- August 17, 2013 in Columnists
A Prime Time Player comes out of the closet
This past Wednesday, WWE Superstar Darren Young told a TMZ reporter that he was gay, the first openly gay active professional wrestler. Shortly afterwards, the WWE released a statement that read, in part, “WWE is proud of Darren Young for being open about his sexuality, and we will continue to support him as a WWE Superstar. On Thursday afternoon, in fact, Darren participated in one of our Be A STAR anti-bullying rallies in Los Angeles to teach children how to create positive environments for everyone regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation.”
First, I must confess to being a wrestling fan going back to the early 1970s. And in the surreal world of professional wrestling, one must take things with the proverbial salt grain. Almost everything in professional wrestling, in and out of the ring, is a “work” (something scripted or prearranged to happen). It’s called a “shoot” when something unplanned happens. Sometimes in wrestling, they will plan events to look real that are really staged and that’s known as a “worked shoot.” Darren Young coming out to a reporter in an airport on the way to a WWE event appears to be something like a worked shoot.
Oh, I’m not saying that Young isn’t gay. I’m saying the WWE is using that fact for mainstream media coverage. Taking real world events and using them for gain is a tradition in pro wrestling. After all, the WWE is the same organization that has trafficked in homophobic jokes and stereotypes and exploits everything in a bid to turn reality into cash. When then-WWE Superstar Jeff Hardy’s house burned down in real life, killing his dog, WWE used it in a storyline. And this year when William Moody a.k.a. “Paul Bearer” died shortly before Wrestlemania, WWE rolled the death into a storyline, even having a wrestler spill Paul Bearer’s (fake) ashes on the ground.
I am saying that the chance of this being a spontaneous admission by Young without anyone from the WWE knowing is slim to none. What are the chances a TMZ reporter asks a closeted WWE wrestler about gays in professional wrestling and that wrestler decides to come out in the random interview, days before WWE’s second largest pay-per-view of the year, Summerslam? And then the WWE rushes out a statement trumpeting their support and highlighting their anti-bullying campaign.
WWE Chairman Vince McMahon has been on a long slog towards legitimacy. It’s why he changed his product to kid-friendly PG, dropping the blood, crude language and sex jokes they’ve trafficked in in the past. It’s what’s behind his wife’s multiple runs for U.S. Senate. It’s the reason WWE moved into films, producing “The Marine” starring WWE Superstar John Cena, “See No Evil” starring WWE wrestler Kane, and the recently highly successful “The Call” starring Halle Berry, among other films. It’s the reason WWE bought the social media site, Tout, hoping to make it what Vine is today.
Any chance McMahon has to gain positive news cycles to reach out beyond the rabid pro wrestling fan base, he leaps at it. In this case, its been the dearth of professional athletes coming out of the closet and the chance to get the WWE some mainstream press that seemingly motivated the timing of Young’s announcement.
Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this. I’m just pointing it out. On the contrary, it’s amazing and a huge step forward that a high profile person coming out is seen as an asset to a company. Despite its questionable actions in the past, WWE is showing itself to be a forward-looking company.
I hope Darren Young is just the tip of the iceberg and other wrestlers feel comfortable coming out and being free to be who they are. When large numbers of major league baseball, basketball and football players come out, not only will it be greeted with the shrug that it should, it will also expand our limited definition of masculinity. It will help shatter stereotypes and inspire others to come out and truly be free for the first time in their lives. Already, Young has inspired people.
As part of the Prime Time Players with Titus “the Big Deal” O’Neill, Darren Young is currently a heel (bad guy) in the WWE. After coming out, I suspect he will be greeted with cheers the next time he hits the ring. If it persists, it might just make WWE have to turn him face (good guy). We’ve come a long way.