I honestly tried to take small positives from Impact Wrestling this week. My man Johnny Swinger got a lot of airtime and, shockingly, a win. However, for the majority of the show I felt nothing. Nothing at all.
The last week has been one of the darkest in recent wrestling history and for the second time in my life I’ve been ashamed to be a wrestling fan. This wasn’t the shame you got as a child when everyone said it was ‘fake’ and that you felt that you shouldn’t like it because it wasn’t ‘cool’ anymore. No, not that shame.
This is a deep, unbridled shame because the wrestling industry has been shown in the cold light of day to be rotten. Rotten to its very core. I feel ashamed because the abuse revealed on social media is systemic. I’m ashamed that I can look at shows I’ve attended and tick off six, seven, eight names who’ve been accused of: verbal and physical abuse, harassment, the sending of unsolicited indecent images, rape, bullying, grooming, paedophilia and exploitation. I’m ashamed because so many of these victims have been abused and irrevocably affected by people who get chance after chance in this industry to get recognition and make a name for themselves. I’m ashamed because some toxic notion of ‘the boys’ or inchoate ‘wrestling brotherhood’ has allowed this culture of abuse to proliferate and sustain this class of nasty individuals at the top table. I’m ashamed because this culture has led so many to suffer in silence for so long.
In the past I know I’ve overlooked those with noted misdemeanors in Impact Wrestling. The likes of Michael Elgin, Sami Callihan and Joey Ryan. I believed that separating art from artist was the right thing to do and by consuming their work on a weekly basis I’ve given them a second chance, something almost inconceivably alien for someone like me who considers his ability to hold a grudge a standout skill. I’ve done this with others in the wrestling industry, believed that they could change or looked past their outside the ring actions while watching or attending shows. For that I feel a deep sense of shame and I am sorry.
I’ve seen these faux apologies come out from those accused. Well, self-serving bullshit if you want to be honest about it.
They’re mostly all the same. They reference lawyers and blithely address the allegations. They all blame the victims and imply that it’s somehow, bafflingly, their fault. They attempt to gaslight you, the wrestling fan, into believing that they were victims too. They blame mental health conditions or problems with addiction. They say they’ve changed, that they have tried to get help for their issues and that they have always tried to make the wrestling business a welcoming one. But most of all, in all that self-serving garbage, there’s not even the merest hint of any genuine remorse.
All of it, from reading the testimonies of those who have felt empowered to relive to their stories to those rank rotten excuses for a true apology, in the proper sense of the word, has made me sick to the pit of my stomach. And what am I? A middle-class white bloke who has the platform to pontificate (not particularly well, I may add) week after week about wrestling. I can’t even begin to imagine how any of these victims feel, from going through it in the first place, to feeling that they can relive it because of the great work that has been done to get the #SpeakingOut movement going, receiving great support from most, only to then see those statements from their abusers and the inevitable comments from the brainless few who somehow assume that they’re making it all up.
I have nothing but support and admiration for those who’ve spoken out. For those who haven’t, I can only hope that they find the strength and courage to come forward and help stop this from happening again.
We, as an industry, as wrestling fans, have to be better. We have to introduce new practices, find ways to regulate training schools (running DBS checks in the UK is an obvious but essential new measure) and ensure that young trainees cannot be groomed by those trusted to help them fulfill their dreams. It’s wrong, it’s a cancer on something that means so much to so many of us across the world and we have to hack that tumor away and let the beating organs of this industry regrow in a fresher, healthier environment.
Promotions have to change. As Arn Furious said the other day, the #SpeakingOut movement has to be the end of these people profiting and benefitting from our industry. These leeches and predators have to be exiled. I don’t care what they do, but it should not be in a position of responsibility or in an entertainment field, which is all wrestling is, because they’ve gotten away with having those for far, far too long.
Impact Wrestling should be praised for firing Joey Ryan and Dave Crist. Ryan, who should only be described as a monster, has had 16 (SIXTEEN) allegations made against him. 16. Sacking them is not a move worthy of praise, because the obvious and honourable thing rarely is. It was their duty to sack them. Michael Elgin’s suspension is a welcome step, but there’s more that they need to do in that locker room.
A big part of this process moving forward for promotions is introspection. If they want to be part of this movement and this onrushing sea change set to dismantle the way the wrestling industry has protected its own for so long, they have to look deeper, make a clean break, cut the affected cells out and step out into the sunlight. Whether they use Slammiversary for a full reset I don’t know, but history will not look kindly on those who have been weak or indecisive.
Many have said over the last week that they’ve fallen out of love with wrestling and to be perfectly honest I have too. I’ve still watched some this week, I’ve watched Impact and kept up with the New Japan Cup but I think honestly that’s something borne of boredom and the fact I’m a cripplingly habitual individual. I watch it, and I mostly feel nothing. However, regardless of how much of a release writing all this has been, it’s not about me or how I feel. It’s about the scores of victims who’ve come forward and how we respond to the terrible secrets that they’ve laid bare.
I believe them. We should all believe them. We have to change, we have to unite and we have to stay strong as we try to rebuild this industry. No longer can it be a cabal of ‘the boys’ who think they can do what they want, when they want and expect no one to say anything because the fear of being called a ‘rat’ or the prospect of being blackballed looms large. We have to believe the victims and use this as an opportunity for change. Massive, fundamental, wholesale change. It’s the bare minimum their courage deserves.