Here’s a little bit of a fun fact about me: I eat, sleep, and breathe professional wrestling. It might not be a “real sport”, per se, but its fanbase is akin to that of the NFL, with millions of passionate fans around the world. So when the #SpeakingOut movement surfaced, I felt that it was important to give it attention.
Before I begin, It’s important to go over the scope and types of companies (or promotions, as they are called in wrestling) within the professional wrestling industry. There are thousands of professional wrestling promotions throughout the world. These promotions can generally be sorted into two categories: independent and mainstream.
A mainstream wrestling promotion tends to have a consistent TV deal and is usually seen as a “big-time” promotion. Examples of mainstream wrestling promotions include World Wrestling Entertainment, All Elite Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and Impact Wrestling.
Most other wrestling promotions are independent wrestling promotions. Independent wrestling promotions are not always televised and the talent they present are independent contractors. Due to this, independent wrestlers are not bound by contract to any singular independent promotion and can work for a variety of promotions without fear of repercussions.
In contrast, wrestlers for mainstream promotions are sometimes bound by a contract stating that they may only appear for their promotion they are contractually obligated to, while other appearances are subject to company approval.
Due to there being less of an ironclad TV and media contract amongst independent wrestling promotions in comparison to mainstream promotions, the independent wrestling scene receives considerably less scrutiny. Or, in this case, it did- until June 17, 2020.
On June 17, 2020, David Starr was accused of sexual assault by his former girlfriend. One of the biggest stars of the worldwide independent wrestling scene, Starr initially denied her allegations.
However, several other women came out and corroborated her story with their own. Stories of Starr being physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive began to flood social media; leading to mass outrage within the entire wrestling community and beyond.
After posting what many felt to be a half-hearted admission to the allegations and apology, Starr was soon fired from several wrestling promotions. He was also stripped of several titles including OverTheTop Wrestling’s OTT Championship, RevPro’s Southside title, and TNT Extreme Wrestling’s title.
David Starr’s professional wrestling career is effectively over at this point due to these allegations, and he will likely be blacklisted from the industry as a whole.
Many individuals assumed that Starr’s case was an isolated incident and nothing more. However, by the closing of the next day, an entire industry would be exposed; leaving fans and performers alike in deep anguish and horror.
On June 18, numerous people both inside and outside of the professional wrestling industry accused several wrestlers, promoters, personalities, and journalists of sexual misconduct.
These accusations would soon develop into the #SpeakingOut movement, as the hashtag “Speaking Out” began to spread on social media as people told their stories. As #SpeakingOut began to trend on Twitter, more and more horrific stories would be revealed from those involved inside and outside of the industry.
The first accusations were mainly centered around those working the independent wrestling scene. Some of the allegations are as follows:
- Johnathan Wolf was released by both Black Label Pro and Game Changer Wrestling following various allegations of sexual assault and mental abuse.
- The Runcorn Wrestling Academy closed its doors after allegations of sexual harassment directed at female trainees from other wrestlers would surface.
- Andy Dalton (the British wrestler, not the former Bengal quarterback) was released from Inspire Pro Wrestling after Dalton was accused of sending inappropriate messages to a minor.
- Sweet Saraya, one of the most well-known women’s wrestlers and trainers in the UK and mother of WWE’s Paige, was accused of abuse from both trainees and colleagues. She retired following the allegations on June 23, 2020.
- Revolution Pro Wrestling would fire both trainer Andy Simmonz and referee Chris Roberts on June 24, 2020 after both faced allegations.
Allegations soon moved to employees of larger wrestling companies. Wrestlers such as Dave Crist and Michael Elgin of Impact Wrestling would be accused of sexual harassment, misconduct, and other disgusting behavior. Their contracts were eventually terminated by Anthem Entertainment.
New Japan Pro Wrestling phenom Will Ospreay was accused by a former female wrestler, Pollyanna, of using his influence to blacklist her from the industry after she made rape allegations towards his friend, Scotty Wainwright. Ospreay would deny these allegations, but the International Wrestling League would later confirm the allegations were indeed true.
On June 22, audio from a 2016 podcast featuring All Elite Wrestling star Sammy Guevara surfaced, in which Guevara joked that he wanted to sexually assault WWE women’s wrestler Sasha Banks. After the clip went viral, AEW suspended Guevara indefinitely without pay and forced Guevara to agree to extensive sensitivity training, with Guevara’s salary during his suspension being donated to the Women’s Center of Jacksonville, AEW’s base.
