TNA Wrestling ran their first Impact tapings from outside of the Impact Zone on March 14 at the Sears Centre Arena in Chicago and it wasn’t without controversy. While some discussed AJ Styles returning in what feels like a modern take of the Sting storyline from WCW nearly 20 years ago, it was words said by Bully Ray to a fan that might have been accepted 20 years ago, but no longer.
“Sit down, f—-t. Yeah… [inaudible for a second]. What are you gonna do? You ain’t gonna do a damn thing. You got punked in your own frickin’ town. I’m punkin’ you out in front of [Bully leans to the side, looks at who’s sitting next to the fan, and says], I’m gonna say your daughter. You got punked! You invented f–s, you f-g. You should’ve did something already, you should’ve did something already, but you ain’t doing nothing’. I’m punking you in front of your hometown. You frickin’ q—r. You shave your frickin’ chest.”
Back in 2010, TNA Wrestling ran an “Eliminate the Hate” campaign aimed to stop bullying and it was launched in the wake of some high profile suicides from gay teens. Soon afterwards, Dixie Carter went on Twitter to apologize for Bully Ray’s remarks. Some time went by before Bully made his own apology:
“Made an inappropriate comment to a fan in Chicago. If anyone was offended by this…I do apologize. No harm was meant.”
It’s interesting to note that Bully isn’t apologizing for making the remarks but apologizing if anyone was offended. It really stems back from what I made on the near 20 years remark. Bully Ray grew up in an era where Rowdy Roddy Piper and Dirty Dick Schultz used to say whatever it took to get heat including racism and anti-gay remarks. In the 90s, ECW fans were some of the smartest in wrestling but Buh-Buh Ray Dudley could still get them hopping mad and ready to rush the ring by just the words that came from his mouth.
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Pro wrestling is always the last to get the message. This is why wrestlers had mullets well into the mid 90s and WWE wrestlers still have rap rock in their wrestling themes – it’s been played, guys. It wasn’t that long ago when top WWE babyface John Cena made a “Justin GAY-briel” joke at the Nexus for a pop from the crowd. While pro wrestling may be the last to get the message, they still need to get the message at some point. Derogatory slurs, homophobic slurs, racism, sexism, cultural slurs, etc. are not accepted anymore, rightfully so. It was once the goal to get a crowd as angry as possible so they would come back and your promotion would make more money. Wrestlers like Classy Freddie Blassie survived stab wounds from fans because it meant big money. Today, wrestling just cannot survive on hoping that advertisers will treat them the same way as a movie production or television show. You’re not just offending a fan that might spit on you, try to punch you in the face but will of course buy a ticket next show. You’re offending a sponsor and costing the company you work for money that is supposed to go to pay you.
Times have changed, but should they have? It’s hard for me to decide. As a professional wrestling fan, I tend to feel that heels should be allowed to say whatever they want in order to make a crowd angry as long as the babyface can shut them up. What ruined the Booker T/Triple H storyline back at Wrestlemania 19 was that Booker T never beat the racist and insulting Triple H. Triple H called him a common criminal not meant to be champion and then beat him. He never got revenge. Triple H moved to another program and Booker T eventually went to Smackdown. The purpose of pro wrestling theatrics is to write a story people will pay to see. However, it’s live so the experience is much more visceral than watching Calvin Candie in Django Unchained. It’s much harder for a fan to disconnect a wrestler as opposed to an actor because that wrestler is right in their face. We’re evolving as a society and what’s acceptable for a Caucasian, heterosexual male living in North America shouldn’t be assumed as what everyone should accept.
That said, Bully Ray’s remarks don’t even file under this. This wasn’t Bully Ray making homophobic remarks to a wrestler. He was doing this just to anger a fan. This is akin to JBL goosestepping in Germany. It’s dated and shameful. Just because you’re a veteran of the industry doesn’t mean you have to be a fossil of a previous generation. Bully Ray is perfectly skilled enough to insult an audience without it. He doesn’t have to resort to gay bashing or slut shaming. He’s the TNA World Champion not because he’s old but because he’s one of the best heels in the business. While it’s more realistic for a guy called “Bully” to be a generic bully, Ray could gain far more heat and hate by saying things that apply to the gullibility of the fans on his false babyface turn instead of resorting to what got 1,000 people angry in New Jersey.
Finally, for every word said about sponsors and feelings we need to observe human decency. Even if Bully Ray is a bully and a heel, you accomplish nothing by insulting a group of people who have already spent decades being marginalized and continue to be. Wrestling made millions of dollars off the lowest common denominator. That doesn’t mean it has to continue in the 21st century.
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