No matter how advanced most of society becomes with regard to racial and political harmony, the WWE Universe has forever seemed about ten steps behind, and that’s being optimistic. In part because of the writers, in part because of the wrestlers themselves, and let’s face it, partially because of the target audience, sports entertainment has never been the most socially progressive industry out there. Not too long ago, a wrestler’s race could basically serve as his gimmick, and nine times out of ten, if it at all deviated from the most popular group around, he became a massive heel because of it.
While there’s nothing wrong with crowds filled with patriots screaming “USA,” when they start doing this against every single foreigner without any sense of logic behind it, things get a little more problematic. Of course, it’s not like the fans are simply taking it upon themselves to be xenophobic, as this sort of behavior is always learned, and tends to grow more powerful in the wake of a group hive mind supporting it. In that sense, the blame lies mostly on Vince McMahon for fostering an environment in which racism is still alive and well, if not outright thriving.
There may be some wrestling fans reading this list and feeling their blood boil at the thought of being called racist, so let’s be clear and point out that that isn’t what we’re doing. There’s nothing inherently racist about watching a TV show that occasionally crosses the line or even calling yourself a fan of it. However, the people writing this material need to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask if the content they create is really all that “entertaining” — or if it’s just offensive. Also, before doing that, they should keep reading for 15 shockingly racist WWE moments from the last 10 years alone.
15. The New Day Conundrum
Before we get into the specifics of this list, let’s admit that there are certain areas of the WWE Universe that are indeed better off on a racial perspective than they used to be. For one thing, there are far more successful people of color on the roster, including four-time Tag Team Champions The New Day. Easily one of the most popular acts in the company today and over the past five years or so for that matter, New Day are a hilarious bunch of jokesters who love having fun and making fans laugh no matter how serious things get. There’s also a significant amount of dancing, which to some critics, including fellow WWE talent Cedric Alexander, makes the affair look just a little too much like a minstrel show. In Alexander’s words, WWE saw “three black guys” and decided to have them “sing and dance” rather than focus on their considerable wrestling skills. It’s not quite as bad as some of the other things this list will get into, but Alexander was hardly the only person offended and making these types of complaints.
14. Big E Reminds The World About Booker’s Blunder
Horrible as it is, whenever pro wrestling makes a serious faux pas about race, instances occurring some twenty plus years ago can’t be viewed in the same way as those from the past decade alone. For example, it wasn’t great when Booker T warned Hulk Hogan that Harlem Heat was “coming for him,” followed by calling the Hulkster the n-word. At the time, most wrestling fans simply laughed it off and treated it like a weird slip of the tongue. In respect to recent racial climates, however, Booker T has since called it a horrible embarrassment and one of the worst points in his career. Because of this, Booker and many others were seriously offended when The New Day, specifically Big E, decided to reference the angry outburst in a 2017 promo with The Usos. Affecting a Booker-esque impression, E warned Jey and Jimmy that New Day was coming for them, and Xavier Woods had to cut off the last word in the expression. Dredging up past racist moments is more or less the exact opposite of progress, so although the group was clearly joking around, the effect was nonetheless damning.
13. Zeb Colter and His Real Americans
Now and again, WWE does something that could almost be considered semi-progressive and presents racist xenophobes as the bad guys, like they did with Zeb Colter. Upon his 2013 return to the company, Colter aligned with “the All-American American” Jack Swagger and began espousing strongly anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner beliefs with a rallying cry of “We The People.” Intended as a parody of the Tea Party movement, Colter was supposed to get booed for being old, racist, and out-of-touch. This worked out well for a while, but soon enough, fans carrying American flags kinda got behind Swagger and the message. At that point, the more overtly racist qualities of the character were shedding, and Colter was gone before Swagger was a full-on face. Unfortunately, they nonetheless earned enough cheers as anti-immigration villains to make the whole thing wildly unsettling.
12. WWE Mixes Up Naomi And Alicia Fox
Regardless of any racial issues getting into the discussion, most fans would agree the roster is so gigantic it might be hard for Vince McMahon and other execs to remember everyone’s name or even tell some of them apart. That said, when it comes to promoting their programming, they should probably make sure the wrestlers featured in advertising are actually on the shows the ads promote. In 2016, WWE broke this cardinal rule when creating promo material for Total Divas, the E! reality show about the lives of female wrestlers. New to the show that season was Naomi, who had been in WWE since 2009, while Alicia Fox, who had been in WWE almost a full decade by then, was leaving the main cast. And yet, when the advertising came out, Fox was still in all the promos, and Naomi was nowhere to be seen. This could’ve been a mere issue of confusion about who was leaving and staying, but some others saw it a different way and questioned if WWE couldn’t tell two of their African American employees apart from one another. If not that, it could be worse, with the company assuming it didn’t matter because no one would notice.
