Wrestlemania happened. It highlighted an interesting development: mainstream mania for wrestling. People were talking about it on the Internet. In 2015, that met the “news” threshold.
Social media savvy Seth Rollins, the new World Heavyweight Champion, appeared on the Today Show. Sportscenter covered the result as though wrestling were a sport. Pop culture tastemakers Grantland published a helpful gambling guide. Full disclosure: this site published 18 WWE tagged posts during March.
A few bastions are holding out. The New Yorker ignored it. The New York Times ran one piece, an AP article about Brock Lesnar’s contract renewal. The former would never deign to have a finger on the broad pulse. The latter, we’ve no doubt, will be “on it” in a matter of weeks.
However, with writers, who also happen to be wrestling fans, setting the hounds on the remaining public skeptics, it’s clear WWE has “made it,” becoming a respectable pastime for nasal breathers.
The Instant Historian is no wrestling fan. But, we understand its appeal. Before taking the monocle, we too were once an awkward 11-year-old, trapped between childhood and a Led Zeppelin-fueled puberty. We left. Others lingered on, or disavowed before returning in a rousing, social media-approved spell of early 90s nostalgia.
We prefer unscripted sports. Though, in truth, there is not that much difference. An in-house TV network providing wall-to-wall coverage. Roided-up guys in tight pants risking long-term brain damage. Contrived soap opera storylines to carry the viewer through the week. A meaty sub-layer of conspiracy theories. A commissioner playing the imperious heel. Sound familiar?
Piercing through the gambling and drinkable beer haze, the true distinction between the NFL and WWE is the latter provides genuine entertainment most of the year. Wait…with bated breath…for the NFL schedule release.
The Instant Historian should lament about what this means for the decline of American culture. But, that would presume, in the wake of #TheDress, an American culture still exists. Collective memory has become so transitory, a “scandalous exposé” is a documentary rehashing revelations made in a best-selling book that came out two years ago. Anything beyond a few weeks may as well be Falcon Heene.
We’d urge you to stay one step ahead of the pitchforks by picking a faction and purchasing a gaudy black t-shirt. But, as we’ve said, Internet moments are fleeting. Before long, Cool Twitter will move on. Magic: The Gathering is due for an ironic renaissance. Hope you’ve saved your cards.
On Sports and Bigotry… Indiana passed a law to “protect religious freedom.” The law is redundant. It’s a sop to a community railing that it has been under existential threat from the tyrannical forces of secularism for nigh on 50 years. The only freedom it seeks to protect is the right to discriminate against the gay community. It’s not even clear how that is religious. Christianity explicitly criticizes shunning of those perceived to be sinners.
The location and timing placed sports at the controversy’s epicenter. The Final Four is in Indianapolis. The NCAA is headquartered there. Mark Emmert threatened to “closely examine” the prospect of holding future postseason events in the state. Sports figures such as Charles Barkley have spoken out.
Indiana’s state government already backtracked. Arkansas’ did as well. One could argue sports leagues, in concert with the rest of the business community, were a driving force behind the public pressure.
What’s important to remember, though, is stirring rhetoric (especially the non-committal kind) is distinct from tough action. Sports leagues have seldom been agents for social change. Most often, they trail behind it.
Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day. Baseball was also the sport, 27 years after Robinson broke its self-imposed color barrier, that denied Hank Aaron a moment of silence on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death. The NFL is still grappling about having a team named “the Redskins.”
Sports leagues supported Michael Sam, Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers. Not supporting those players would have been a scathing PR blow. Many Americans co-exist peacefully with gay colleagues. Major American sports leagues remain a place where gay athletes feel compelled to stay in the closet.
Conforming to prevailing opinion isn’t courage. Pledging to “closely examine” a hypothetical decision isn’t action. Agency will be when sports moves beyond words and tallying up easy PR points.
Fortunately, the Indiana law has now been amended into nothingness. Things could have become sticky for The Big Ten, who named a humanitarian award after Tony Dungy despite his work with an anti-gay activist group in Indiana.