• Isaac Vitorino

The issue behind #SpeakingOut

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

The wrestling business has been shook to its core during the past week, a time which several wrestlers, mostly female, have used social platforms to share alleged stories of sexual abuse under the hashtag #SpeakingOut. This is essentially the pro-wrestling equivalent to the #MeToo phenomena, but in this piece, I will be focusing on some of the allegations made, the actions that have already been taken by some wrestling companies, and how this recent string of allegations is rocking the wrestling business, with a particular focus on the UK wrestling scene.

An important aspect to point out right from the get-go is that the wrestling business has always had problems with sexism, be it with sporadic reported cases of abuse or downright insulting objectification of its female employees, and only very recently in the past eight or so years has women’s wrestling had a resurgence in importance in the world’s leading wrestling company, World Wrestling Entertainment, or as it is best known, WWE. Obviously, it seems somewhat inaccurate to paint all of the wrestling industry with the same brush, but seeing as WWE is considered as the main company to work for, it should be at least argued that the image that the biggest wrestling company portrayed of its women was negative at best and objectifying at worst.

WWE has, however, attempted to change this for the past few years, and with a high degree of success as well. Very well worked matches between female performers have received very high praise from the punditry, and their gimmicks (on-screen personalities) are a lot more focused on their job as performers and their real-life personalities rather than being just another pretty face or vacuous persona on a show that depicts them as brainless cheerleaders. A significant milestone in the so called Women’s Evolution within WWE was female performers main eventing their biggest show, Wrestlemania, for the first time, and the fact that performers such as Becky Lynch or Charlotte Flair are as significant as any other male worker (and arguably even more) goes to show not just WWE but the advancement that the whole industry, in general, has made to allow women’s wrestling to reach its full potential.

One of WWE’s shows, however, has been caught up in the #SpeakingOut controversy. Not because of WWE or its officials being directly involved in the scandal, but because of the main wrestlers in it being accused of abuse. This show is NXT UK, a branch of WWE’s developmental area known as NXT (essentially a show to prepare and train wrestlers to eventually make the leap to the main shows), that while under the American based NXT umbrella, does regular shows in the United Kingdom aiming to showcase and develop the best wrestling talent from the UK and Europe. Some of the names included in the growing amount of allegations include Tyler Bate, former United Kingdom champion, Jordan Devlin, current Cruiserweight champion, Joe Coffey, Travis Banks, Jack Gallagher and Ligero. To anyone familiar to NXT UK or the British Wrestling Scene, all of these are household names at this point.

It’s not just in WWE that the effects of this recent string of allegations have been felt, as various suspensions, firings and even some administrative figures such as the Vice President of the National Wrestling Alliance Dave Lagana quitting after wrestler Liz Savage claimed he had sexually assaulted her. The aforementioned Jack Gallagher has already been fired from WWE, and all records of his existence within the company, be it his presence on the roster or a mention in the Alumni on the company’s website, have been deleted. These are just a few examples of the measures wrestling companies have taken to purge the business from alleged offenders. There are a few cases, however, where wrestlers claim to have been falsely accused of abuse in the midst of the seemingly nonstop barrage of accusations, with wrestler Matt Riddle already looking at taking legal action to defend himself from claims that he forced a female coworker to perform oral sex on him.

While it is obvious that all of these allegations must be investigated to their fullest extent and justice must be served, one cannot escape the harsh reality of how hard it is to prove a sexual assault case, especially when many of these allegations are being made several years after the fact, which makes the gathering of the physical evidence necessary to prove such abuse took place near impossible. That fact alone is one of the many frustrating factors as to why it is so hard to prove that someone is an abuser, as one cannot expect any victim to have the composure to go to the police straight away after a traumatic event has just taken place.

However, the reason as to why it is so difficult to prove this, is that sexual offences are crimes of the highest order that need much more than a tweet (or sequence of tweets, for that matter) to make someone serve time behind bars, or even get them fired from their job. While one can rest assured that WWE must have had good reasons to fire Jack Gallagher, as of the time I write this article, he is yet to be charged for any of the allegations that supposedly were enough for WWE to wipe him completely off of their programming history. That in it of itself, not to mention that we are yet to know how many of these alleged cases that are circulating on the internet are true, is highly damaging not just for the alleged victims but the whole point for which #SpeakingOut was created.

If some of these allegations turn out to be inconclusive or simply false, this whole situation could spiral out of control and turn into a clown fest, as the decisions to suspend or fire the accused wrestlers will come back to haunt the companies that did so in order to avoid a PR disaster, and the odds of any victim being believed when they finally decide to come forward with their story will further decrease. To simply speak about a crime on twitter is not enough; granted, if you have truly been a victim of a crime, it is something very brave to do, no question. But it does not seem rational in any way that one would be willing to share that story to the world, while naming the offender, and not be willing to press charges on those accusations.

Have whatever opinion you want to have on the wrestling business and its nature, but while there aren’t criminal convictions resulting from these allegations, or even charges pressed, #SpeakingOut is not a catalyst for social change. It is simply a hashtag anyone can use to instantly ruin a pro wrestler’s life and reputation. So if you are willing to share your story to world and name whoever has abused you, go tell it to the police, and avoid the toxic nature of the online world, which will possibly create a vector through which false accusations can make further damage to both the image of victims and the livelihoods of innocent pro wrestlers. While there might be some relief in being able to share your experiences, only through pressing charges can you actually attempt to make sure justice is served. Use the courts of law, not the courts of public opinion.

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