The very nature of professional sports – athletic achievements designed to encapsulate an array of un/known emotions and allegiances – only naturally produces self-reflection. Ergo, the professional athlete – to fans – stands as a mirror of what we’d like to be and/or idealize. Or, conversely, what we perhaps subconsciously loathe.
The Colin Kaepernick situation, while extensively covered by national media – is nothing new. Growing up, Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson was a national discourse on skin color, region, and seeming value based on playing style. Let alone them playing in cities where race a substantial aspect of identity. As much as staunch supporters of either Bird or Magic might discount race as a (knowing or unknowing) factor, it was there. Related and let’s be honest: Mayweather versus Macgregor is likewise a racial discourse.
Professional wrestling, of course, is no stranger to race discussions. There’s been much ado over the WWE failing to anoint its black athletes as champions. Many remain buried in arguably stereotypical storylines, even today. This discussion does not begin or end with African Americans, as we know. It’s the reality of a conservative approach to professional sports that opts for inclusion by non-discussion. Is Noam Dar Jewish? Scottish? None of the above? All of something else…and perhaps bigger? Is Jinder Mahal a racial stereotype or national icon?
With this being said, should professional sports be the vehicle for such discourse? Its athletes expected to be outspoken for/against racial representations? Is silence concurrence…or thinking bigger or smaller than those who look up to them?
I confess: when I see athletes claiming racial collusion in professional sports against Kaepernick or otherwise, I’m torn. I’m personally not really sure where I stand on the marriage of social justice and professional sports, to include events with athletes representing respective countries. But I simultaneously hurt empathically with those to whom such events seemingly pain them.
I want to help, to support, but not surrender the escapism that pro wrestling is intended to provide. By its very theatric nature, pro wrestling affords its athletes a podium to comedically address sensitive topics. But once this escapism is shattered, it’s hard to suspend disbelief.
Athletes, however, have the right to extend beyond their characters, especially independent pro wrestling to whom the sport seldom a full tie venture. A full muting of opinion should not be the course of action, ever. Nor extreme measures in the opposite direction to ‘prove’ sensitivity. But perhaps pro wrestling promotions – through its storylines, champions, and executives – can tackle what other sports are either too fearful or unable to address.