On Monday, March 12th, the WWE made a groundbreaking announcement. However, with that announcement came a wildfire of criticism and controversy, as the internet wrestling community began a complete revolt in response to what had taken place. Even as the company has been moving in a direction to evolve the women’s division, it has become equally apparent that they also need to do more than just ‘give divas a chance’. They needed to provide women with an outlet to speak up, compete and showcase just how talented they are. While that was initially shown with the emergence of WWE’s NXT brand and its women’s division that wasn’t enough to make fans stand up and take notice. It also needed to happen on the Raw and Smackdown Live brands. Steps have been made in the direction, with the first-ever women’s Money in the Bank and Hell in a Cell match, and the recent Women’s Royal Rumble.
On the aforementioned date, the company announced that they are now going to have a women’s battle royal at Wrestlemania for the first time. Much like how the men’s Wrestlemania battle royal is called the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, the women’s battle royal was to be named after a WWE Hall of Famer, someone who had a long-term association with the company. The battle royal was to be named after the Fabulous Moolah. However, with that announcement came not only criticism, but controversy, and the theory that ‘no press is bad press’ didn’t prove true in this case. Just shy of 72 hours after this announcement including a video that aired on Raw, the company changed the name of the battle royal to the ‘Wrestlemania Women’s Battle Royal.’
Why would the company want to retract the name that was initially attached to the battle royal? In a word, history. Many wrestlers of the past may have had their issues, and had complaints levied towards them, Andre included as he was accused of racism on more than one occasion. In Moolah’s case, on more than one occasion former talent has come forward to state how she would train them, and exploit them by paying them little for their services (taking a big cut of what the women were paid by promoters Moolah had them work for). In some cases, former talent has gone as far as to accuse her of promising these promoters that the women would also provide sexual services, without those women’s knowledge. Allegations have also been made that women who didn’t want to go along with that were drugged and raped, with Moolah being fully complicit. That isn’t to say that there are not some who have made quite positive comments about Moolah and how she helped them and their careers.
However, this decision to change the name wasn’t just because fans didn’t like it, but rather because so many voices came together to share their displeasure with this choice. While it would be great to think that a 10,000-person signed petition, which went around courtesy of change.org, spoke volumes. However, in this instance, it was more than the disdain and dislike of fans. WWE is a multimillion dollar company that answers to shareholders and their sponsors. And if there was ever a time a person or company does not want to be associated in the public eye with something like this, it is today with there being so much more aware of sexual abuse of women that is pervasive in the entertainment industry.
A rumor that has circulated was that one of WWE’s sponsors, Snickers, had threatened to pull out had the decision to change the name has not been made. Whether or not there is truth to this remains unconfirmed, though it is true that Snickers’ parent company did release a statement prior to the name change stating their desire not to be associated in any way with Moolah’s past actions, and their statement following the change indicated their satisfaction with the move. This decision is just one of a number of recent cases where ensuring that equality for women is just as important now as it ever was, and that importance is being reflected in more tangible action.
In some cases, comments circulated saying that WWE was going to name the battle royal after someone that was considered a ‘monster’. As I have had it described to me, the intention of WWE is to ultimately make money, and at one time Moolah made them a great deal of money through her role with them, especially under Vince McMahon Sr., so to an extent it was understandable that the company would name the battle royal to commemorate her.
Fans will recall that as recently as within the last 60 days, the company was caught off guard when their Cruiserweight Champion Enzo Amore was accused of sexual assault. While it may seem to be a case of his word against hers, Amore was initially suspended and then terminated from his contract with the company. His termination was primarily due to his failure to make administration aware of the ongoing sexual assault investigation. We aren’t here to discuss whether their decision to terminate him was right or not, but clearly, this was not going to be a situation that they could sweep under the rug.
