Is wrestling a girl's sport?

The struggle for non-discriminatory wrestling

This coming weekend, the media company World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in Tampa, Florida, is hosting Wrestlemania, the largest wrestling event in the world, for the 37th time. For two days, battles for numerous titles are to take place in the stadium of the American football team Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It is not only remarkable that, for the first time in over a year, thousands of spectators should be allowed to attend a WWE event. It is also said to be the company's first major event to be shown exclusively on the Peacock streaming service in the United States.

For many years, the major WWE events could only be received according to the pay-per-view model or were available on video cassette or DVD. In 2014, however, the company introduced its own streaming service, the WWE Network, on which subscribers were able to watch the major events live and on demand, in addition to numerous other content on the subject of wrestling, in addition to numerous other content on the subject of wrestling. At its wedding in 2018, the WWE Network had 1.8 million paying subscribers, bringing in around $ 18 million a month for the operator.

Since then, however, the number of subscribers has dropped significantly. Last October there were only 1.5 million. At the beginning of March, the WWE announced that the WWE Network would no longer be available in the USA from April 4th. Instead, the content is to be integrated into the streaming service Peacock, which belongs to the media conglomerate NBC Universal. For the subscribers in the rest of the world, at least nothing will change for the time being. However, it is quite possible that new partners are already being sought here.

This deal is expected to bring in one billion dollars for WWE in the next five years, which corresponds to a secure income of about 16.5 million dollars per month and a correspondingly high degree of planning security. In addition, there is still income from subscriptions from other countries.

The move to Peacock, however, is not quite as smooth and noiseless as the WWE would probably have liked. Similar to NBC's own television news channel MSNBC, the streaming provider Peacock also has a reputation for addressing a more progressive audience. Among other things, the late-night show by comedian and television presenter Amber Ruffin, who made headlines last year when she reported on the experience of being a black woman with racism in the US police, runs there.

The switch to the progressive streaming service Peacock is not quite as smooth and noiseless as the wrestling marketer WWE would probably have liked.

In addition, there is currently lively debate in the USA about discriminatory content on streaming platforms. For example, on its Disney Plus platform, Disney has added twelve-second explanations to children's films such as "Dumbo" (1941) and "Peter Pan" (1953), indicating that the films contain racist stereotypes. HBO has added a four-minute critical introduction to the classic film "Gone with the Wind" (1939) by Jacqueline Stewart, a professor at the University of Chicago, who makes it clear that the film fades out the horrors of slavery in an ahistorical manner.

The WWE, on the other hand, has never been suspected of being a hotbed of intelligence. On the contrary, in the course of its 40-year history, a number of things have happened in front of their cameras that - to put it mildly - would no longer be possible in this form today. We are not talking about simple violence here. Stories of death threats against other wrestlers or their family members are still a regular part of the business. It is mainly about racism, sexism, homophobia and trans-hostility or simply subterranean tastelessness.

Peacock employees are currently reviewing around 17,000 hours of archive material to be uploaded over the coming months. Two incidents are already known to have fallen victim to scrutiny. One is from 1990 and shows Roddy Piper, who had painted the right half of his body black for his fight against the black wrestler Bad News Brown, i.e. with a half-sided black face. The other from 2005 shows CEO and majority shareholder Vince McMahon personally addressing white wrestler John Cena with the N-word in front of black wrestler Booker T - a scene that caused a lot of head shaking even then.

It is certainly not a shame about either. However, it remains to be seen how far those in charge at Peacock will go. What about Val Venis and the Japanese wrestlers who chained him naked and threatened to chop off his penis with a samurai sword? What about Triple H - now in real life Vince McMahon's son-in-law and Vice President of WWE - and his attempt to desecrate a dead person in a coffin? Or with Jerry Lawler, who in 1997 insulted Goldust as a "flaming fag" (roughly: super fagot) before a match? And what about the countless bra and panties matches that were won by the woman who was the first to strip her opponent down to her lacy underwear? The last match of this kind was in 2005, it wasn't that long ago.

However, a lot has happened since 2005. Women's wrestling has become a natural part of the program, there are openly gay wrestlers and more than half of the current titleholders are non-white. The WWE product actually looks largely contemporary in 2021.

That is by no means self-evident. The full-time patriarch Vince McMahon has the scepter firmly in hand even at the age of 75 and directs almost everything that happens in his company. He regularly rewrites the scripts of the shows at short notice, sometimes even after the broadcast has started, often changing the main features of the events. Who and who doesn't become a star often depends solely on their personal taste. The Mexican wrestler Andrade, also known as La Sombra, was recently dismissed at his own request because he, who is considered by many experts to be one of the best in his field worldwide, no longer saw a future for himself in the WWE. Rumor has it that McMahon was the wrestler's English too poor.

Now it's not uncommon for aging bosses not to want to vacate their armchairs. In the case of McMahon, however, the fact that he is a close friend of the former US President Donald Trump, who in turn has been in or at the ring for the WWE several times and is a member of the in-house Hall of Fame, makes things even more difficult. McMahon's wife, Linda, ran unsuccessfully for Republican political office on several occasions. Trump eventually made her head of the Small Business Administration, a federal agency designed to support small and medium-sized businesses, in 2017. In 2019, however, she left the post to become chairman of the right-wing organization America First Policies, which spent $ 150 million on election campaigns on behalf of Trump in 2020.

The choice of Hulk Hogan as co-moderator for Wrestlemania is hardly surprising. The famous former wrestler was thrown out in 2015 after a racism scandal, but was rehabilitated three years later - probably because his name still has great appeal, especially among older viewers.

The fact that he is supposed to be supported by an African American in Titus O'Neil suggests that they are extremely interested in a better image. Some even speak of a possible one healing moment. Whether this is really needed seems at least doubtful. Better than reconciliation with the profiteers would be solidarity with the victims of the wrestling business. And there really have been more than enough of those at WWE over the years.