How Wrestling Became My Safe Haven in 2016
It’s been a hard month.
More accurately, it’s been a hard year. But as acts of violence creep closer to home, it’s easy to feel as if things have escalated lately. The Stanford rapist (also known as Brock Turner) was given an incredibly light sentence of six months in a local jail (shortened to three months with good behaviour, which I can only assume means ‘don’t rape any unconscious women behind dumpsters’) by fellow ex-Stanford athlete Judge Aaron Persky after violently assaulting her unconscious body. An LGBT nightclub was intentionally targeted during the month of Pride in a homophobic massacre that killed 50 people on their Latinx night celebrations. Pro-Remain Labour MP Jo Cox, who founded the Friends of Syria, was national chair of the Labour Women’s Network and senior advisor to the Freedom Fund (an anti-slavery charity) was murdered in a political terrorist attack by a far-right supporter who shot her three times before eventually stabbing her.
And to top it all off, we’ve left the EU.
Everything is terrible and no one knows what’s going to happen next.
Since #Brexit, racist attacks have skyrocketed. People who have lived in the UK for decades – longer than I’ve been alive – are living in fear. People I love, including my partner and co-host Kefin who is an EU immigrant (here to steal all our jobs and make podcasts), and our illustrator Dan (who was born in the UK, but is of Iranian descent), are unsure of their own futures in this country. The value of the pound has fallen drastically, austerity measures are likely to be put in place and the Labour party is imploding. Everything is terrible and no one knows what’s going to happen next.
Throughout all of this; these horrific, awful acts of violence, the collapse of the economy, the countless leadership bids from homophobes, racists and downright assholes; only one thing has been consistently providing me with joy day after day, week after week, month after month.
And that’s wrestling.
Throughout all of this, wrestling has kept me going. Wrestling has provided me with laughter, excitement and most importantly, something to look forward to. When Brock Turner was given a six month sentence I distracted myself from the horror of it with the Extreme Rules PPV. When 50 LGBT people were killed in Orlando, I cheered myself up by watching Kurt Angle stride to the ring for a match against Zack Sabre Jr, accompanied by loving chants of ‘You Suck’. And when Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death by a man who hates and fears diversity above all else, I watched Xavier Woods celebrate the one year anniversary of his gaming channel UpUpDownDown by getting caked in the face by Seth Rollins. It was wonderful to watch such a diverse group of people, from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures, celebrate success together.
This Friday marks the one year anniversary of my podcast How2Wrestling. When Kefin and I launched it, we hoped to gain an audience – I never thought I would gain a safe haven, or the best community of wrestling fans I can bond with when shit gets too real.
I truly never thought wrestling would be this for me. I thought I would enjoy it, and it would become a fun hobby. I never thought I would turn to it in dark times, looking for light. I never, ever thought a bunch of sweaty, hansy hunks would be the ones cheering me up while I try not to think about my future.
Wrestling has its problems. You don’t get to be a wrestling fan without acknowledging that. Wrestling has been racist, sexist, downright sick and abusive. Some wrestlers have been responsible for murder, for the rape of minors, for sex slavery. And although we can never forget those atrocities, it’s easy to see that the future of wrestling is a much brighter place than its past. I look at Xavier Woods, a perfect example of black excellence, who is studying for a PhD in educational psychology, innovating the way wrestlers promote themselves online via his 550,000 subscriber YouTube channel, and one of the greatest entertainers currently on WWE’s main roster, and I think ‘everything’s going to be okay’. Sure, there are still terrible people in wrestling, still doing terrible things, but the future stars of WWE are a whole different breed to the machismo, party-too-hard, manipulative sorts that previously fought their way onto our screens.
They say millennials are the laziest generation to date. We tend to stay in, watch Netflix and eat pizza with friends. Going out and partying is expensive, and tiring when you have to work two jobs to pay rent. Wrestlers like Xavier Woods, Finn Balor, Sasha Banks – they’re our people. They want to have fun and chill out with friends, just like us. They play video games and buy Lego and watch anime. It’s cheap, and it doesn’t hurt anyone. While I’ll never resent anyone for going out and having fun, it sure is comforting to know that Kevin Owens is more likely to be found at the zoo with his kids than fighting Brock Lesnar on a plane. It’s comforting to know that the pressure that was once on wrestlers to go out, take drugs and intimidate newer talent has passed; replaced with friendship, video games and cooking.
And yeah, Jerry Lawler is still a gross old troll from a shitty bygone era. But we’ve always known that, and he can’t live forever. The future of wrestling is bright and kind, and even Jerry Lawler can’t ruin that.