Traditionally when I hunker down to watching Impact Wrestling on a Friday, albeit not in the luxury now enjoyed by Joe ‘four screens’ Lanza, I normally have a rough idea of what these columns will look like. Indeed, after two weeks off through a combination of holidays and real life, the holster for this week seemed pretty full.
Josh Alexander and his unerring excellence in the year 2021 always provides great subject matter; him becoming a full-time professional wrestler and working with Daniel Garcia on NJPW Strong would merely be the latest chapters.
Christian Cage returning to Impact Wrestling after well over a decade and once again presiding over the mountaintop has been enough to provoke wistful thoughts about times gone by and bring me back to a wrestler I wonder about far too often – Tomko. Ace Austin getting a big moment to prove himself at Victory Road is another thread with room for expansion. Tied to both of those, my perpetual internal debate over whether I like a 50-year-old Tommy Dreamer being this permanent babyface roadblock or am irrationally bothered by it is always there.
There were also inchoate thoughts about why Sam Beale has been one of my favorite pickups by Impact this year.
But then, hours before Impact aired on Thursday, my thought process changed. After some disturbing footage on social media the night before, it was reported that former Impact wrestler Daffney, had been found dead.
As you always hope will be the case, universally positive messages poured in from fans and wrestlers alike. Stories of car rides with her to WCW shows, stories of inspiration and stories of friendship. Stories of making history in differing promotions. GIFs and videos of great moments between the ropes. Photos, saying more than enough than any caption could, capturing memories and emotions from unspecified times.
From those who didn’t know her, there were impassioned revelations about those people’s personal experiences with the consequences of poor mental health. Some people got it wrong and failed to read the room, but those people always do.
I often find that there’s the compulsion to read all of these tributes and take them in, but then also the compulsion to switch all of the social media off and just spend time with those who are close to you.
I initially didn’t feel best placed to use this column as a tribute to Daffney—I didn’t know enough to do justice to her as a person or the significance of her career—but suddenly there was no scope for me to talk about anything else.
Many will associate Daffney with her time in WCW but given my age and the time I jumped into wrestling, the only memories I have of her are associated with TNA/Impact Wrestling.
I see her impersonating Sarah Palin and feuding with The Beautiful People. I see her wrestling Taylor Wilde and joining her as one of the first two women to participate in a Monster’s Ball match. I see a teenage Andrew picking up a reduced price Lockdown 2009 DVD and seeing her in the Queen of the Cage match.
But beyond that, beyond the tough goth gimmick that has so clearly inspired the likes of Rosemary, I see Shannon Spruill, a person that was deeply troubled. A person who felt she had nowhere left to turn and, more soberingly, no one left to turn to.
Wrestlers, like any fictional character, are both their gimmick and their own person. In the instantaneous news world we live in now, we all know more than ever about these people, their personal lives and who they really are. Wrestling companies will often work with questionable people, yet when the bell goes our disbelief is expected to be suspended and we’re supposed to (and mostly do) invest and respond to that gimmick in some way.
When they’re in the ring, these people are ascribed an identity as so and so: the wrestler, an identity that empowers, emboldens and, for many, provides a purpose to life. Yet we need to think of these people more as people. We must. These are real people, with real feelings and real struggles. Daffney washed out of wrestling in one of the worst possible ways, yet Shannon Spruill had to continue to fight on.
A far wiser man than I, our family’s local vicar, has imparted a number of wise things to me over the years but two have resonated with me particularly in recent days. The first was that ‘everyone has their own burdens’. We can’t hope to know what everyone is grappling with, and I’d argue that social media has made it harder rather than easier to understand people’s real feelings, but there’s always more we can do to concern ourselves with the struggles of those in our personal circles. Support them, uplift them and try to get them to share their worries with you or someone else.
The other thing, and perhaps one of the most significant things I’ve ever learned, was: ‘one of the greatest skills anyone can master is the ability to listen and listen properly’. Talking is often the verbiage of choice when we’re discussing openness about mental health but listening is so unmistakeably vital to their process. Let people vocalize their pain, their anguish and their worries. We’ve all been guilty of equivocating, or coming out with platitudes like ‘I understand’ or ‘I know how you feel’. Sometimes the best thing to say to someone obviously in need of help is not much at all.
I hope that wherever Daffney is now, she’s found solace. I hope that she’s no longer in pain, instead of being at peace. After all the shouting, that’s all any of us can really hope for in life.