Thursday, September 22, 2016

Social Justice Wrestling: Randy "Kneel" Orton

Orton's "patriotism" is as hollow as his military service
Photo Credit:
If you haven’t been paying attention this month, sports fans outraged due to protests of the National Anthem in effort to raise awareness and discuss racial inequality in America. This movement was initially started by Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, but has been coopted by several other players in the NFL, women’s soccer player Megan Rapinoe, Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones, and countless boys and girls in our public school system. Fans and other players have argued that even though we have First Amendment rights that allow us to protest and speak up against our government, those don’t or shouldn’t extend to moments like the National Anthem because of patriotism. Even school boards throughout the country have started to enact legislation to prevent students from protesting the anthem, because nothing says democracy like forcing children to declare undying love for a country that doesn’t love them.

I’m sure you’re wondering how this applies to America’s true pastime, professional wrestling. Well, earlier this week sleeveless hoodie enthusiast and snake man Randy Orton had some unkind things to say about anthem protests in sports.
While it somehow continues to shock me that a performer who has traded on nepotism to get where he is and maintain a position while putting in the minimum amount of effort possible can be so myopic about his own privilege, it’s not as simple as that. See, Mr. Orton is a Patriot. He understands that it takes courage to defend the flag, and that people have died for it. The courage part is important, and I’m assuming that’s why he went AWOL from the Marines and served time in military prison because he didn’t have any courage.

Snide sarcasm aside, wrestlers weighing in on politics, especially stuff like Black Lives Matters, tends to air on the side of ridiculous. Earlier this year Buh Buh Ray Dudley posted incipient memes about how All Lives Matter and that police brutality isn’t just about Black people but human beings, including a requisite shot of him and D-Von together to show that it doesn’t matter what skin color you are because we all have the innate desire to get the tables. Even Goldust (Dustin Rhodes) got in on the act recently, noteworthy because of his uncomfortable, borderline racist, and homophobic angle of trying to get R-Truth to be his tag team partner. While I do believe that anyone has the right to speak their political views, even if they’re in the spotlight, somehow it always surprises me when wrestlers I love end up being conservative politically, more so than any other artist or athlete. I’m not sure why, but I can tell you I was more disheartened to see one of my favorite wrestlers ever in a “Make America Great Again” hat than I was to find out that Curt Schilling is a neocon.

The intersection of wrestling and discussion of racism and privilege in the world around us is uncomfortable because of wrestling’s history of racism. A significant portion of wrestling’s power base has traditionally been found in areas where racism is an epidemic, in poorer rural areas in the South and Midwest, known to well-meaning but naive liberals as The Flyover States. Black wrestlers have historically had a hard time getting over and being treated as seriously as their white counterparts in the major wrestling promotions; it’s telling that World Championship Wrestling's first Black heavyweight champion, Ron Simmons, was bought up and repackaged by the WWF as the Black militant Farooq, a stereotype of every racist white person’s fear of radicalized Black people who would never come close to a major title victory again and whose significant achievements in McMahon’s Cartoon Wrestling Promotion were being a footnote to the rise of The Rock, being friends with an openly racist white oil tycoon/stockbroker and saying “Damn”.

While pretty much every wrestling promotion, past and present, is guilty of overt and systemic racism, WWF/WWE’s racist storytelling is important to discuss because for many Americans they are the wrestling promotion and no others exist. Even as recent as this past week WWE has promoted their product with advertising showing a display of blackface and mistrelsy by D-Generation X towards The Nation Of Domination during the greatest era of wrestling ever, PERIOD, the Attitude Era. Said ad also features quotes from a noted racist and sashimi connoisseur whose name I don’t wish to invoke lest The Wrestling Blog get’s Gawker’d, a man whose racism was so vile and public he was erased from WWE history, a punishment so severe it’s usually reserved for double murder-suicides.

The man currently believed to be a heartbeat away from creative control of the WWE, Triple H, has been involved or invoked in many of the company’s public acts of racism, such as the aforementioned blackface incident and the infamous WrestleMania 19 main event against Booker T booked around whether Booker, a Black man who in WCW had been the stereotype of the scary "Harlem Black man" in the '90s, couldn’t be champion because “people like him” were never champions. Behind the scenes Triple H has been accused of racism against Mexicans by Alberto del Rio, and even the booking and discussion of history with his vanity brands like NXT and the recently completed Cruiserweight Classic tournament smacks of the subtle racism historically present in wrestling. It’s telling that Big E is never mentioned when it comes time to discuss former NXT champs, and the two charismatic and incredibly over Black men in the CWC were both bounced out of the tournament in favor of the lighter-skinned TJ Perkins. The English-speaking Perkins, who faced off against the masked non-fluent-in-English Gran Metalik, is billed as from the Philippines but was born in California. While Filipinos are notably underrepresented in wrestling, it’s telling that this booking seems to be a form of having cake and eating it too, allowing Triple H to tout the international flair of the tournament while having a non-Black American-born English-speaker represent the division.

While I haven’t seen any WWE wrestlers discussing the other side of the anthem-kneeling “controversy," rest assured I have seen it discussed in wrestling circles. Around the same time as Orton’s rant, Ring of Honor’s Kenny King posted about racists shouting down Kaepernick’s peaceful protest with images of Martin Luther King, Jr.
And former WWE and TNA star MVP can spotted in Orton’s mentions trying to educate the man. Both of these men are important in this discussion. MVP notably was outspoken about being a part of the protests in Ferguson last year, and cut a blistering promo on Eric Garner’s murder while in New York City with TNA. King has been involved in a little kerfuffle in ROH with an angle in which his current faction with Rhett Titus and Caprice Coleman “protested” the Code of Honor handshake and were beaten up. While such a moment definitely falls under the boneheaded racially insensitive booking I excoriated WWE for, at least we know King is down with the cause.

It’s important to note that while Orton tweeted his dumb thoughts, and while I write this article there are currently protests regarding the murder of two Black men by cops this week, killed for the crime of being Black in public. People have been teargassed, riot gear has been worn, at least one person has been shot dead during these protests. Countless men and women of color, cis and trans, gay and straight, have been murdered this year, either by the cops put in place by a system stacked against people of color to keep said people in line or by gunman allowed to have tools of murder thanks to the archaic and backwards laws of America. I legitimately cannot think of anything more patriotic than protesting against a country that seemingly doesn’t view you as human and that shrugs off your continuous murder and degradation as something that’s your problem. Then again, I didn’t star in 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded, so maybe I’m missing that perspective.