With world titles on the line and a high-profile match between C.M. Punk and Brock Lesnar headlining one of WWE’s biggest shows of the year, it was an off-the-cuff remark made by a mid-card performer that captured mainstream media attention last week.
On Wednesday, just four days before Summer Slam, a videographer from the celebrity gossip website TMZ caught WWE’s Darren Young (real name Fred Rosser) at Los Angeles International Airport and asked him if he thought a gay athlete could make it in WWE.
Without much hesitation or deliberation, Young delivered a statement that would, at least temporarily, overshadow the big event scheduled four days later in that city.
“Absolutely, look at me,” Young said. “I’m a WWE superstar and, to be honest with you, I’ll tell you right now, I’m gay. And I’m happy. I’m very happy.”
The remark, which Young intended more as an honest statement than some bold declaration, sent ripples throughout the wrestling community and was picked up by major news outlets across the country.
WWE, in particular, latched on to the story and showered the “news” item with accolades from management and wrestlers alike.
“Oh, wonderful,” commented 13-time world champion John Cena. “Good for him. That’s fantastic ... I know Darren personally. Darren’s a great guy. That’s a very bold move for him. And congratulations for him for actually finally doing it.”
Cena, whose older brother is gay, added that he expected this wouldn’t have any effect on Young’s job.
“It’s all about being professional, and Darren Young is a consummate professional,” Cena said. “For us, it’s entertainment, and if you’re entertaining you shouldn’t be judged by race, creed, color or sexuality ... as long as you’re entertaining.”
Cena’s right. Ultimately, Young’s push (or lack of one) won’t be determined by whether he is gay or straight, but by his ability to draw money for the company.
WWE also issued its own statement.
“WWE is proud of Darren Young for being open about his sexuality, and we will continue to support him as a WWE superstar. Today, in fact, Darren will be participating in one of our Be A Star anti-bullying rallies in Los Angeles to teach children how to create positive environments for everyone regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation.”
“I respect Darren Young’s decision to come out and am happy to see the support from the WWE Universe,” tweeted WWE owner Vince McMahon.
Young, one half of the WWE tag team The Primetime Players, also got a call of support from fellow gay professional athlete Jason Collins.
Young’s Twitter description, ironically, still offered no hint of his true sexual orientation:
“As comfortable in the VIP section as he is in the ring, Darren Young’s life revolves around three things — money, women and wrestling.”
Perhaps, to the rest of the world, Young’s statement was some grand revelation.
But to WWE, which couldn’t have been surprised, it comes under the category of “non-issue.”
For the most part WWE has supported gay rights (although it hasn’t always been above exploiting gay storylines, most notably in 2002 with the team of Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo, which initially earned support from advocacy groups, and later a rebuke when the angle was scrapped).
Pat Patterson, for years one of the major forces behind the company’s creative success, has always been openly gay — as a wrestler and a front-office figure. Jane Geddes, a former U.S. Women’s Open champion and LPGA executive who is now WWE’s head of talent relations, is the longtime partner of tennis Hall of Famer Gigi Fernandez.
The late Jim Barnett, one of pro wrestling’s most influential figures over a period that spanned the past half-century, was an avowed homosexual.
A number of performers who have worked for WWE have been gay, although this week’s headlines trumpeted Young’s proclamation as being the first active wrestler to actually come out.
In the year 2013, should it really even be an issue? It certainly wasn’t ground-breaking.
As Jim Nabors/Gomer Pyle, another fellow entertainer who came out earlier this year, might (sarcastically) say: “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”
Hulk turns 60
A major milestone in the world of wrestling occurred last weekend.
The iconic Hulk Hogan turned 60.
That’s right. The Hulkster is now a member of the swelling sexagenarian ranks.
The man credited as helping kick-start Vince McMahon’s national expansion of the wrestling profession, the individual who once claimed to be bigger than the sport itself, is 60.
No word, though, if he partied like it was 1985.
Those glory years are distant memories for many longtime fans. For more current fans, Hogan is a relic of the past, a reality TV figure who now works for a wrestling organization that runs a distant second to the company that Hogan helped transform nearly 30 years ago.
Years of wear and tear in the ring have necessitated numerous back, knee and hip surgeries that have rendered the Hulkster unable to perform even his most simple finishing hold, the kneedrop, while his once starring ring role has been relegated to that of a mere authority figure.
His successes and failures have been well documented, but Hulk Hogan remains a household name and one of the biggest stars to ever set foot in a wrestling ring.
The media-savvy Hogan marked the occasion by telling TMZ that a movie on his life was in the works, and that son Nick Bollea should be cast in the leading role.
Hogan backed off the claim later in the week when he explained to a Canadian newspaper that he merely gave a quick answer to an interviewer who was asking him “dumb questions.”
“So now everybody’s rambling like it’s a feature film already,” Hogan told the Cape Breton Post.
Hogan did go on to mention that a pair of writers were actually working on a script.
“The truth is ... two kids that are writers in L.A., hot young writers, they did a four-page treatment and I’m telling you they nailed it — they nailed it like they were living in my shoes — and I gave them the green light to go ahead and write the first pass. But that’s all it is.”
Hogan also backed off on the idea that son Nick would play him in a movie.
“I said he’d be perfect for it, but I think we need a serious, serious actor that knows what he’s doing. You know who I thought would be good? That guy that did that action movie, ‘Thor’ (Chris Hemsworth).”
The art of exaggeration never has been lost on Hogan, though, whether he’s boasting about being the first to slam an eight-foot-tall, 700-pound Andre The Giant, or selling out Wembley Stadium at Summer Slam ‘92 — despite not actually being there.
But that’s what makes Hulk Hogan, well, Hulk Hogan.
Hogan says he’s feeling “pretty good” for 60 and remains optimistic.
“I’m eternally youthful and I’m 60 years young. I’ll take my shirt off in front of any 25-year-old, and I guarantee I’m built better than they are.”
He still also talks about becoming the oldest world champion ever.
Four words of advice: Don’t do it, Brother!
But best wishes to the The Immortal One on achieving No. 60.
It’s a milestone that many of his former colleagues, sadly, never reached.
More TNA cuts
TNA continued its cost-cutting binge with a surprising release last week.
Brooke Hogan, who has served as the storyline authority figure for TNA’s Knockouts division, reportedly parted ways with the company on amicable terms.
Brooke, who joined TNA in May 2012, most recently was involved in a high-profile romantic angle with TNA champion Bully Ray.
TNA hasn’t ruled out the possibility of bringing back the daughter of Hulk Hogan for special appearances in the future.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.