11. Becky Lynch, Master Of The Riverdance
By now, Becky Lynch is one of the most respected female wrestlers in the world today. When the other self-proclaimed Four Horsewomen of NXT were all drafted to Raw, it was pretty much all up to Becky to keep the women’s revolution alive on SmackDown, something she more than managed to do as the brand’s first female champion. Luckily, this big win came well after her original gimmick was thrown into the garbage and never mentioned again because it was an absurd string of stereotypes that in no way represented her true talents. Putting it bluntly, Lynch was a big old riverdancing leprechaun, covered head to toe in green and constantly kick-dancing in her opponents’ general direction. Lynch had never played a character like this on the independent scene and was strongly embarrassed when WWE suggested it to her, but the writers heard she was Irish and decided that meant she could never be anything else — at least until she made it clear she could.
10. Hornswoggle Is One Little Irish Stereotype
Okay, so Becky Lynch dancing around like a goofball decked in green wasn’t that great, but there’s really no comparison between that minor faux pas and the decade-long affront to good taste that was Hornswoggle. At least, whatever Lynch was supposed to be had some basis in reality, as some Irish people can indeed Riverdance. On the other hand, there are no real-life leprechauns, which is exactly what Hornswoggle was presented as when he debuted as Fit Finlay’s “Little Bastard.” Over time, Hornswoggle became less of a blatant leprechaun and more a run-of-the-mill weirdo prankster, but he was usually decked in green and entered the ring to Irish jigs, so the implication was still there. Dylan Postl, the man behind the role, wasn’t even Irish, a fact WWE got around by simply having the guy almost never say a word while he pretended to be a strange mythical creature from Ireland.
9. LaMelo Ball Calls The Miz A Loaded Word
It’s always risky when WWE invites a guest who may or may not be all that familiar with live television to, well, appear on their live television programming. Their most recent lesson in this fact took place in June of this year when LaVar, LaMelo, and Lonzo Ball all appeared on Miz TV for a bizarre segment that made too little sense for us to describe in full. What’s important is that in the middle of the segment, Miz and LaVar started to get heated, with both removing their shirts and looking like they were about to fight. In the heat of the moment, 15-year-old LaMelo repeatedly egged his father on, telling him to “beat that n-word’s ass.” Now, whether or not an African American teenager calling a white person that word is necessarily racist may be up for debate. That said, it was most certainly offensive, to the extent WWE felt the need to give an official statement explaining the outburst was unscripted, unplanned, and did not reflect the company’s values.
8. Michael Hayes Beats LaMelo To The Punch
In all fairness, LaMelo Ball calling The Miz a racial slur is more confusing than outright racist given their respective backgrounds. No such confusion exists, though, in an earlier story involving Michael Hayes and Mark Henry at the WrestleMania 24 afterparty. Although this moment technically took place behind the scenes, the way it panned out makes it clear racism flows throughout WWE’s corporate structure almost unchecked. Hayes, a future WWE Hall of Famer who has long served as a WWE producer and writer, apparently approached Mark Henry at the party unprovoked to brag he was “more of a [n-word]” than Henry would ever be. Apparently, Hayes said he came upon this thought because another wrestler, MVP, jokingly said the same thing. Unfortunately for the Freebird, Henry wasn’t as ready to joke around about the racial slur as MVP and immediately complained to management, getting Hayes suspended for 60 days… after which he went right back to being in charge of writing Henry’s storylines.
7. Mark Henry’s Shameful Nickname
Bad as it was for Michael Hayes to call Mark Henry a racial slur behind the scenes, the World’s Strongest Man suffered what could be considered just as big an indignity when cameras were rolling. Not only that, he suffered it again and again and again when WWE writers attempted to saddle him with the nickname “Silverback” circa late 2007. In all fairness, it’s almost tempting to see where the writers were coming from on that one. Mark Henry is big, mean, and strong, and silverbacks are the biggest, meanest, strongest animals in the jungle. However, the history of racism in America is rife with offensive comparisons between black people and gorillas, apes, or various other non-human jungle dwelling species, to the extent that any similar mention today is pretty much instantly considered massively offensive. Apparently, Henry himself was the only person in WWE who understood this, and he finally went to the writers and begged them to stop calling him that after a week or two of using the nickname.
6. Titus O’Neil Gets Suspended For Touching Vince McMahon
Once more, we have to head behind the scenes for the full drama on how racist WWE can get, although this time, it at least started on screen. Immediately after Daniel Bryan’s 2016 retirement ceremony, the entire WWE roster hit the stage in salute, including company owner Vince McMahon. Also on board was former Tag Team Champion Titus O’Neil, who made the strange choice to grab McMahon as the proceedings ended, pulling him away in a hug-like gesture. Strange though it may have been, there was nothing violent or even reckless about O’Neil’s move, and he later explained it was simply out of respect for “ladies first,” wanting to let Vince’s daughter Stephanie leave the stage before he did. Initially, most fans who spotted the moment found it funny and playful, but WWE’s official reaction had everyone singing a different tune. Of course, a black worker being suspended for 60 days merely for touching the rich white boss has that sort of effect.
