Speaking Out is a movement that’s sent ripples throughout pro wrestling this past week.
It started as a sort of Me Too movement in the British pro wrestling community. And it’s already made its way stateside. In a world where Dark Side Of The Ring has already shone a light on the underbelly of pro wrestling.
Pro wrestling has long been a business defined by traditional norms. Where hazing, slurs, and emotional abuse has always been “just part of the business.”
But as Speaking Out continues to gain momentum, one thing is abundantly clear. Pro wrestling has to change.
For decades, personnel issues in wrestling have gone through talent relations departments. But when it comes to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, wrestling doesn’t need talent relations.
Speaking Out makes it obvious. Pro wrestling needs Human Resources.
Why Does Wrestling Need HR?
HR departments traditionally get cast as the stick-in-the-mud. The “no fun” police. See the entire run of The Office for reference.
But simply put, HR provides a paper trail. A means of knowing that an employee’s complaint has been heard and documented. Even if your HR department sits on a complaint? They should have to have a record that the complaint was brought about.
So if it goes to court, an employee is can at least say, “I made the right people aware.” Making it on the company to explain how they acted. Or why they failed to act.
And Speaking Out shines a giant light on the fact that that’s missing in wrestling. Too often, promotions like WWE act shocked and appalled when one of their talents is exposed as a less-than-savory person.
“We had no idea,” they’ll say. “This is the first we’re hearing of it. But by golly, we’re going to act!”
Problem is, the talent relation guys are usually – well – wrestling guys. So something like Speaking Out gets brushed aside. “Hey, that’s wrestling. Grow a thicker skin.”
Historically, wrestlers and employees have to bring their complaints anonymously. Because?
The Thin Red Rope
Another thing Speaking Out is making obvious is that wrestling still operates on a bro code.
Wrestlers don’t out one another. Or their bosses. It’s just not done.
And it goes beyond abuse. In April, an anonymous WWE employee filed a complaint with the Orange County (Fla.) Board of County Commissioners saying WWE forced them to work TV tapings despite Florida’s stay-at-home order.
At Tuesday's Orange County Board of County Commissioners meeting, a #WWE employee named "John" submitted public comment they're being "forced to work" TV tapings despite stay at home orders. Says he's unable to speak out and feels he will be fired if he approaches his higher-ups. pic.twitter.com/UJTvX1RGc7
— Jon Alba (@JonAlba) April 21, 2020
WWE denied the allegation, releasing a statement of their own saying that “Employees know they can confidentially go to human resources, not the public.” And as explained in the above tweet, the employee feared repercussions for speaking out within the company.
How many pushes have been lost over the years by going public with concerns about the company? Any company worth its salt has a non-retaliation policy. Including WWE, as seen here. So, at the very least, there should be questions as to why the non-retaliation policy isn’t robust enough to be trusted by the company’s employees.
And allegations of misconduct aren’t new to WWE. Randy Orton still has a pretty prominent job despite allegations of sexual misconduct dating back to 2012. WWE responded – as reported by WrestleTalk in 2018 – by saying they were “looking into the matter.” To date that’s their last response on the subject.
So if you’re called out during Speaking Out, you still have a pretty good chance of getting to wrestle The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever.
Never doubt that wrestling will look out for its big money draws.
The List Keeps Growing
WWE and AEW aren’t feeling much pressure yet to act on Speaking Out.
For WWE’s part, they immediately suspended some of its accused wrestlers. Including co-Cruiserweight Champion Jordan Devlin. As reported by Wrestlingnews.co, WWE says they are “looking into the matter.” The company has also released Jack Gallagher amidst allegations of sexual misconduct. Meanwhile, in AEW, Jimmy Havoc has been accused of emotional abuse by an ex-girlfriend and of physical abuse by a fan. AEW has pledged to evaluate Havoc’s place in the company following Havoc’s successful completion of a rehabilitation program.
But in the grand scheme of things, these are small fish. What happens when a big, main event star is named in Speaking Out? Orton is as big a star as you can find in wrestling. And while all indications are that he’s turned things around for himself, the fact that little-to-no action was ever taken is disheartening.
And it has to come as some disappointment that AEW’s reaction to Havoc’s allegations is what you’d hear from a Hollywood agent.
Right now, wrestling is one of the only forms of entertainment still operating during the coronavirus pandemic. You’d think it would at least be in their own interest to look into any allegations against its talent with a fine-tooth comb. It’s on the promotions to vet their talent. Even aside from current global events, these are massive entertainment conglomerates. You’re telling me their HR departments can’t dig a little deeper into their talents’ history?
Speaking Out has the potential not just to root out abusers embedded in the system. It has the potential to screen them before they walk through the door.
Yes, the wrestlers themselves have an obligation to behave professionally. The “professional” in wrestling should indicate more than the fact that the wrestlers get a paycheck.
But Speaking Out seems to indicate that standard isn’t being upheld.
So either Big Wrestling ignores its HR departments or has intentionally set them up to be toothless.
Either way, it’s a problem. And one that Speaking Out might force them to solve.
Feature image from WWE.com.