound a bit premature of an article. We’ve got at least 2 more WrestleManias before the third NolaMania — Wrestling Observer’s reporting says 2021 will see Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium get the ‘Mania it was supposed to get in 2020, followed by WrestleMania 38 in Los Angeles in 2022 — but it’ll be there before you know it. So let’s look at the state of things.

Wrestling hasn’t been fully cleaned out, and we know it

Each week, when televised wrestling airs, appearances by the same four or five people remind us that the wrong people have been protected. Wrestling Twitter (and I’m guilty of this too) will harp on a certain show for being a safe haven for predators, and it’s hard to argue with them — unless you want to say “well, don’t forget about the guys on the show that airs opposite.” It all adds up to the uncomfortable fact that the industry has not been truly cleaned out yet. And it makes me wonder if corporate pro wrestling will always protect abusers.

Not to damn all of the current wrestlers in the world with the actions of that bunch of known creeps and predators, but the #SpeakingOut movement left a very distinct and obvious message: we don’t know these people. Even when they’re friendly to us at the merch table — which they need to be, selling shirts, pins and other items is a significant portion of their livelihood — we are seeing a fraction of their story.

And so extrapolate out to the rest of the industry, which is why that while New Orleans brought this topic to mind, it’s germane to any large gathering of our community. WrestleMania week itself is a giant field trip for fans, one where they’re surrounded by wrestlers who are both trying to make a living and find a moment of peace in their all-too-chaotic industry.

For some indie fans, who went to outdoors shows during the summer, the spirit of the last years is still alive. You see people taking photos with their favorites, and you see humans trying to hold onto a semblance of the passion they were without.

Being a wrestling fan going forward

And I get the want to hold onto your passion. I still have my favorite wrestlers, for whom I demand the world. But I keep thinking back to the stories revealed during #SpeakingOut that made me delete meet & greet photos from my phone. The stories that made me apologize to my friends whose stories I was not aware of.

At least one story was so bad that I’ll probably always remember where I was when I read it. The incident that made me feel dumb for not seeing signs in how certain wrestlers behaved at after-hours events, when I was too blinded by my fandom to see signs.

I guess, at the end of the day, we will continue to try and be more vigilant and wary. I hope people will be more ready to listen to victims.

Because wrestling isn’t exactly wrestling without being able to fully cheer and boo, and live in the moment, in the kayfabe. And that’s why Bourbon Street will hit differently in 2023 (or whenever we go back) — because we won’t look at all wrestlers in public the same way. Because 2020 taught us the hardest lessons to deal with are the biggest surprises.

And sadly, those revelations of hidden monsters will probably happen. Humanity has a way of disappointing. But if we can leave hero worship at the doors, we might have a better chance of protecting each other going forward.