June 25, 2020 6:57 AM   Subscribe

After a week of numerous sexual assault allegations against WWE, AEW, Impact, and independent wrestlers, the industry needs to evolve. [content warning: sexual harassment, violence, abuse]

The first wave of the #SpeakingOut movement consisted primarily of accusations against wrestlers in the British scene, with several smaller promotions cutting ties with various of the accused and at least one wrestler being curtly released by WWE.

Further allegations roiled the U.S. independent landscape, with viral star Joseph "Joey Ryan" Meehan being accused by more than a dozen women and several other wrestlers being fired or suspended from various American promotions.

Most recently, several women have come forward alleging abuse by Michael "Mike Quackenbush" Spillane and several of his associates, leading to the closure of CHIKARA, a Philadelphia wrestling federation so clean-cut that it asked fans to chant "Holy poop!" instead of "Holy shit!" for impressive maneuvers in the ring.
posted by Etrigan (16 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
In the recent thread about Warren Ellis and his victims coming out to speak, I made a comment about how the men of Metafilter routinely react to Me Too stories from a place of mourning the media they're "losing". I would really appreciate it if we could not do that here. I understand this is "meta", but there's a lot going on in metatalk and I don't think a whole thread would be approved.
I'm just posting as a member of a community that cares, please think of how your words look to those of us who are also victims.
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:21 AM on June 25 [24 favorites]

[One comment removed. It's okay to want to know more about something you haven't had an interest in, but please don't come into a thread and make how not-interested you are in it the thesis of your comment. There are plenty of folks who do care about wrestling, and more to the point this is a post about some pretty serious abuse issues within that sector. We need folks to avoid recentering the discussion on their from-a-distance opinions about wrestling as a genre.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:17 AM on June 25 [10 favorites]

I used to watch a lot of wrestling in college with friends who were also into it, but as I grew apart from them, I grew apart from wrestling. I wondered what I ever saw in it, but then I caught a video by Super Eyepatch Wolf titled "Professional Wrestling is Stupid and Beautiful and I Love It" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQCPj-bGYro) and it reminded me of what I used to see in it. A good watch, if you're looking for an explanation, elkevelvent.

That said, wrestling has _always_ had its darker side. The stress it places on your body (Undertaker has to recover and train for _a year_ before he's ready to run another match), the stress it places on your family and relationships (wrestlers are almost constantly on the road), and the stress that the toxic culture and business practices place on your psyche, all really take a toll.

It takes an effort of will to ignore this darker side, especially because it keeps peeking out in really brutal and upsetting ways. But the owners are always very good at showing just enough of a response to smooth things over and let people forget about it and replace their concern with wilful ignorance. I don't know, I hope this is different, given that there's already been a very public firing.

I think wrestling entertainment is very special - a blend of ancient gladiatorial combat mixed with modern hype and sprinkled with a very active suspension of disbelief that allows the audience to both know that it is utterly "fake" while appreciating the very real athleticism that goes into creating that fakery. But like so many things these days that are beautiful or useful to some, but actively and tragically harmful others - if it can't be saved, let it burn.
posted by Imperfect at 8:21 AM on June 25

This is hitting my extended circle hard. I can name multiple women I'm mutuals with on Twitter because of wrestling who (from the outside) suddenly and strangely went from being very very big wrestling fans - like travelling to other countries, not just cities to watch wrestling, hosting wrestling podcasts, etc. - to suddenly not watching it or tweeting about it at all. At the time I assumed they had just burned out on it like I did.

One of them has now come out with her own #SpeakingOut story about being abused, manipulated, and gaslit by someone in the wrestling world she was in a relationship with. The other hasn't named specifics other than basically saying "yeah, all this? this is why" and announcing she was fully stepping away from the Twitter account everyone in wrestling knew her from.

What has been hitting me most is just the breadth and depth of the problems in this particular space. Maybe it is like this in other subcultures too, but the past two weeks have just been story after story after story about wrestlers, promotion staff/owners, even wrestling writers being abusive, manipulative and just plain awful to women/girls (and some men/boys), many very young or even underage. So many missing stairs there's not a staircase left there at all.

