Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Stop Booking Awful People

Promotions are baking down from SHLAK. When will they do the same for the rapists and abusers?
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Wrestling is not filled with the virtuous and the saintly. The business contains people with questionable opinions and who use demeaning language. They don't have the best social mores. No one would mistake pro wrestling for being populated with social justice warriors (and regardless of what a MAGA CHUD would tell you, those people are actually good). It's a business based on choreographed violence, whose competitors get high on testosterone and adrenaline. I'm not expecting perfection in the characters of the wrestlers I like. Hell, I'm not even expecting them to line up with most of my general beliefs. However, I would expect certain bars to be cleared. One would think that an accused rapist or rape apologist or domestic abuser or Nazi would not clear the bars for fans or promoters, right? Well, recent history has proven a stark reminder that it seems few promotions are willing to clear that bar.

Time and time again, promotions book these awful, awful people. The LGBTQ wrestling promotion booked SHLAK, who was accused of being a Nazi and whose only rebuttal to that was that he hated Nazis but also the people whose sole purpose of associating with a label such as "antifa" was fighting Nazis. Oh yeah, his band also has recorded a number of homophobic songs. At least that promotion undid their booking of him. Rich Swann is still out here taking a number of bookings with various promotions. New Japan Pro Wrestling just put a title on Michael Elgin. And in the most disappointing news of them all, Chikara booked Teddy Hart, whose rape charges in Canada mysteriously disappeared rather than were disproven, was announced for King of Trios weekend.

Of course, the promotions will come forward and give their reasons. Oh, the charges were dropped. He denies being a Nazi anymore, so why can't you leave that in the past? The victim is sketchy. And in each case, a vocal contingent of fans will step up to back those claims up, emboldening the promotions to keep their decisions intact, because that defense means paying customers will still come to their shows. However, that chronic sticking of fingers in the ears damages the hearing apparatus, because those people in charge end up not hearing, or better yet ignoring, the cries of other people who aren't going to go to a show with rapists, rape enablers, domestic abusers, and White nationalists on it. Those people's money is just as good as the people who might pay to see folks who should be at least facing trial if not be in prison.

The stark truth is that for every person who speaks up against these workers that make them feel unsafe, another five people who are too scared to speak up get discouraged from buying a ticket to the show. The current climate places negative value on being "triggered," and it truly takes someone brave to speak up, not just on their own behalf, but on behalf of anyone else who doesn't feel like being yelled at for not wanting to see a rapist work a domestic abuser. So while companies might feel like their decisions are justified with ticket sales or fan buzz, they're missing out an entire swath of fans who might have considered going had they not had past traumas or even just the shit of the world thrown in their faces.

Of course, the news isn't all bad. SHLAK's removal from the LGBTQ wrestling promotion's card was the second time he lost out on a booking because of public outcry. Promoters will at least listen to you in the arena of White nationalists, or at least some promoters will. The fact that Game Changer Wrestling and other adjacent promotions that use the usual suspects from the deathmatch community continue to book him is a huge black eye on what is an otherwise fun and vibrant scene. The fact that NJPW continues put blinders on with Elgin, and other promotions the same with other sexual offenders and domestic abusers, is even worse, because the outcry doesn't seem to work at all. Of course, given that Sami Callihan, another accused domestic abuser, is such a big force in indie wrestling in the Midwest, is a huge problem. Thieves, it seems, aren't the only group of scofflaws among whom pride is a core tenet.

Still, it's on the promoters to stop booking these awful, awful people for their shows, especially ones that are "family friendly" like Chikara professes to be. Time may appear to heal all wounds, but Teddy Hart in all reality is a wrestler not who was wrongly accused of rape but who escaped punishment on some kind of technicality. I don't care how influential he was on the early indies or how much some people might want to see him today as a novelty act. How good or bad he is is not the referendum. It's the fact that he's a presence that makes real people who might attend a Chikara show feel unsafe, uncomfortable. No one should have to feel that way at a wrestling show, especially one as colorful, vibrant, and steeped in fantasy that Chikara is.

The booking his already given me pause for whether I even want to make the trip to Easton for even one night of the show this year. I'm sure I'm not the only one, but at the same time, the lack of interest in paying Chikara money is only a secondary reason. You shouldn't just book acts for money. You should make those acts clear a bar so that they don't end up making things awkward for people in the audience. Allowing nostalgia to think booking a rapist is okay is not only not clearing that bar, it's knocking that bar right off the wall.