5. Triple H’s Offensive Nickname For Ricardo Rodriguez
A big part of why WWE is still racist to this day may relate to the fact a 72-year-old white man is running the show. Given this, some fans may hold out hope that the 48-year-old white man expected to replace him, Triple H, will make things a little more progressive. Unfortunately, it’s our regret to report this may not be the case — not if Ricardo Rodriguez is to be believed, anyway, as the former manager/personal announcer to Alberto Del Rio later claimed that the WWE COO’s real “game” was overt racism. According to Rodriguez, Triple H may have never even learned his real name, preferring to call him “Bumblebee Man” in reference to the Spanish-language teaching character on The Simpsons. Such a sobriquet is obviously racially motivated, and by the way Rodriguez describes it, the name was also highly offensive and unwanted. Similarly, Ricardo’s former charge Del Rio has had plenty of unkind things to say about his former employers, as has the original Sin Cara, all suggesting WWE’s new management might have a problem with Latinos in general.
4. Lord Tensai Doesn’t Respect Asian Culture
Notwithstanding the racist elements of the character we’re about to get into, it could be argued Lord Tensai was one of the biggest top-level failures in recent WWE history. Formerly known as Albert and A-Train, Tensai returned to WWE after a long hiatus he spent massively improving his in-ring abilities in Japan. In line with this reputation, the Tensai character had strong Asian influences despite the fact the man behind the gimmick was a white American, but this almost made sense given how he had spent the last few years of his life. Unfortunately, none of Tensai’s time in the Land of the Rising Sun taught him about tolerance towards other cultures. Shortly after his WWE return, Tensai posted an in-character video online alongside his manager Sakamoto, in which he claimed it was “very, very dangerous” to get in a car with a Japanese driver, later smacking him across the head and telling him to open his eyes. WWE reprimanded Tensai for the incident, only for Jerry “The King” Lawler to make similarly racist jokes the next time they appeared on TV together.
3. Cryme Tyme Steal Good Taste From WWE
For many years, WWE has aired public service announcements in conjunction with their programming warning fans not to try what they see in the ring at home. During the Attitude Era and select episodes of Raw and SmackDown to this day, TV guides also give warnings for violence and harsh language, all reasonable warnings for a sports entertainment show. In 2006, they placed a different kind of disclaimer on WWE.com, essentially trying to tell fans the new team Cryme Tyme like totally wasn’t racist, you guys. The fact they felt it necessary to post such a message should’ve been a sign that the gimmick was, in fact, pretty damn racist, and every single thing they did on television would confirm that fact. Cryme Tyme’s shtick was stealing from other wrestlers and laughing about it, and when that wasn’t racist enough, they also parodied the infamous Michael Richards stand-up performance where he repeatedly shouted the n-word. That specific incident was in 2006, just out of the confines of this list, but Cryme Tyme stuck around until 2010, with plenty more racist moments taking place until then.
2. Jinder Mahal Hates Americans
Anyone who thinks the race problem in WWE is in the past, look no further than the current WWE Champion as of this writing for proof the concept is alive and well in the company. From the moment WWE decided to transition Jinder Mahal from jobber to the stars to unlikely main eventer, his entire character has essentially hinged on one thing: the fact he’s ancestrally Indian, which means Americans are supposed to hate him. This isn’t WWE creating one minor, forgettable racist moment; it’s the company using the audience’s racism as a gimmick. Luckily, it isn’t really working insofar as most fans are concerned, with SmackDown ratings and attendance dramatically slipping with this mindset running the show. However, the fact Mahal is still the WWE Champion and has yet to switch up his gimmick in the slightest is a sign the writers firmly believe racism is a natural part of pro wrestling that the fans will eventually dig into.
1. Jinder Mahal Mocks Shinsuke Nakamura’s Accent
As per usual these days, when WWE realizes something isn’t working, rather than erase the problem and pretend it never happened, they double down on their worst tendencies and make everything a whole lot worse. When fans rejected the idea they should hate Jinder Mahal simply because he was Indian and most of them were American, WWE bizarrely decided that instead of hoping the audience was racist, they would turn the target of their racist anger into, well, a racist. In September 2017, Mahal was cutting a promo against Shinsuke Nakamura on SmackDown and repeatedly mocked Nakamura’s Japanese accent, insulting him for being unable to speak proper English. In essence, WWE saw that a racist gimmick wasn’t working and attempted to replace it with an even more racist gimmick. This time, audiences were so furiously offended, the company had to release an apology the next day.
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