Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Wrestling with Domestic Violence

It can be hard to picture someone like Yim as a victim of domestic abuse, but it can happen to anyone
Photo Credit: Greg Davis
Professional wrestling is a form of escapism, plain and simple. It’s been compared to superhero comics, with larger-than-life characters and over-the-top storylines. Personally, wrestling has helped distract me from chronic depression and suicidal thoughts. Live wrestling shows give me a couple of hours to hang out with friends and take my mind off of life. One of the happiest moments of my life was punctuated by wrestling-themed wedding vows comparing my partner to some of the greatest tag team wrestlers of all time. Wrestling is important to me.

But wrestlers are people. Real, flesh-and-blood people who have flaws and personalities outside of the ring. Bad guys in the wrestling ring can be great people in real life, and vice-versa. They are people that make mistakes. They say stupid, racist, sexist, homophobic things, knowing it or not. And most importantly, they commit crimes. Wrestlers have had histories of drug abuse and arrests, and wrestlers have had histories of arrests for violent altercations, up to and including domestic violence. It can be tough to hear that our heroes can commit one of the most atrocious crimes possible, violating the trust of a relationship and hurting someone you love. People have a hard time accepting it, and I totally understand. But it’s something that we, as wrestling fans, need to address.

Perhaps the most infamous instance of domestic violence in wrestling is the 2002 domestic violence arrest of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. At the time married to Debra Marshall, the DV charge came at the end of the Austin’s run with WWE before he left the company for several years. The two incidents weren’t connected, however, and Marshall revealed that WWE had been covering up his abuse for several years. Austin was, of course, one of the biggest stars in the wrestling business for several years, and WWE’s potential cover-up makes sense as they needed him to stay on the top for them to make money. This hadn’t been the first time WWE had done such a thing, as similar cover-up tactics had been used around the death of Nancy Argentino, Jimmy Snuka’s girlfriend. Snuka at the time was definitely popular, and a wrestler arrested for murder would be a harsh blow to WWE.

Again, wrestling fans have a hard time accepting that wrestlers are flawed. Often when accusations fly, fans tend to side with their heroes, which is a problem. When we side with the accused we silence the voices of the victim. So often domestic violence goes uncharged by the police due to disbelief of the victim or even fear from the victim of reprisal if they speak up. The same can be said about rape, where nowadays there’s as much of a stigma of the rare “false rape accusation” as there is about actual rape.

There’s hope on the horizon. Earlier this month, Mia Yim/Jade, came out as a victim of domestic violence. This was big, not just because it was a powerful woman coming forward about such a situation, but gave a voice to the voiceless. So often we only talk about the abuser when discussing domestic violence, and it’s important to see that the abused is a person too, and that the situation doesn’t define them. It’s possible to grow. But unless we address all instances of domestic violence head on, those voiceless will never feel safe to speak up.