I am still hopeful this is the fire that burns everything down but that something better will rise from the ashes.
posted by misskaz at 8:29 AM on June 25 [5 favorites]

I've been trying to write this FPP for more than a week, but there was always one more thing that just came out, one more person who just came forward, and I kept putting it off.

And then the CHIKARA stuff came out yesterday, and it fucking gutted me. "Mike Quackenbush" was explicitly a pure "babyface" good guy -- one of the last ones in all of wrestling -- and Michael Spillane was very publicly a force for good and inclusion and acceptance in wrestling (aside from some shady business practices and guarding "his" IP a bit too jealously).

The entire last season of CHIKARA was about "Quackenbush" defending his company from an "old school" trainer who was physically and mentally abusive. "Quack" gave an impassioned speech two weeks ago about how his early training had been abusive for no reason, and how he was dedicated to being better than that at his wrestling school and in his wrestling federation. And now... it turns out that Spillane was the real villain all along. That fucking hurt. CHIKARA was the first significant mixed-gender federation to have a woman as its top champion. It was the company that put its Young Lions title on a non-binary wrestler and insisted on using they/them pronouns.

And it turns out it was just as shitty as WWE, run by Vince McMahon, who is known to have committed so many of these crimes of abuse and violence and manipulation and harassment that wrestling fans have just given up on the idea that he'll ever suffer the slightest bit for any of it, and we just look forward to his daughter maybe being a little better once he dies.

I gave up on wrestling once. I honestly don't know whether I'm going to again, but... I love wrestling, and there's so much great stuff in it, and I was starting to think of when I would let my nearly-five-year-old daughter watch with me, when she would be mature enough to understand "They're not really fighting", and I was going to talk to her about some of the ways that women are presented (and LGBTQ people, and nonwhite people, and and and...), but... I just can't right now. I can't even imagine what might have to happen before I would want her to possibly become a fan, to enable this toxic fucking industry in the smallest way.

I don't know whether there's enough fire in the world.
posted by Etrigan at 9:14 AM on June 25 [13 favorites]

Thanks for making this post, Etrigan.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 9:55 AM on June 25

I remember reading Mick Foley's first book and the horrifying stories of physical and psychological abuse that trainers and veteran wrestlers did to new recruits and green wrestlers. All in the supposed name of "paying your dues." So even though I wasn't aware of the extent of these specific abuses that are coming to light now, none of it surprised me in the least. I've been following the twitter storm for the past few days. I hope more abusers are exposed and flushed out of the industry (and all industries).
posted by acidnova at 12:31 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]

If yall are burned out on wrestling, I might suggest checking out Gatoh Move/Chaco Pro https://prowrestlingpost.com/a-brief-history-of-gatoh-move/ They are not for everyone, but there is a joy that is hard to find in much of the industry. They have put a smile on my face many times in these last few difficult months.
posted by Burgoo at 12:52 PM on June 25

I've been struggling with this for the last week or so, since it's come to light, and I thought it was weird that With Spandex hadn't covered any of it. With Spandex, and Brandon Stroud had been pretty much what got me back into following wrestling, and I've shared Stroud's writing here repeatedly, especially the pieces where it seemed he was championing moving away from the old exploitative parts of wrestling.

And, well, it turns out he was just as bad as the rest. There's all sorts of allegations against him, from shit like looking through women's phones for nudes to abusive/gaslighting behavior. Evidently he's got a long history of being a terrible person who writes like he's a good guy, but actively deletes comments on his stories that bring up any of his past actions, and has allegedly tried to get other writers on Uproxx fired for talking about his shitty history. He's deleted his twitter, at least one writer, Emily Pratt, has left Uproxx in the last week, and nothing has been updated since last week.

