Chris Fitzpatrick examines the racial line that has existed in professional wrestling for ages…
Before I dive into what is certain to be a very controversial and hotly-debated cultural topic, I want to do some housekeeping first. For starters, HOW ‘BOUT THOSE GREEN BAY PACKERS!? As a long time fan of the Green and Gold, I was in my GLORY last Sunday watching the Pack beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl. I even decorated one of my foam-and-plastic WWE replica belts with Packers regalia to celebrate. When Clay Matthews put that belt on Aaron Rodger’s shoulder, I about lost it. Certainly looking forward to Friday’s Smackdown show in Green Bay. Hope something awesome happens…
I also want to thank all of the readers who e-mailed me last week regarding my feelings on the Royal Rumble. It was a mixed bag – I’d say 60% of responders liked it and agreed with me, 10% were neutral, and 30% thought I was off my rocker. It was all welcomed dialogue and I enjoyed many of your e-mails.
This week’s topic is sure to blow last week’s response out of the water. What better way to address Black History Month than to take a good, hard look at race in professional wrestling.
Every so often on the forums, the racial divide in professional wrestling comes into question. Some go as far as to call the WWE racist because of their lack of black champions. At least WCW could hang their hat on Ron Simmons’ short lived World Title reign in the early 90’s as a footnote to the Sting / Vader feud. WWE apologists point to The Rock the way golf apologists point to Tiger Woods, despite the fact that The Rock identified more with his Samoan / Pacific Islander heritage than his African-American heritage.
Here’s a quick (and by no means exhaustive) list of notable black professional wrestlers in history: 2-Cold Scorpio, Abdullah the Butcher, Ahmed Johnson, Awesome Kong, Consequences Creed, Bad News Brown, Big Daddy V, Jay Lethal, Bobby Lashley, The Boogyman, Booker T, Bobo Brazil, Brother Devon Dudley, Butch Reed, Curtis Hughes, D-Lo Brown, Elijah Burke, Elix Skipper, Ernest Miller, Ernie Ladd, Ron Simmons, The Godfather, JTG, Jackie Moore, Jazz, Harold "Ice Train" Haog, Junkyard Dog, Ron Killings, Kamala, Koko B. Ware, Lawrence Taylor, Mark Henry, Maven, Monty Brown, MVP, New Jack, Norman Smiley, New Jack, The Rock, Sapphire, Shad Gaspard, Queen Sharmell, Shelton Benjamin, Slick, Stevie Ray, Theodore Long, Tony "Saba Simba" Atlas, Virgil, Zeus.
There are some legends on that list, no question. Bobo Brazil once defeated Buddy Rodgers for the NWA Title, only to drop it months later under the pretense that Rodgers had medical issues. Even still, Brazil is a legend, a hall of famer, and a trailblazer for black professional wrestlers. Bad News Brown could well have been champion. Bobby Lashley was a champion before leaving for MMA. Booker T may well have had the most successful run on that list, save for the Rock. Ask MVP and Shelton Benjamin how their pushes went.
It’s also alarming to look at the use of black stereotypes in professional wrestling. Despite his assertion otherwise, there was something somewhat racist about turning Tony Atlas into "Saba Simba." The Godfather got over thanks in part to the pimp stereotype. The vignettes for Cryme Tyme were funny as anything – but were as blatantly stereotypical as anything I’d seen in a long time. Don’t even get me started on Virgil.
Forum admin Slyfox696 brings up a terrific point. He points out: "You want to know why there haven’t been more black World Champions? Because the fans don’t want them. Look in any WWE crowd and tell me what you see. You see a crowd made up of primarily white people. Historically speaking, pro wrestling has never really been an event black people buy tickets to. And while it may not be a racist thing, traditionally white fans have not been interested in a black champion."
He’s absolutely right, however I argue that pro wrestling has an issue similar to pro baseball. There are a lack of black champions because of a lack of black fans. But are there a lack of black fans because of a lack of black champions? Hispanic wrestlers such as Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, and even Alberto del Rio now have been able to get over because a) ECW and WCW helped bring the popular, fast paced Lucha Libre style to the mainstream in the 90’s, and b) pro wrestling has been a huge part of the Mexican and the Hispanic cultures for ages. But look at that list of black wrestlers! There’s a LOAD of legitimate talent, and yet (taking the Rock out of the equation for the reasons listed above), it looks at first glance as though Booker T has more title reigns than everyone else on the list combined!!!
WWE and TNA are, first and foremost, businesses. They are not government contractors, so arguments about affirmative action and the like are non-applicable. But the buying power of the Black / African American culture is growing each and every year, and we’ve certainly seen that to be true with the entertainment industry. Baseball is lacking young black players because baseball lacks the role models to that culture that exist in basketball and football. Pro wrestling, since it is scripted entertainment, has the power and opportunity to influence the market. If they create the black champions and the black role models, I firmly believe that the market will follow and be successful. Waiting for the market to exist before minting the young black stars may just perpetuate the existing perception of the industry – that professional wrestling is dominated at the top by whites and always will be. There may be no better time for the industry to take a look at the opportunity and try to work away from its past.
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Go Pack Go!
Chris W. Fitzpatrick
Wrestlezone Forums Moderator