Sports Culture's Male-on-Male Violence Is A Feminist Issue

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

When are men’s right organizations going to confront an unsustainable culture of violence that leads to the deaths of men?

Contending with male-on-male harassment culture is a feminist issue because:

  1. If establishing the veracity of your masculinity requires you to endure violence, harassment, and sexual coercion, this implies that violence is the defining trait of men, perpetuating rape culture and rigid, harmful gender roles.

  2. Someone has to advocate for this, and Men’s Rights activists are busy. With stuff. Things.

Sports communities are quick to cry “Internally! Let us deal with this internally!”—an appeal to their purposely esoteric inner culture. Sacred brotherhood is proper cover for abuse. Many of us outsiders looking in might not even recognize what we’re looking at.

Many might see a young wrestler getting changed in the hall as a symptom of space constraints or a blithe and blase lack of concern for “being proper.” Those fluent in the social language of wrestling recognize this as a token of hazing, which can also entail defecating in a rookie’s bag, shower groping, and other shit, both figurative and literal, that would cost the layperson their job.

Subway has a language about this sort of abuse—the same language that most of the industrialized world uses. Words like “workplace harassment” and “unwanted attentions.” If your manager at Subway can’t or won’t take your complaints seriously, you can take Subway to court, the instructions for which are literally posted on your break room wall.

Wrestling has, historically, foregone friendly reminders about family sick leave. It has an esoteric employment trajectory—even in 2015, no one can say for certain how to become a wrestler, like for a living—and a whole other language that rivals rhyming slang in incoherent nuance.

"He wouldn’t sell, so I had to potato him." This is a complete sentence in wrestling lingo. It indicates that one wrestler would not pretend the other wrestler’s moves were hurting him, thus suspending disbelief and making the latter wrestler look weak and ineffective, forcing that latter wrestler to legitimately hit the first as hard as he could in the head, to both elicit a genuine reaction and to remind him that he is a real-life badass who could ruin his shit if he didn’t cut it out.

Other concepts, like workrate, push, and “playing Ricky Morton” are harder to convey to the non-fan, who is already confused as to how pro wrestling is a thing in the first place. Even the most ardent denier of sports relevance, when pressed, will admit to a passing fluency via cultural osmosis. They know a touchdown is football, and that baseball has three outs.

Wrestling operates below this osmosis. One-third of the wrestlers who competed at WrestleMania VI are already dead. To compare, only 1 of the starting 44 of that year’s Super Bowl are dead at this point. What makes wrestling more hazardous to your health than football?

The answer is a reckless and rigid performance schedule and internal culture, done without the benefit of proper sports medicine (WWE does not license itself as a sporting event to avoid having to adhere to athletic commission requirements such as having paramedics on standby). This culture, with its recondite fetish for “sacred fraternity,” enables drug dependency and the sort of long-lasting mental duress that gets people murdered.

I'm not suggesting that Bill DeMott—who resigned after sustained complaints about his racist, homophobic abuse and sexual harassment came to light—is necessarily to blame for Chris Benoit murdering his family, or for Jose Gonzales murdering notorious “locker room bully” Bruiser Brody in the shower and then getting away with it because nobody would testify against him. Someone should take the rap for Vince McMahon pushing drugs on his employees; it needn’t be Bill DeMott, AKA Hugh Morrus, AKA General E. Rection.

DeMott, who is reported to have repeatedly told a black trainee to “go back to Africa,” is just a symptom, one of many generations of bullies and abusers primed through years of locker room hazing and an unchecked, opaque semi-sports culture that burns through as many bodies as it has to in order to provide a product.

WWE, which promotes anti-bullying while a profoundly notorious homophobe holds its current World Championship, cannot be trusted to clean its own house. And thus it becomes the task of feminism to hold men accountable for the damage it inflicts upon other men.

Men’s rights will not touch this, just as they dropped the ball on Michael Sam and bullying within the Miami Dolphins. When women said that stoic, hardened male murder machines shouldn’t be the default character in games, the men’s right movement wholly embraced an online hate mob dedicated to harassing women at any and all costs. When men come forward to say they have been raped, as Shia LeBeouf had, men’s right activists heckle them.

In the U.S., the suicide rate among men is about four times higher than it is among women. Men need mental health resources. Men’s rights activists want them to eat steak and rub coconut oil on their dicks to prevent getting STIs. Kerry von Erich, one of many wrestlers who've committed suicide

Just a sample of the male wrestlers who have committed suicide: Kerry von Erich, Mike von Erich, Mike Awesome, Larry Sweeney, Sean O’Haire, Chris Kanyon, Crash Holly.

When are men’s right organizations going to speak for these men? What men are willing to show up and confront an unsustainable culture of violence that leads to the deaths of men?

The stepping down of Bill DeMott, who once said that filing an HR complaint was a “faggot’s way” of handling things, is just the first step of a long, arduous walk that must be made to achieve tenable restorative justice for the countless lives professional wrestling has ruined.

And no, infringing on your hobby or fandom does not count as “ruining your life,” though if pro wrestling as it exists in the modern era must be wholesale dismantled to prevent the unnecessary suffering of a generation of young wrestlers, that would be the second or third fastest decision of my life.

Wrestling is imprinted on whatever synapses congregate to form my soul. I write about it, I’ve trained for it, I watch it late into the night as self-care. I have loved wrestling longer than any single person currently in my life.

And I would destroy it, without hesitation. I would send it back to high school gyms and county fairs, chewing through television cables if I had to, if that’s what it took to make it go to its room and think about what it’s done. I would make wrestling rescind a century of modern media exposure if I had to.

Because I love and care for the safety of men. Even those like Bill DeMott, who kicked a trainee in the groin for no reason just to watch him bend over in pain—even the men who have been so completely molded by their abuse that they have become abusers themselves.

How much does the Men’s Rights movement love and care for the safety of men?

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