This isn’t the first time the company has been faced with sexual assault allegations. In fact, WWE faced these same allegations in the past, and settled out of court with former WWE Women’s Champion Sable after she stated that WWE had unsafe working conditions, as detailed in court documents, where “men would routinely walk into the women’s dressing room as if by accident; men would cut holes in the walls to watch the women dressing; extras were hired as WWF regulars to expose their breasts, big nipple contests were engaged in; men regularly bragged about their sexual encounters without regard to the women present,” Considering that it was settled out of court, there had to have been some fear on the part of the company, which suggests there was some truth to it. She was the women‘s champion, at the top of the division and put on the marquee for whom she was and how desired she was. Something had to change, and in particular, the practices of the male talent had to change. There has been a change in the company’s practices around this, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.
The #metoo movement has become such a prominent issue that to believe others wouldn’t speak out over it in other entertainment businesses would be naïve. Over the course of the last year, a number of promotions either in the UK or North America has had notable men either turn a blind eye to issues of this nature, doing nothing when talent came forth and described what happened to them. Former Ring of Honor world champion Michael Elgin was accused of mishandling sexual assault allegations made by one of his former students towards another former student, Sean Orleans. The result of this saw a number of promotions including Smash Wrestling based out of Ontario and Limitless Wrestling out of New England sever ties with Elgin. Was it the right thing to do? Is it hearsay? Yes, but to just ignore it is irresponsible. After countless complaints made about Orleans to Elgin, his lack of response hurt him and his credibility, and different promotions didn’t want to be associated with him. When Elgin did return to competing in North America, he was met with ‘F* Elgin’ chants by those in attendance. By his own admission, Elgin realized he needed to handle things differently, and with time hopefully he will be in a better mindset, and those that had been ignored will be in a better place.
Another instance of sexual harassment taking place involved a former ring announcer, Heather Lynn, who worked for promotions such as Shine and Evolve. She has told the story of how she was the victim of sexual harassment by both promoters and wrestlers. She didn’t name names, but did state that it didn’t include notable promoters Gabe Sapolsky (of Evolve) or Rob Naylor (of Shine). Along with former independent wrestlers and female independent promoters, she came out to speak about how they were taken advantage of either in their sleep or otherwise. Not naming names indicates there is a sense of fear, and that opportunities would be cut short if they didn’t comply with what was asked, of them. We weren’t there to know how they felt at the time, so to assume that it would be easy to press charges and be believed and that there is no legitimate fear of other promoters blacklisted them, is wrong. They spoke, and as a spectator, we best not presume anything and should trust what they are feeling.
Another instance was IPW: UK founder Daniel Edler, who has been accused of performing sexual acts on an underage girl against her will. The result was that those who had planned on promoting his new company backed out as they didn’t want to be associated with him or what surrounded him. Some may argue that the timing of this is convenient, or that these comments are overstated and are simply a need to garner attention. To that, the response is that these are serious accusations to make and to not give them some validity is quite dangerous. In so many of these cases, describing incidences of sexual harassment isn’t based on money or a threat, but equality. A number of talented actresses are no longer in films and have remained silent even as their careers were squandered because of Harvey Weinstein. Is it not reasonable to think that a number of female wrestlers fear the same fate would come their way? It is very well possible, and many have spoken about how upset at themselves they are for not speaking up and making it a bigger issue initially.
As wrestling fans, we can’t be devoid from sympathy and need to realize that these aren’t made up allegations by all women’s wrestlers against all male wrestlers or promoters, but rather that a growing number of cases are coming to light of women who didn’t speak for reasons only they can explain. It isn’t fair to judge or challenge their motives, as we aren’t in their place. As a husband, and a father of a daughter, the fear of knowing there could be consequences for speaking up is no different from the fear a child feels when a schoolyard bully attempts to use their power, strength or money to make your allegations go away. In the case of the changing of the name of the Fabulous Moolah Memorial Battle Royal to the Wrestlemania Women’s Battle Royal, it is an example of giving those who aren’t here anymore a voice, as their descendants speak about what happened to their mothers or grandmothers because of the late Hall of Famer. Fans that spoke up to the sponsors of the event are not simply arguing about the finish to a match, or about Roman Reigns’ potential WWE Universal championship win, but rather drawing attention a number of reported incidents that no one would support considering the severity of the allegations.
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