One of the most frequent questions any wrestling fan will be asked is "isn't it all fake?" Of course, the well informed amongst us will reply that wrestling is simply pre-determined and invite the questioner to perform a 360 degree splash from the top turnbuckle.
Over recent weeks and months however, the tragically human face of wrestling has been laid bare for all to see. There will be few news consumers that didn't catch sight of the controversy over racist remarks made by 'The Immortal' Hulk Hogan. The result of his comments was immediate dismissal by WWE and of course, public outrage. Speaking on TV in the states, Hogan who denies being a racist, suggested he felt depressed and suicidal. There is of course never an excuse for racism and WWE were right to act unequivocally as they did. The personal and public vilification of Hogan however will certainly not have been pleasant for him and has clearly taken a toll.
It was not long after the Hogan controversy had quietened down though that another controversy engulfed the wrestling world. Having debuted on WWE's NXT brand, developmental Diva Zahra Schreiber (romantically linked to and formerly involved in controversy around Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins), was released "due to inappropriate and offensive remarks". It transpired that Schreiber had posted pictures on social media as far back as 2012 including one of a 'My Little Pony' character in Hitlerian garb and had made comments on the posts that were unearthed and circulated. Again, WWE acted swiftly and should be commended for doing so. Schreiber went on to post a public apology.
WWE was not the only company faced with PR trouble though. The Gulport Police Department reported that officers had arrested and charged one of TNA's breakout talents, Bram, with domestic battery by strangulation and false imprisonment. TNA's response was appropriately swift and Bram was immediately suspended pending an investigation.
In a relatively short space of time, these three incidents underlined the very real life space occupied by those that are glorified and occasionally deified in the wrestling world. They serve as an important reminder, should we have needed one that behind the marketing, glitz and glamour there are real people with very real issues. We have previously written about mental health in wrestling, Chris Brooker eloquently addressed homophobia in the sport on WrestleTalk TV and many commentators have covered the issues with drugs.
Spiderman, Teen Wolf or Harry Potter. If you've watched any of them you'll recognise the mantra "with great power, comes great responsibility" and we all have our part to play. In the locker room, talent can and must engender a culture of openness, tolerance and fraternity. No wrestler should ever fear expression of their sexuality or religion, rather the bigots should be wary of voicing their hate.
Promoters have a responsibility too. WWE and TNA have demonstrated principled leadership. However, disciplinary action will never be enough in of itself and should be matched with positive educational and charitable endeavours. WWE's efforts with its wellness policy, reading schemes and cancer awareness fundraising are excellent. Perhaps now we could see sensitive storylines that tackle racism, domestic violence and homophobia in major league wrestling.
We in the crowd must do our bit too. We were buoyed to read that Progress wrestling fans, having heard transgender-abuse of a talent by an individual amongst their number, turned in unison and chanted the Progress motto 'don't be a d*ck' at the abuser. Of course mob mentality can be problematic but when a mutually supportive community is cultivated and then activated for good, the positive ripples are potentially endless.
Immersing oneself in the drama, theatricality and power of wrestling is a wonderful release, good fun and for some it can even be a life line. However the fantastic storylines are portrayed by characters and in promotions that live very much in the real world. In cultivating responsible and inclusive locker rooms, businesses and fan networks alike we can ensure the reality of wrestling is as enjoyable as the products we watch week in and week out.