Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Don't Blame Those Kids

Hallowicked is one of the many Chikara wrestlers who was NOT implicated; should he have to pay for the few who were?
Photo Credit: Christine J. Coons
Can an abuser be redeemed or rehabilitated? It's a question that gets asked a lot, too much in my opinion. The status quo gives way too much leeway to those accused of heinous shit, especially if they have a product that people seem to enjoy. It's how those accusing trainers in Chikara, including Mike Quackenbush, have to pass off their stories to others to expose for fear of a pile-on, but Quackenbush himself can record a 13-minute long video that he can have edited to remove hiccups and any accidental unsavoriness to explain "his side." I had people getting huffy at me for not wanting to listen to that side because it's something I've heard so many times before, how "Bram is a good guy and he's changed" without getting to hear from the woman he was accused of battering or that "Brock Turner had his whole life ahead of him and it shouldn't be ruined for a mistake" without consulting with the woman he was caught red-handed raping in an alleyway.

At some point, one doesn't want to engage in the sort of one-sided trial in the court of public opinion when they've seen that sort of thing played out so many times before. The idea of "fairness" to him or any other person accused of rape, assault, grooming, bigoted language, or simply looking the other way when this all was happening is loaded anyway. As has been seen with Trent Seven bringing up legal action against one of the proxies telling the stories of victims who are coming forward, the system will ensure that fairness for the accused is preserved anyway. I'm more interested in fairness at least, if not justice, for the accusers, especially in an environment where an overwhelming majority of victims are telling the truth and get absolutely no recourse for what was done to them.

There can be other victims in this case though, ones who will seem like easy targets, proxies even. In the case of Chikara, there's an entire promotion full of wrestlers, especially young ones, who had nothing to do with the bullshit happening around them, bullshit that they may never have known about. The thing about abuse and abusers is that it takes an overwhelming amount of arrogant hubris to let their actions fly in broad daylight or with a rainbow trail leading to the disgusting payload at its end. These people generally are careful, and even in times when they slip up, it is usually in front of people lower than them on the totem pole that they can pressure into silence using bookings and payment as leverage. Yes, while some students/young wrestlers in the company spoke out of turn and said things that were either not true or were painted by their own biases of what was going on around them, do they deserve the same treatment as the trainers/wrestlers implicated in wrongdoing or the person at the head of it, who turned the other way and was accused himself of saying and doing the heinous stuff that should get someone shunned from a scene until it's proven they've changed?

The legal system, flawed as it might be, has classifications for offenses. Stealing a pack of gum doesn't carry the same weight as first degree murder, nor should it. Even then, some Chikara wrestlers now face is punishment for Quackenbush's transgressions for the equivalent of being the person in front of the gum-thief in line at the supermarket. Whether it be Hallowicked, a longtime veteran, or someone as wet behind the ears as Mister ZERO II, as long as you aren't implicated in any wrongdoing, why should you pay for the sins of your teacher or your boss? These folks are already paying a price by losing the steadiest, and in some cases only, booking they've ever had. The closure of Chikara has ripple effects that will make things harder on these wrestlers already facing the horrendous working conditions set forth by COVID-19. In other words, they're already paying a steep price for all of this; they don't need to face verbal abuse either.

One of the biggest problems America and the world in general face is how people who transgress are dealt with in a manner that ensures their humanity remains respected while justice is meted out for those whose humanity these offenders have violated. As much as, in my anger and frustration, I want to throw someone like Quackenbush out for allowing a wrestling promotion that he advertised as being "for everyone" to become a front for a grooming operation, the truth is that even he probably can be rehabilitated. Maybe "redemption" is out of the question, at least until the victims left in his wake get their justice, but it's just as barbaric to expect that he face punitive action alone and suffer for the sake of suffering for crimes when that sort of thing should be reserved for war criminals and disaster profiteers.

That being said, the flaws in the justice system often highlight how it leaves victims floundering in the wake of a prison-industrial complex that basically tortures criminals not based on crime severity but on their demographic. If Quackenbush is never welcomed back into the wrestling community, which is not guaranteed, it will represent the most severe possible punishment that he could face given how little law enforcement cares about things like sexual assault and domestic violence. The fact that within days of Impact Wrestling letting him go that Michael Elgin was still booked for IWA Mid-South shows how little the promise of blackballing can manifest itself if you have some weight behind your name.

The problem then becomes who does end up paying. Cycling back to how people got mad at me for not wanting to listen to what Quackenbush had to say, I'm not entirely mad at them for feeling that way at all. They have dealt with backlash from people who look at Quackenbush as the physical manifestation of Chikara and they themselves take on a defensive position, as if they have skin in the game of whether Quackenbush's explanation is received well. The sad truth is that they do, and the even sadder truth is that they should absolutely not have to face whatever backlash he or the trainers/wrestlers that have been implicated. There's no reason why Bryce Remsburg or Molly McCoy or Dasher Hatfield or Callux the Castigator or Solo Darling or anyone else in that locker room has to pay for what happened in that Wrestle Factory or by people who were charged with representing it.

Chikara is bigger than one man, and it represented more than the bad actions. Even discounting the fans, it was a family, and as seen with every single family on the planet, no unit is perfect. Just as it is unfair to punish the son for the sins of the father, it's unfair to punish the trainee for the sins of the teacher, especially since you might end up punishing people who have been victimized themselves. No matter what you think about Quackenbush or any other people who have been named, you need to channel your calls for justice and righteous anger at the people who deserve it. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is never a sound practice anyway, whether or not that bathwater was contaminated the whole time.