Monday, August 11, 2014

Alberto del Rio, Harboring Racism, and WWE's Culpability

del Rio's actions may have been legally fireable, but I have a hard time not empathizing with him if rumors are true
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News broke Friday that Alberto del Rio's firing may have had to do with him slapping the shit out of a social media manager for unapologetically making a racist joke at his expense. Now, that story may only represent one side of what happened, since each story has far more than the two sides that the cliche says. The scenario could have been far worse on WWE's part or completely different and causing del Rio to be culpable completely. This story is a case of another carny incident that no one will ever know completely what happened unless they're employees of the company.

Still, the incident seems cut and dried. del Rio hit an employee of the company, furthermore one who wasn't a wrestler and who could sue, so he should be reprimanded seriously, right? Well, I'm not debating that WWE has the right to fire an employee for perpetrating assault, and in all honesty, this right ought to be assumed by now. But at the same time, two things don't set well with me. The first is that WWE officials, including Paul "Triple H" Levesque, stress that del Rio was fired for being unprofessional, and yet this series of tweets came from the official WWE account:

I give whoever sent that series of missives out credit for not going the subtweet route, but I don't get how treating a human relations issue gone awry like a junior high breakup is meeting unprofessionalism professionally. With certain rights come responsibilities, and a corporation with unprecedented resources should be expected to take a certain high road.

But the second thing that grosses me out is far more disconcerting, and it's the commentators coming forward emphatically to assert that WWE was completely in the right for firing del Rio. Firstly, standing up for a corporation to do what it wants with its workforce takes absolutely no bravery whatsoever. Corporations may be the only class of "people" more protected than the rich, white, cis, Christian, straight male in this country. They don't need to be stood up for, but then again, pointing out what's right should be blind of any demographic context.

However, the cacophony of support for WWE's decision comes in the face of these accusations of racial tension bubbling over into physical action. Again, the letter of the law should probably dictate that del Rio gets fired, but the scorn being heaped his way ignores that he is part of an oppressed class in America in a company that is notorious for harboring racism within its metaphorical boundaries.

In a utopian society, racism doesn't exist because everyone is truly equal, but in America, that ideal is far from being attained. WWE is reputed to be even worse than the average, which is what makes these stories so believable. Even without a knowledge of the backstage climate (one where Michael Hayes still roams free), the onscreen product oftentimes is booked without any sensitivity towards minorities or women. Sometimes, talking about racism and non-physical sanctions are not enough, and no matter how professional the actions are or not, one cannot be blamed for lashing out against verbal slurs with a slap in the face.

This social media manager, if he did make a racial slur at del Rio, was emboldened to do so because WWE's atmosphere made him comfortable enough to do so. To pin all the blame on del Rio would be to ignore that one, racism is still a problem, and that two, WWE has a moral responsibility in eradicating it. Furthermore, the tweets above would be even further proof that WWE itself is more to blame than some let on, because they indicate that either the social media manager was not fired, or that the person who replaced him/her was allowed to vent in a way that was sponsored by Levesque himself (since the Triple H account retweeted them). What kind of message does this all send? Not a good one.

Basically, the entire situation stinks. del Rio's foot may have been out the door regardless, given that his contract was expiring this year and that he'd been expressing desires to leave. And in normal circumstances, violence shouldn't be the answer to a verbal barb. But in a climate where white Americans' distrust of Mexicans is at an all-time high, and ultra-conservative wonks' plans of deporting Central American child refugees back to the war-torn countries from whence they came have gained way more steam than I'm comfortable with, it's hard for me to feel totally angry at del Rio for lashing out or that WWE's actions are completely justified from a moral standpoint, whether or not it was legally in the right.