2019 is almost over so it’s Year in Review Time! And instead of cramming it all in one piece I figured I’d split things up over the next few weeks. First up the bad news.
There’s good and bad stuff that goes on every year in the world of wrestling, and we can’t ignore the latter just because it’s unpleasant. So let’s get to it. In order, the 5 biggest lowlights of the year:
5. T-shirt gate
In October ACH, then going by Jordan Myles, blew up the internet when he revealed that the T-shirt design that WWE had come up with for him looked like a sambo kind of image. Now it gets murky from there, and there’s a lot of stuff that we have no idea as to how it went down, but ACH ultimately got his release from WWE and moved on. But the important thing here is that the design should have never gotten as far as to even be presented to ACH in the first place. At best the whole episode exposed that apparently WWE does not have anyone in the T-shirt department, particularly a person of color who’s got some real world experience, who can look at different logos, designs, etc and say ‘yeah we shouldn’t do that’. And you really need more than one because everybody’s not going to catch everything. They managed to weather the storm in this case but it would behoove them to rectify this situation so it doesn’t happen in the future.
4. Old (white) guys on the mic
The year saw some new announce teams named for Monday Night RAW and two new shows, NWA Powerr and AEW Dynamite but one thing about each was not new: the presence of an old, white, problematic announcer. Jerry Lawler rejoined RAW after being gone for a while, Jim Cornette signed on with the NWA and Jim Ross returned to regular duty with AEW. Why is this a low light? Well, because it’s gone about how you’d expect. Lawler and Ross have both declined as commentator, but can still be counted on for at least one tone deaf line every week where they say something that has either women, people of color or both asking ‘ok, and why do you still have a job?’ But they pale in comparison to Cornette, who was hired despite several documented sexist, homophobic and transphobic comments. And of course Cornette showed his true colors (which we’ll get to next). The problem as a whole here is that these three guys keep getting jobs because there is a belief that their reputations and perceived remaining skills warrant weathering anything bad they might say in the name of attracting viewers, and because they’re all made guys in the old boy network. But’s it high time for the business to move on from these guys because having them around often does more harm than good, and it’s 2019 dammit as I tried to explain a little bit here. And speaking of Cornette…..
3. Cornette gonna Cornette
Cornette eventually doing on air what he’d been doing on Twitter and his podcasts was only a matter of time. And in doing so he didn’t just get himself fired (or ‘fired’, depending how you see it), he exposed some things about the NWA itself, which can be spelled out in this piece from Fansided DDT. Namely the NWA had a month to take out his racist, classist joke (one that he’s rehashed several times over the years) during post production and chose to leave it in, which suggests that they didn’t really have a problem with it until it got them in trouble. Like with the T-shirt issue this is another case where having someone around who can see or hear this kind of thing and say ‘hey, let’s not put this out there’ could have saved a lot of trouble. But that’s just the beginning for this because after this went down we got…..
2. Thanks, Jim?
So after Cornette did his thing and got fired, and they issued a half-hearted apology, the NWA in it’s season finale did a taped bit where they thanked Jim for his time there and even put up a hashtag ‘thank you Jim’. Really? A simple statement similar to the WWE’s infamous future endeavor statements would have been sufficient. They didn’t have to thank him! Again, having no one there to at least speak out on the business folly of making that kind of statement is jarring. This is just a blatant case of putting your insistence to ride for your takes ahead of common sense and the bottom line. By doing this Billy Corgan and co. have taken what was a big hit with a lot of us and turned it into a question mark. Stupidity and riding for people who make racist comments still abounds way too much in the business.
OK Rob, so why did you devote three spots to the Cornette thing? You cheating here?
Well no, I’m not cheating. This is important! Getting rid of the old, racially tone deaf (and in some cases just racist), sexist elements of the business is a bigger priority and a bigger deal than who got booked to win a wrestling match or who’s getting a push or whatever. No angle or match result or pay per view lineup is as important as getting this crap out of the business so that everyone who’s a fan can enjoy themselves without being insulted and disrespected by the commentary team.
And now, number 1…..
1. The ROH Debacle
Where to start? Not having a concussion protocol, lying and saying they did, not having attending physicians at every show which forced some of the wrestlers to set each other’s bones and take Uber to the hospital, the pay (or lack thereof), and then the firing of Kelly Klein via email for crying out loud. This story has made beyond the wrestling media and into Newsweek and Sports Illustrated and it’s the biggest black eye of the year in my opinion. Klein herself is out with a concussion and was almost sent back out on the road to defend the Women’s title she held. She previously asked for a small raise to a whopping $24,000 a year and was told no because if they gave her one then they’d have to pay all the women more. Tomosso Ciampa shared a similar story on Lilian Garcia’s podcast that he was making $20,000 with ROH and was told directly that they thought no one would think he was worth more than that.
So we have safety issues and pay issues here at what was once the number two company in the country, a company owned by a big conglomerate in Sinclair Broadcasting that can afford to pay people way more than they are. That they have an entire women’s division making so little (and it was going to be $12,000 a year instead of 20 before the ladies there go them to increase it based on the good YouTube numbers their matches were pulling in). Yes, they are allowed to work outside dates for companies ROH gets along with but can we be real about that? The whole ‘you can work outside the company’ thing is just a way for them to not have to pay you much themselves. Instead of making 20 grand for them or 50 if you’re real lucky and getting to work elsewhere how about just paying them 150 and make them exclusive if they’re up for it?
And hey Sinclair, you can afford to have a doctor at every show and not just the ones where it’s required by the state. You can have a concussion protocol that’s actually exercised and not just on paper. You know, maybe there wouldn’t have been the mass exodus to NXT by so many of your people if you treated them better. This story is far more important than who got booked to win or lose a match and who’s stuck in catering. There’s an entire underclass in the business that is being underpaid by companies that can afford to pay more, from several of the guys and gals in NXT to the folks in ROH and Impact and likely some of the folks in AEW. And while they obviously shouldn’t all be making millions of dollars 20 grand that you have to supplement by getting in as many dates as you can elsewhere and doing all that traveling should not be how business is done. We’re not talking local indies who can’t afford it. These are decisions being made at the highest levels to shortchange people.
But that’s just one reason why it’s the real blackest eye on the business for this year. The other reason is that the wrestling media was completely exposed for the frauds many of them are by this story. A few places like Fightful have done real reporting on it along with follow ups, but the big wigs like Meltzer can barely be bothered to give it more than a cursory mention on air or a short story on his site that was almost entirely quotes from ROH and other aggregated reporting. That he and most of his contemporaries can devote all the time in the world to playing cancer detective or speculating over who’s about to get a push or telling us who should sign where instead of dealing with some real issues like that is all you need to know about them.
OK, that’s it for the low lights. Next time we’ll get back on the good side of things. Until then…