Lutz's Blog: Darren Young's announcement is important and the fallout will be interesting, but it won't take long for WWE fans to move on
By Jeffrey Lutz
Darren Young became WWE's first openly gay active performer on Thursday morning, and 48 hours later I get the feeling that the initial shock has subsided and given way to thoughtful analysis. By the end of the weekend, with the news from SummerSlam taking precedence, Young's announcement to TMZ cameras will have probably exited the news cycle altogether.
That's mostly a good thing. While Young deserves respect and admiration for being a pioneer in his industry, the "coming out" of well-known people is becoming less of a controversial topic each time it happens. The only controversies result from someone saying something stupid, and even that is far less frequent than it was five or ten years ago.
There will be a fallout, however. Most likely a positive one, as we saw by the support Young received from his colleagues and superiors within WWE on Thursday. It may affect Young's career in that he'll see more interview requests for a few weeks or even months, and his Wikipedia page will probably receive a lot more hits. But once those requests subside, he'll go back to being just a WWE superstar.
Young, of course, shouldn't be held back because he is gay, nor should he be elevated. Discrimination is not forcing Young, like all others, to earn his spot based on his own merits. That's equality. Discrimination would be burying him with on-air insults or firing him because of his sexuality. Neither of those things are likely to happen. Young is a talented 29-year-old performer with upside, and I'm sure he wants his work to be the indicator of his place on the card. Just like everyone else.
Going forward, WWE must pick its spots carefully in acknowledging Young's announcement, and it shouldn't be turned into an on-air story line. Darren Young, after all, didn't come out -- Fred Rosser did. That's why it should rarely be discussed be announcers during his matches. Footage from B.A Star events showing Young talking to kids would be an appropriate use of his increased celebrity status, far more effective than showing heels at those same events chumming it up with children.
This, ultimately, is an opportunity for WWE, whose history in dealing with homosexuality from an on-air standpoint is spotty at best. Goldust, for example, was met with severe, scripted homophobia from other characters. The scheduled Billy and Chuck wedding was celebrated by advocacy groups such as GLAAD before it was reduced to an unremarkable angle that wasn't nearly as progressive as those groups hoped it would be.
WWE, and its audience, likely weren't ready for the issue of homosexuality to be tackled in a sophisticated manner during the 1990s and early 2000s. Now, hopefully, they are. In this case, "sophisticated" is best defined by the idea of keeping Young's sexuality mostly off television except to show Fred, not Darren, giving inspirational characters.
This isn't the time for a gay character to be introduced on WWE television, because what's the point? That's not what wrestling is about. Can we be totally positive that Undertaker or Big Show or Jimmy Uso -- the characters, not the actual people playing them -- aren't gay? No, because it doesn't matter. A character's sexuality isn't important, and there is probably no good way to tell that story in a setting like professional wrestling without turning it into an exploitative stereotype.
The locker-room aspect, for me, is another non-issue. The question about acceptance of gays in the locker room is often asked by sports reporters hoping for an inflammatory sound byte that can be turned into a story or column about the damages of intolerance. Realistically, I can't imagine this being an actual problem. Athletes dress and undress in front of each other all the time, so how could they have a problem with a gay teammate? I like my friends a lot, but I don't really want to walk around naked in front of them. It's not about homophobia, but about major shame and awkwardness.
When I first saw the Young video, my immediate knee-jerk reaction was that it was a work. I thought WWE sent out Darren Young, not one its most popular performers, and paid him a lot of money to say he's gay, earning the company extra publicity while in Hollywood for SummerSlam. It was a cynical viewpoint to which I am no longer attached. I also thought it was strange that the news was broken by TMZ rather than going through WWE's well-oiled media machine.
There are no remaining doubts, from anyone, about the legitimacy of Young's announcement. It was groundbreaking and important and even exciting that WWE has an openly gay star before the NFL or Major League baseball. But the next time it happens, it will be less of a story, just like it should be. For all I know, this blog might be the last word on the subject. As homosexuality becomes more accepted in our society, we'll discover that there are more interesting things -- like whether Daniel Bryan will become the next WWE champion -- to talk about.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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