Thoughts on Darren Young, WWE and Prime Time Publicity
The landscape of WWE is changing at an ever-rapid pace and the recent news about Darren Young is further shaping the minds of those that assume WWE fans are close-minded bigoted racists that have a right-wing agenda for themselves. Anyone that enjoys wrestling must either be a moron, stupid, or perhaps still believes that the sport isn’t scripted and everything done for the cameras is entirely real.
While the information revealed about Darren Young’s sexuality was carefully orchestrated, it doesn’t change the fact that an active wrestler has revealed himself to the world that he is gay. While the cynics may believe this is an attempt for WWE to gain some positive PR from the gay community after their back-handed comments by their talent over the last year, make no mistake that Darren Young is not playing any kind of part and that this is the real man talking about who he is as a person, not a character.
With the amount of support being shown by WWE talent and corporate (Vince McMahon, John Cena, HHH, Stephanie McMahon) this was meant to happen during Summerslam weekend, when WWE performs in one of the largest markets in the entire country if not the world. They wanted their message to spread and it has immediately spread like wildfire. The question then becomes, what message are they trying to spread?
In the days of the barker and the carney, professional wrestling has been made popular based on shock value, characters and an attempt at selling a product that otherwise people wouldn’t have a vested interest in. Nobody wants to watch grown men wrestle around on a mat for several minutes to be declared a winner, just ask the Olympic Committee as it’s eliminating wrestling from the list of sanctioned events after 2016. Put something in the ring that people want to see and they will flock by the thousands. Fans want to see the pretty-boy get his comeuppance. They want to see a Giant dethroned by the Immortal One. They want to see stars made in front of their eyes. While Daniel Bryan has the ability to make that happen this weekend in his match with John Cena, Darren Young will forever be annotated in the history books as the first accepted gay wrestler, whether the fans or WWE want to admit it or not.
There have been plenty of gay wrestlers that have come through WWE: Pat Patterson, Kanyon, Orlando Jordan (he's bisexual) just to name a few. There are plenty others that have and never will be named either. So why is this a big deal now? Why does it matter that this young man came out publicly? Is it to save face for a company with an image problem? Is it to further their Be A Star campaign which has come under fire because of bullying tactics used on their flagship program? Whatever the case may be, it’s a step in the right direction, but does it really matter?
Yes and no. Of course it’s important for anyone at their place of employment to feel comfortable within their surroundings and this is no exception. With a company that doesn’t have the greatest track record with employer/employee relations, this is a positive step to enforce the idea that WWE is accepting of all kinds of talent, no matter what your race, religion, or sexual orientation may be. Darren Young is the figurehead for their gay community now, and has already made visits on behalf of Be A Star to promote tolerance and acceptance of those that are different. But in the end, this shouldn’t be such a big deal yet it is. Why?
The idea of “gay” has permeated our culture to the point where most civilized individuals will hear the word and won’t bat an eye. It would be foolish to think that because it’s genuinely accepted by most people that there isn’t a lot of work to be done on this front. Just look at what is taking place in countries like Russia, where an anti-gay crackdown has come to the forefront amid the return of the Winter Olympics in 2014.
WWE does have a responsibility to promote a positive image, and while having an openly gay star reinforces this image, it could lead to potential problems in the future. Image plays an important part of WWE and its anti-bullying campaigns. It’s only a matter of time before something involving Darren Young is scrutinized simply because of his sexual orientation.
While it is rumored that Darren Young came out because he was at-risk of being released from the company (an unfounded rumor at that), the public relations behind his announcement will forever be entrenched with him at his side until the day he is eventually released, and even then some will assume that he was released because of his orientation, even if it’s years from now. The fear that persists is that somehow WWE will turn this into a storyline, and while history is against WWE in its homophobic culture (John Cena rap against The Rock anyone?), there is hopefully an understanding that WWE will need to tread lightly and carefully with all matters involving Young.
At some point, WWE will create a story involving Young’s sexual orientation. WWE as an artform just enjoys imitating life at any given time because it creates publicity and like the carney, Vince will enjoy any kind of positive publicity this may present. The only question is, will WWE allow for homophobic comment to permeate its programming to tell the story it wants to? Will Darren Young be de-pushed simply because of his orientation? While it is unfortunate that everything Young does will be under a microscope, he is figuratively, the guinea pig for WWE as he transcends his superstar persona and becomes a spokesperson for basic rights of gay people everywhere.
Just imagine the headlines now, add whatever you’d like to at the end of, “First openly-gay supertar…
wins Intercontinental Title
wins Royal Rumble
wins United States Title.
There are plenty of opportunities for WWE to make the most of this situation. While some may confuse this promotion with exploitation, Darren Young won’t mind the publicity that comes with his push into the spotlight in the immediate future. Any sort of positive reinforcement is good for WWE, and with a culture that is changing for the better, WWE can make great strides by promoting a great image for its product.
I applaud Darren Young for his ability to make such a powerful decision that will affect his future undoubtedly. My only hope is that WWE follows through properly and promotes a positive product without the fear of exploitation on behalf of one of their talents. While every PR move has an ulterior motive, it is the hope that WWE can make the best of this situation and advocate for the gay community through the promotion of their own product via marketing, television and anti-bullying campaigns.
Best of luck to Darren Young, the world has slightly changed for the better because of you.