Ring of Honor star and head booker Marty Scurll was accused of taking advantage of an inebriated sixteen-year-old girl; a claim Scurll has since refuted. However, Ring of Honor announced that they had launched an investigation into the matter. In addition, former ROH Women’s Champion Kelly Klein made allegations of sexual harassment from former ROH World Champion Jay Lethal and that Ring of Honor covered it up. Lethal, who had been accused of sexual harassment in years prior by former women’s wrestler Taeler Hendrix, denied the allegations.
An assortment of names employed by WWE’s “NXT UK”, WWE’s United Kingdom-based promotion, would be accused of various offenses.
- WWE wrestler Jack Gallagher was accused of sexual assault. Gallagher, who would confirm the allegations in an apology post, was released by WWE on June 19.
- Travis Banks was accused of emotional abuse by his former student, UK independent women’s wrestler Millie McKenzie. The Kiwi wrestler was released from both WWE and Progress Wrestling after McKenzie released screenshots of him harassing and stalking her.
- Ligero was accused of, amongst other things, indecent assault, sending inappropriate messages, and inappropriate conduct with trainees and fellow wrestlers. One of the most well-known trainers of the British wrestling scene, Ligero would admit to the two latter allegations, leading to his immediate release by Progress Wrestling and WWE.
- Joe Coffey was accused of harassing, stalking, and sending unsolicited voice messages and nude photos to a woman. He was suspended by WWE on June 30.
- WWE Cruiserweight Champion Jordan Devlin was accused of physical abuse by his former girlfriend. Although he denied these allegations, the Irish-based wrestler would be indefinitely suspended by Progress Wrestling.
Individuals on the main WWE roster were not safe from allegations being thrown their way either. Matt Riddle was accused of sexual misconduct by a female wrestler; he denied the allegation through his attorney and the public was informed that WWE had already investigated the allegation back in 2018.
NXT talent Velveteen Dream was accused by various minors of inappropriate communications and grooming. Dream, who had previously denied older akin allegations, remains silent on the matter and rumors have begun to swirl of a potential impending release from WWE. Brock Lesnar was also accused of indecent exposure by former WWE manager and women’s wrestler Terri Runnels.
Possibly the most shocking and extensive allegations are those regarding famed US independent wrestler and Impact Wrestling star Joey Ryan. The longtime independent-promotion veteran and “indy darling” adored by hundreds of thousands of fans for his more risque brand of slapstick wrestling was accused by several women of sexual assault and harassment. Joey would admit to the allegations and apologize, tweeting that his only goal was to “work hard to make wrestling a safe and welcoming place.”
Joey Ryan’s apology was in vain, however, as in the following hours, fifteen more people accused him of sexual misconduct. All allegations were later confirmed by fellow wrestlers Joey Janela and Ryan Nemeth making it clear that the indy darling had lied in his apology tweet. Joey Ryan has subsequently deleted his Twitter account and remained silent.
What makes these allegations so darkly ironic is Ryan’s professional wrestling persona: a misogynistic, highly-sexualized character with high emphasis on using his—for the lack of a better word—genitals to flip opponents. Of all people to commit these horrendous acts, his character alone would point towards him being the most likely perpetrator.
The wrestling community has been reeling from these events, and many questions have entered the horrified and confusing fray. However, the elephant in the room must be addressed: how can the entire professional wrestling industry be changed to decrease the chances of these horrific acts recurring? Two main ideas have been floating around social media from fans and wrestlers alike.
The first idea is that of separate dressing rooms. While most wrestling promotions have separate dressing rooms for male and female talent, some force all talent to change in the same room. Regulating that there must be separate dressing rooms would decrease acts of impropriety and abuse and likely increase comfort amongst the talent.
The second idea being floated around is that of an independent watch organization to document all allegations and cases of abuse amongst the industry. This would almost be akin to an industry-wide HR department, and would aid both those facing abuse and the companies that employ talent.
These allegations have soured the idea of supporting and watching professional wrestling for many people. It feels incredibly disheartening to know that wrestlers you have watched, cheered on, and potentially supported by buying merchandise have been given the blind eye to commit absolutely horrible acts against fellow employees and the general public.
However, these wrestlers make up a small portion of the employees of the industry, and to stop supporting the industry as a whole would hurt more people than it would help.
If you still enjoy watching wrestling, feel free to tune in and watch it. If the incidents of the past month have made the industry feel unsavory to you, you have no commitment to watch. But rest assured—change is coming amongst the professional wrestling industry, and life for its wrestlers and various employees is sure to change for the better.
Thank you for your support
We believe there is only one way to cover sports: The Wrightway. Please join us in bringing in the new era of sports coverage. Support The Wright Way Sports Network. ~Malik Wright-CEO
- AEW (1)