Friday, April 13, 2007

Imus & A Lesson for Pro Wrestling

Unless you've been living in a cave or have been in a coma, you know that famed radio personality, Don Imus was fired by CBS yesterday for making disparaging, racially charged comments about the Rutgers University Women's Basketball team.

Imus referred to the women on the team as "nappy headed ho's," which sparked an outcry from many quarters, including the Reverend Al Sharpton and the Reverend Jesse Jackson for Imus' dismissal. Major advertisers pulled their sponsorship from Imus's show and finally CBS President, Les Moonves, pulled the plug on Imus, an icon in the world of radio.

I don't believe that Imus was being especially mean or vindictive at heart. This was most likely an irresponsible and ill-considered attempt at humor. I do believe that CBS was right in cancelling Imus' show and removing him from the airwaves.

Many times in our society, humor of the racial kind, while seemingly harmless on the surface, is a softer way of perpetuating stereotypes and limiting people by categorizing them unfairly.

Pro wrestling has openly and blatantly done this for decades. And it's wrong.

I will never forget a car ride I had with a former WWE star who will remain nameless. He maintained that "blacks never draw," ignoring of course, Bobo Brazil, Ernie Ladd and numerous others, up to and including The Rock. The statement came from a man I have a great deal of respect for and who taught me a lot. But on that point, he was absolutely wrong.

I don't know how many old school wrestlers and old school wrestling devotees have told me that women's wrestling sucks and will never draw on its own. "It's just a little T&A break for Dad before the "real matches" come on," said one such individual. Our World Women's Wrestling promotion and Dave Prazak's SHIMMER promotion, are proof that the opposite is true.

I always had a special admiration for women in wrestling, because it's a tough world to enter. Before places like WWW and SHIMMER existed, women's matches were usually less than 10 minutes and presented purely as a special attraction. Seldom in the Northeast did you ever see an angle involving women wrestlers on their own. Elsewhere, it was a rarity.

While WWW and SHIMMER have a long way to go, the fact that women are finally having a forum for good credible matches and seizing the opportunity, is a major step forward for the entire business. It also underscores that talent, when treated as such without regard to gender in this case, or race, will rise to the occasion and deliver.

Unlike the portrayal of women in WWE, not all good wrestlers have to have bikini bodies. And not all male wrestlers have to be jacked up, looking like they stepped out of the pages of Muscle & Fitness.

I think a big reason why WWW has worked so well, and why NECW has also, is that we're more about credible talent that average people can relate to and then become engaged in their stories. Wrestling will always prize the element of the larger-than-life, whether in body type or character, but talent first and image second is what drives good professional wrestling.

Back to Imus. I don't think the public world of broadcasting (or the public world of pro wrestling to a lesser extent) should tolerate the perpetuation of racial discrimination or stereotypes and I applaud Les Moonves for both his decision and his statement denouncing the incident. High social standards are not exactly a hallmark of professional wrestling. But we are a business of the people - ALL the people - and to devalue anyone, in any way, due to their race, gender, sexual preference or nationality is both morally wrong and just bad business.


Anonymous said...

I always appreciate your perspective. You take a dignified approach and you leave it up to the readers to make up their own minds.

-Joshua B

MikeH said...

The comments about blacks in wrestling not drawing was one that would come up all too often even in the old days when Ladd and Bobo were amongst the top stars of the day. A old buddy of mine once illustrated the kind of prejudice that existed in Boston concerning the black wrestling stars with a story of how a local italian nightclub ownder didn't want to book former Blues Bothers guitarist Matt 'Guitar' Murphy, despite his popularity form the movie and his musical expertise. Surely enough, in looking back at past Boston Garden wrestling shows, even big stars as Bobo and Ladd didn't seem to get much respect with neither one working main events (Ladd never even got title shots vs. Pedro Morales or Bruno). While prejudice of that kind is a thing of the past, I'd like to see women in the wrestling get a fair shake and be hsowcased in a manner reflective of their talents. WWW and SHIMMER are doing great things in this regard and I hope to see it continue for quite a while.