Wrestlers trending on social media isn’t new. As of this writing, there’s probably someone in your favorite federation running off at the mouth or celebrating something to the chagrin or applause of the digital audience.
So while it wasn’t a shock seeing Sasha Banks’ name in those Twitter lights over the weekend, the reason why was definitely a surprise. I’m not here to drag Sasha or anyone through the mud for what they do or don’t do on social media. She isn’t the first person skeptical of vaccines, and she won’t be the last.
The Boss isn’t even the first high-profile person to do so either. Making her thoughts public, directly or indirectly, speaks to a more significant issue for wrestlers using the social media platform of their choice: either use it as a public relations tool or a way to be “real” with your fans.
Between me, you, and the keyboard, social media is a 24/7 high school cafeteria. Those with popular opinions or enough clout to dictate conventional wisdom are rewarded, and the people who go against those views are shunned and can’t sit with the cool kids. Of course, if the clout-haver’s opinion is racism, sexism, homophobia, and any type of cruelty is wrong, then, by all means, shun away. But there are instances when the internet crucifies people for a whole lot less.
Banks liking anti-vaccination rhetoric on Instagram qualifies as the latter. Still, because she often straddles that line between Sasha Banks and Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado, the reaction was predictable. Sasha, like a lot of wrestlers, uses Twitter and Instagram to make personal connections with fans. They show us their pain—emotional and physical—and offer a peek into the windows of their actual life.
But, as the British say, therein lies the rub.
On the one hand, fans want their favorites to keep it real with them on the platform, but not too real. We were told to never meet our heroes because we may not like who they are when the persona goes away, and we’re left with the person. Unfortunately, we now live in a world where we “meet” those heroes every single day. More importantly, fans expect, no, they demand the people they look up to share the same values and morals.
Even when wanting authenticity, there’s still an expectation for them to act as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy all rolled into one neat little package. And when reality hits the fan? Fans reenact the third act of Frankenstein.
Not everyone is The Rock. The man presents a finely manicured social media persona that appears as genuine as “So Anxious.” Dwayne spreads love, talks about his family, rarely wades into politics, and gives pep talks. Rocky is essentially the world’s life coach in 280 characters or less. He knows his audience and, more importantly, knows what they expect of his brand. Dwayne Johnson decided to use social media to promote the business that is The Rock and all it entails. And props to him for doing so.
Great pro wrestling question!— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) June 14, 2021
Hulk Hogan vs Iron Sheik.
Madison Square Garden.
Seminal match with massive historic implications - and a legitimate bounty thrown in the mix. https://t.co/iTtyxrXdrb
Other wrestlers have to make the same choice. If their Instagram account is just an extension of the brand, then the first and only rule is to “do no harm” to the persona. It’s the difference between Seth Rollins’ terrible Twitter game from a couple years ago, where he really put the bad side of Colby Lopez on display, and Becky Lynch or Xavier Woods, who both use everything as an extension of what we see on Raw or SmackDown.
I mean if you wanna talk numbers we can compare bank accounts too.— Seth Rollins (@WWERollins) June 25, 2019
P.S. That’s counting a month off with a broken back... buddy.
Wrestlers shouldn’t live in fear of saying the wrong thing or liking the inappropriate post if it’s true to their beliefs. But saying it with your chest means accepting the slings and arrows that may come your way at the drop of a lousy tweet. Those who wish to walk that thin line between kayfabe and reality on social media should pick a side and stay there.
If you’re going to be the person we see on TV every week, then be that. If you’re going to use a platform to speak your truth and truly let the world know the real you, then be that. Trying to have your cake and eat it too only creates hard times and stomach aches.
Once you’re at that cool kids’ table, you have to do everything in your power to stay there because eating your lunch in the bathroom sounds really lonely. And I’m sure the smell isn’t great either. Sasha is the latest in a substantial line of wrestlers who revealed parts of their true selves on social media only to have fans clutch their collective pearls. She doesn’t get the anonymity we regular folks get, which is the actual cost of having all those commas in her bank account.
But, for all the talk about kayfabe going the way of the dinosaur, social media is the perfect place to keep it alive. Besides being fun for the fans, it protects the wrestlers from the heartbroken Stans who send death threats and, just as important, protects them from themselves.