As FirstMateKate posted at the top, yeah, it's a little off to post about the media we're losing rather than the women who were hurt by this. I get that. But I'm also dealing with a lot of shame and humiliation over the fact that I've shared Stroud's writing here of all places, without knowing about his actions. And yeah, I'm not sure anymore where to go for wrestling recaps that make me care about the storylines, or supposedly are about trying to hold wrestling up to higher standards. I hope you can understand that I can be disgusted at the actions of the wrestlers, promoters, trainers, and their actions, and the permissiveness and complicit behavior of those who run the promotions themselves, feel a terrible mix of sorrow and shame for all of those who have been hurt over the years and have suffered in silence, knowing that they would likely lose their tenuous place in the industry for speaking up (with also, and shit, I don't know the right words anymore, but I am so happy to see these women speaking up and demanding that they be allowed to pursue their dreams without harassment, assault, and all the other things that have happened), and yet, at the same time, feel gutted that a thing I love and have loved most of my life, knowing it was full of ugliness. It's been harder in recent years to keep that going, knowing more and more about the shittiness behind the scenes, but, well, Stroud's writing kept me into it. Kept me believing there was, and could be again, some kind of better thing. And I was utterly, and terribly wrong, and I feel shame about having loved it in the first place.

I'm capable of feeling all of those things at once, but it's a little hard to not feel some personal sorrow over having loved something for nearly 40 years and realize that, not only is it time to move on, that I should likely have never loved it in the first place, and one of the last things I could bring my self to follow and keep up with on a regular basis is pretty much dead to me.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:44 PM on June 25 [4 favorites]

Ringside News collected a list of wrestlers and promoters named. This list is days old at this point, but if you go to the site, each name is a link to the accusations made against them.

Jim Cornette
Matt Riddle
Velveteen Dream
Austin Theory
Darby Allin
Mike Quackenbush
Marty Scurll
The Knight Family (Paige’s Family)
Rich Catlado
David Starr
Dave Crist
Martin Zaki
Sammy Guevara
Rob Feinstein
Will Ospreay
Chino “Bafa” Reyes
Dan Maff
Mark Haggerty
Kirk White
Aaron Epic
Russell Payne
Chasyn Rance
Jimmy Havoc
Trent Seven
Marc ‘Paz’ Parry
Dave Lagana
Jordan Devlin
Jack Gallagher
Byron Wilcott
Joe Coffey
Kongo Kong
Scotty Davis
Justin Roberts
Bull James
Travis Banks
Kindred KyMari
James Ellsworth
Joey Ryan
posted by Ghidorah at 4:08 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]

With Spandex hasn't updated in at least 10 days. I can't help but wonder what's going on behind the scenes now with Stroud.
posted by acidnova at 3:58 PM on June 27

Word is that Stroud is 100% gone and Uproxx is debating internally whether With Spandex is worth continuing without him.
posted by Etrigan at 5:06 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]

Several other writers at With Spandex has posted on twitter that the site is suspended, and they aren’t sure if it will come back or not.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:11 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]

Uproxx has finally commented:
Recently, allegations of inappropriate behavior by one of our employees came to our attention. We are deeply disturbed by these allegations. We condemn discrimination and harassment of any kind. There’s no place for it in our business.

We took immediate action, including placing the employee on leave, suspending the publication of With Spandex, and launching an internal investigation into the employee’s behavior. Pending the outcome of the investigation, we will take appropriate action.

— Uproxx Management
That's it. "one of our employees," no mention of Stroud by name.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:16 PM on June 30

Update from Uproxx:

"UPDATE (July 2, 2020): Brandon Stroud is no longer employed by Uproxx, and so we will be shuttering With Spandex. Future pro wrestling coverage will appear on Uproxx Sports. We thank all of the With Spandex readers for being such a passionate and loyal audience through the years."
posted by acidnova at 8:51 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]

Goddammit. There are a ton of great wrestling writers out there, why not revamp and give them a shot?

Failing that, are there any decent recap sites out there anymore? Preferably not run but closet sex pests and gaslighting jackasses?
posted by Ghidorah at 8:54 AM on July 3

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