Feature Article

The #SpeakingOut Movement Is A Good Thing For WWE, AEW, And The Wrestling Industry

After a week of numerous sexual assault allegations against WWE, AEW, Impact, and independent wrestlers, the industry needs to evolve.

The past week has been an eye-opening and heartbreaking one for the world of professional wrestling as sexual abuse, assault, and harassment accusations have been made against a wide range of talents from around the world. A long list of independent wrestlers, as well as members of the Impact, AEW, and WWE rosters, have been implicated thus far in the #SpeakingOut movement.

The hashtag has been used as a space on social media for those that allege they were victimized by those within the professional wrestling industry, in order to share their experiences and call out those that abused and harassed them. As the movement continues to gain traction, it shows more and more that this is exactly what professional wrestling needs: accountability against the type of behavior that should simply have no place in this or any industry.

Regardless of their place in the wrestling industry, no performer has the right to harass, abuse, or otherwise victimize anybody else--no human has that right. And already, the fallout is being seen across this particular landscape. And every single allegation should be taken seriously and investigated.

In response to accusations against multiple superstars, including Matt Riddle and Jack Gallagher, WWE has said it is "looking into the matter" in a statement [via Deadline], adding, "WWE has zero tolerance for matters involving domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault. Upon arrest for such misconduct, a WWE talent will be immediately suspended. Upon conviction for such misconduct, a WWE talent will be immediately terminated. WWE's ability to fine, suspend or terminate a WWE talent will not be, however, limited or compromised in any manner in the event incontrovertible evidence of such illegal misconduct is presented to WWE."

Thus far, Gallagher has been released from the company with no explanation, while Riddle has released a statement through a lawyer denying the allegations.

While WWE may be the largest wrestling company on the planet, though, it's just the tip of the iceberg. Two of AEW's talents have also faced misconduct allegations, including Jimmy Havoc. He has been accused of mental and emotional abuse by an ex-girlfriend, as well as rape by an anonymous woman. Shortly after those accusations were made public, AEW released a statement explaining that Havoc had entered a rehabilitation facility to "overcome the mental health and substance abuse challenges in his life." It's further noted that his status with the company will be addressed once he finishes treatment.

Sammy Guevara, on the other hand, was called out over his own words. A 2016 podcast clip resurfaced, in which the Inner Circle member recalled seeing current WWE Women's Tag Team Champion Sasha Banks at a tryout and wanting to rape her. That audio circulated online, leading to Guevara's name trending on Twitter. AEW responded by suspending him indefinitely without pay. Instead, his salary will be donated to the Women's Center of Jacksonville. The company also said Guevara will undergo sensitivity training before his status with the company is reevaluated.

Guevara apologized for his comments on Twitter, writing, "I’ve made stupid, inappropriate and extremely offensive comments in my past. In my idiotic mind, I thought I was being funny in using words and terms that represent nothing but horror and pain." Additionally, he and Banks also noted they've spoken since the audio surfaced. "Words like the comments he made, jokingly or not, have no place in our society," Banks wrote. "I don't condone or tolerate this kind of behavior."

Outside of those two major companies, the highest-profile name to be called out is independent wrestler and Impact star Joey Ryan. Multiple accusations of sexual assault were made against Ryan over the last week, leading to Impact terminating his contract--along with Dave Crist. Additionally, Ryan's former tag team partner and current NXT superstar Candice LeRae released a statement online. "To the women he did this to--my heart breaks for you," she wrote. "I trusted this person. Reading the stories and learning how he acted sickens me. Especially because you all trusted him too. I can't imagine how you felt."

Ryan released a statement on his own Twitter account before deactivating it, as well as the account for his wrestling promotion Bar Wrestling. In his statement, he said that after his wrestling move the "dick flip" went viral, he began living a "rock 'n roll lifestyle." He added, "I came into contact with a lot of people, including women. And, the truth is, I did not always treat people with respect. And I will acknowledge that it was possible that I pursued people I thought were interested in me and invaded their personal space and made them feel uncomfortable in the process."

While there could be more allegations, and even higher-profile ones, in the upcoming weeks, the birth of the #SpeakingOut movement is one of the most important things to ever happen to the world of professional wrestling. In an industry that prides itself on evolving from a product standpoint, evolution behind the scenes is just as important, if not more so. That evolution happened in 2006 when WWE instituted its strictest drug testing policy to date shortly after the death of former WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero. It happened again in 2015 when WWE listened to its fans and began treating its female performers on the same level as its male counterparts, leading to the Women's Revolution and the first all-female Wrestlemania main event.

This, however, is an even bigger moment for the industry. This isn't something WWE or any other company can fix on its own. This is a change to the culture of professional wrestling that needs to be felt in every corner of the industry. There are areas of professional wrestling that remain toxic and should not be tolerated.

The #SpeakingOut movement has empowered many women and men to stand up and say they're sick and tired of making excuses for and hiding the abuse they received. That is something they should all be proud of. It's also caused others in the industry with a platform to stand by those who are speaking their truths, including WWE Smackdown Women's and Women's Tag Team Champion Bayley, WWE Champion Drew McIntyre, WWE Smackdown Tag Team Champions Big E and Kofi Kingston, and NXT North American Champion Keith Lee.

Professional wrestling isn't going to go away, but this new evolution will help it to become a safer place for those that populate it in the future. People, both inside and outside of the industry, are stating clearly that there is no room in wrestling for abusers and predators and that's something that should make every wrestling fan hopeful for the future of the sport.

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Chris E. Hayner

Chris E. Hayner is an entertainment editor at GameSpot, having written for outlets that include The Hollywood Report, IGN, Mashable, and Nerdist. Additionally, he co-hosts and produced GameSpot's wrestling podcast Wrestle Buddies. Chris loves all movies, but especially Jaws and Paddington 2.

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