On a recent episode of RAW, during Daniel Bryan‘s retirement celebration, Titus O’Neil grabbed World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon by the arm in what appeared to be a playful manner. Watching the video back you can see that Vince was surprised by the move and maybe even a little taken aback. The moment was forgettable and indeed once the cameras stopped rolling, fans forgot about it completely.
Justice For Titus O’Neil
24 hours later, it was all the wrestling world could talk about. It had come down that Titus O’Neil had been suspended for 90 days because of the incident, and we were flabbergasted. O’Neil was serving a punishment equal to a third strike in the Wellness Policy. Were these two incidents truly equal to one another? In the minds of most fans, no, certainly not. O’Neil tried to have some fun with his boss, a man who has been known in the past to play pranks and mess around with his staff in an attempt to be one of the boys. How could he know that actively engaging someone who himself tries to get engaged would lead to him missing out on his biggest pay day of the year? It stunk of unfair hypocrisy, and fans could smell it a mile away. Every response seemed to echo the same sentiment; what WWE was doing wasn’t right. It was too harsh a punishment, which didn’t fit the crime. So why would WWE do this? What possible reason could they have for hanging a man who really deserved a slap on the wrist at most?
Unprofessional Conduct, Racism, and Making a Statement
WWE cited unprofessional conduct as the reason Titus was suspended. It seems so out of character for a man who has received multiple charity awards and continually presents himself as a model employee. O’Neil is always dressed well outside the ring, and has been nothing less of a champion for the company whenever in public. Have you ever heard of Titus O’Neil being reprimanded backstage before this, or having heat with anyone? Of course not, because by all accounts, O’Neil seems to be a model employee.
If we can logically rule out unprofessional behaviour, what else could be the reason? Some have said that WWE is doing this to Titus because he’s African American. It makes me sad to write this, but with WWE’s track record of grossly offensive stereotypes and poor treatment of non Caucasian performers, this theory is actually more logical than the official reason given by WWE. Could this be just another case of Vince holding down a wrestler because of the color of their skin? While I will state that I find it unlikely, it is entirely possible. I don’t believe WWE was actively looking for reasons to punish Titus, but some would argue that the sentence would have been less harsh had his skin color matched McMahon’s.
There is also the possibility that WWE made a scapegoat out of Titus. They used him to set a precedent, and make a statement to the other wrestlers. This suspension sends a clear message to everyone in the back that it is ok for Vince McMahon to have fun with you, but only if he initiates it. If you try to have fun at his expense, the punishment will be swift and severe. While I am all for setting boundaries at the workplace, this policy is clearly unfair to WWE employees and obviously tilted towards the advantage of management.
Unions and People Power
Shortly after hearing the news, a fellow Last Word On Sports writer said to me that had Titus been part of a union, this would never have happened, or at the very least, there would be someone fighting on his behalf to get him back to work. He was right, but of course, the word union in the world of professional wrestling can still get you black balled if it falls onto the right set of powerful ears. While WWE presents itself as a forward thinking, modern company, this is still an area where they are metaphorically still stuck in the past. In the world of professional wrestling, the only union that can advocate on your behalf is the fans.
I’m left to wonder why there have been no cries to boycott WrestleMania over this incident? Why hasn’t #CancelWWENetwork been trending for the last week? Is this issue just not unfair enough? Is Daniel Bryan not being in the Royal Rumble really a bigger outrage than a man being handed out a severe punishment that clearly doesn’t fit the crime? Does a wrestler have to be main event status before he’s worth our time to send a message to WWE?
Honestly, I don’t know the answers to all of those questions, but I know that they shouldn’t need to be asked in the first place. If as fans we see injustice, then we need to take action. Consider this article just that, a call to action. If you believe what WWE is doing is unfair, then make your voice heard using the language WWE clearly understands the most; the language of capitalism. I was a day one subscriber of the WWE Network, but as of today, I am cancelling my subscription. I will not being buying tickets to their shows, purchasing their merchandise, or even visiting their websites. As long as Titus O’Neil sits at home, WWE won’t see a penny of my money. I encourage you to do the same. We need to be the union that Titus O’Neil isn’t allowed to have. Our actions might not be the solution, but we don’t have to remain part of the problem. #JusticeForTitus