SPEAKING UP ABOUT SPEAKING OUT
Stemming from the statement issued by Patrick Clark after his WWE release, the subject of Speaking Out returns, as it should, to the forefront of the industry as a pressing issue that needs further discussion.
After speaking about the story with Wai Ting on Rewind-A-Raw, reporter David Bixenspan wrote an article on our discussion and the inherent difficulties that come with both reporting on these stories and a lack of third-party involvement to properly adjudicate case-by-case.
While there are encouraging efforts such as the APPG Report concerning the British Wrestling scene with attempts to implement safeguards and oversight, the same cannot be said in North America among major promotions.
Part of the reason I focused this discussion around the Patrick Clark case is that it typifies this problem. Last summer, Paul Levesque said the bare minimum when stating the company investigated the allegations levied toward Clark and, “there’s nothing there”. That was the extent of the transparency with no details, nothing connected with Clark’s statement from this past week and in their mind, end the story.
That doesn’t fly for me but the larger issue is whether those probing these issues and concerning themselves with the horrors of Speaking Out are a high enough number that a company as large as WWE is affected by those concerns to become more transparent.
There is a recent example of a controversy that did affect one of WWE’s pressure points – their stock. In October 2018, after the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the company faced tremendous backlash for its decision to go forward with its November 2nd card in Saudi Arabia that did affect its stock price that month. The company weathered through the controversy, received its giant sum for the event, and follow-up cards in Saudi Arabia did not face the same scrutiny. It was an important lesson regarding the company’s stance to undergo public scorn but opting to make a decision based on financial reward rather than an ethical one.
In the case of Clark, there was a minimal acknowledgment from Levesque with the hope the chatter about him would just go away. On a follow-up conference call when Clark was asked about, it was one of the few times Levesque sounded annoyed and wanted to talk about other things. The fact that a 45-minute conference call to promote a TakeOver card is the only public window many reporters have access to a company official is another issue that shields them from more probing questions.
This is not a WWE issue but rather an industry-wide one and I would make the same arguments regarding every other promotion that has faced these issues over the past year. It’s also an area that demands delicate care due to the sensitive nature of allegations with respect to the victims that are often forgotten about or discarded in favor of the star performer and “what’s going to happen to their career?” The focus should always be the allegations and potential harm – physical and emotional that may have been inflicted.
Bixenspan’s article described the difficulties of the wrestling media ecosystem in handling such issues. For many sites, there are few full-time positions available, and navigating these issues does open one to potential legal fallout. Not every reporter is equipped to handle the magnitude of such cases, nor would I expect every person covering this industry in various degrees to have that ability. To run or work for a wrestling site requires you to wear many hats. Your roles may include news insider, critical reviewer, financial analyst, historian, transcriber, long-form writer, interviewer, video/audio editor, on-air personality, etc. Often, you are not assigned to one section of the newspaper, your beat is every section.
For most that are not in full-time positions, adding investigative reporter to your duties is not feasible and requires an unbelievable level of skill, and more importantly, experience in that field that often includes working with a team backed by resources.
There is a lot demanded from the public of media in this space – and frankly, I encourage that push for all of us to provide the best work possible. There are many hardworking people in this field that put in countless hours for the content you see daily.
In the UK, there was more attention given by mainstream outlets compared to North America last summer as Speaking Out was not an issue that led to any major media outlets dedicating resources toward.
For those reasons, I completely understand why many took to social media as their outlet to share their stories. While social media might be the forum to begin these cases, it’s unfortunately also the place where it currently ends. In the absence of any third party, you, the fan, have been the default arbitrator. A performer may be accused of something, provide their defense or explanation, and then you’re left to decide what your comfort level is. A scan of Twitter will yield back-and-forth verdicts by fans of whether they believe someone’s story or not, and that can’t be where things end.
Adding to these issues is that Speaking Out occurred in the midst of a pandemic where we’ve had fewer live events than any point in our lifetime. Slowly, promotions are returning to arenas with fans and independents will start up again where any unsigned star is going to get dates requested. Inevitably, the discussion will force promoters to assess the climate regarding various stars that were named during Speaking Out and gauge what the risk/reward ratio is for booking those talents. We had a brief glimpse earlier this year when New Japan attempted to use Marty Scurll at an NJPW Strong taping and the reaction when news broke was so negative that his segment was omitted from the broadcast.
No case is identical and all need to be assessed individually – we can all agree on that statement but now we must move towards a process. Are we leaving the promotions to conduct private investigations and yield their verdict of “yes” or “no” on the status of a performer? Can this industry properly investigate these cases without a third party?
These are all important questions because to ignore them means that all the people that stepped forward are being forgotten. No one wants to hear of these problems repeating themselves after the industry was placed on notice with the hopes of cleaning it up; not just identifying an issue and hoping people forget. This is uncomfortable territory for everyone but a necessary discussion that must be followed by a system in place for victims to speak out, cases to be investigated, and for the public to see the process play out instead of becoming it.