WWE is discernible from all other wrestling organizations for a variety of reasons. Foremost among those is the sheer size of their infrastructure. In a company so large, WWE is naturally filled with people of several different races, religions, and creeds. Therefore, it is somewhat surprising to think of the vast amount of times the company has publicly shown part of its racist underbelly. With WWE‘s recent push to go to PG on the surface, as well as within its confines, it would do well to examine these instances from its past so as to improve on them in the future. As such, this list will count down the 15 Times WWE Was Low-key Racist. This list will ultimately cover all aspects of WWE; ranging from its inner workings to its onscreen product, as we look at some of the best (and at times, lesser known) athletes that have been linked to racist moments.
Though some of these incidents have taken place in WWE’s distant past, others occurred within my short lifetime (a wrestling fan since the late 90s). Similarly, while some of these instances gained a lot of media attention and bad publicity for WWE, still others garnered no noticeable press.
We can only hope that this list will cause WWE executives to continue to improve its race relations, but if not, at least it should be a pretty entertaining read! All facts and stories related in this article are due to first-hand knowledge of the author.
15. Lack of Japanese Superstars
When many people think of professional wrestling outside of the United States, their thoughts are usually drawn to the famous wrestling scene of Mexico and other Latin American countries. However, as far as international acclaim is concerned, the Japanese wrestling scene is a much more complete and refined form of wrestling than is their Lucha counterpart. As such, it is very surprising that WWE has failed in recent years to push any Japanese talent. Sure they have features Japanese wrestlers prominently in the past (Yokozuna) and have signed non-Japanese wrestlers who have learned the far-east wrestling style (Chris Jericho, Finn Balor), but they have had very few recent, big-name, Japanese talent. With the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura and Hideo Itami in NXT, we can hope this will change, but for now, the lack of Japanese wrestlers in WWE is evident and is well deserving of our 15th spot on our list.
14. Lack of African American Hall of Famers
The ultimate accolade in any sports league is to be inducted into that league’s respective Hall of Fame. In the WWE, the process for choosing who is to be granted this tremendous honor has drawn significant criticism from outsiders. One such reason for this criticism is that there is a noticeable lack of African American’s in the Hall. Some of this is probably a result of there not being enough prominent African American’s in WWE’s past (a problem in of itself), but that doesn’t completely diminish the startling fact that there are currently only 9 African Americans in the WWE Hall. WWE appears to now be making a conscious effort to alleviate this discrepancy in the demographics of the Hall, so hopefully in a few years time this can be bumped from our list of times WWE was low-key racist.
13. The Mexicools
One of the main reasons WWE’s product has been so successful is the colorfulness of its characters. Often over the top, the characters created by WWE’s creative team are supposed to give their athletes an identity that they can use to connect with the audience. However, with this comes many problems like when a character represents a certain group in a stereotypical way. The first example of this on our list is when Super Crazy and Psicosis were given the character of the Mexicools. Both Super Crazy and Psicosis are two very talented wrestlers and could have had a great career if they weren’t given such awful characters. WWE creative thought the best way to showcase their talent would be to have them drive souped up lawnmowers to the ring. We’ll see more of WWE’s horrific stereotypical typecasting later.
12. HBK-Booker T Incident
I remember this incident from the tail end of WWE’s Attitude Era largely because of how weird it was. Admittedly I remember it mostly for its strangeness but looking back now, it clearly has some racial undertones. At this point, WWE was parading around a watered down NWO which included Booker T, perennial troublemaker Shawn Michaels, and a variety of other white superstars. There was some tension within the group so HBK called a team meeting where he called out the group for its overall ineffectiveness. At this bits climax, Michaels says “something here doesn’t belong” before super kicking the only African American member of the group, Booker T. At the time I remember being really confused where the storyline was going, but WWE never explained why Booker “didn’t belong.” Good for #12 on our list.
11. Lack of African American Management
If this is truly a list of times WWE was racist in its practices, it is important to not only include the instances which occurred on–screen, but also those which happened behind the scenes. A prime example of this is the fact that WWE has drawn significant criticism for not having a noticeable presence of upper level African American management. While this is a problem in of itself, I think that it is reasonable to assume that this fact has led to some of the other problems highlighted on this list. For example, perhaps the reason why such talented African American performers are not given more prolonged pushes is because there are not African American’s within WWE’s inner circle pushing for their success. For this reason, WWE’s lack of high ranking African American executives makes our list here at #11.
10. Anti-Immigrant Personas
It pains me to write this section because the “ruthless foreigner” personas were such a big part of WWE’s golden age, but the fact is that these characters were pretty racist. Often times the ultimate heels pitted against the “Real American” Hulk Hogan; characters like the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff were arrogant, merciless, rude, blatant cheaters. WWE (WWF at the time) used the anti-immigrant feelings of its crowds to create ready-made heels. While I would like to say that the evil foreigner shtick fell out of date in the 90s, however, we saw it used again to perfection during the post 9/11 hysteria with the Muhammad Hassan character. This consistent practice by WWE of using anti-immigrant leanings to create heels comes in here at #10.
9. Clumping Together of Ethnically Similar Superstars
What makes a great tag team or stable? Is it individual talent? A willingness to work and grow together? Or significant congruity between its members? Whatever it actually is, it has become blatantly obvious that WWE creative thinks that the key to a good group is that they all be ethnically similar. While sometimes this has led to great successes (New Day), it has also led to great failures (League of Nations). This is so common that this entire excerpt could literally just be a list of superstars who were grouped together solely because of their race or nationality. The only reason this is not higher on our list is because I think it’s not a result of racism so much as it is plain laziness on the part of the WWE creative team. Whatever it is, it’s #9 on our list of times WWE was low-key racist.
8. Devaluing of Black Superstars
We will talk later in this list about the troubling lack of African Americans to hold WWE’s greatest prize, but for now, let’s just talk about the general devaluing of black athletes in WWE. When people talk about recent WWE superstars who are first ballot WWE Hall of Famers, many names pop up; Cena, Orton, Jericho, Triple H, but not a lot of African-American superstars come to mind. While some of this is due to the simple fact that pro-wrestling is more popular among other races, it is also partially due to the devaluing of some prolific African American performers. For evidence of this, look no further than two of the most athletic superstars to ever enter into WWE, Shelton Benjamin and Bobby Lashley. While both of these men were given pushes during their time with the company, neither of them were ever treated like “the guy” that other top superstars were. Good for #8 on our list.
7. Mexican Wrestlers Always Wrestling Against Each Other
We talked earlier about the Mexicools, however, putting forth stereotypical characters isn’t the only way that Hispanic wrestlers have been unfairly treated by the WWE. Another example of this is how Mexican wrestlers are constantly put into matches and rivalries with one another, often to their detriment. I know that personally, if I ever have to see Alberto Del Rio wrestle Kalisto or Rey Mysterio again, it will be too soon. It seems that WWE wants to showcase these superstars for diversity reasons, but they do not have any ideas on how to use them creatively, so they just routinely have them wrestle together. I’m all for continuity between combatants, but the fact that Mexican wrestlers are continuously booked in matches with each other is the #7 instance of when WWE was low-key racist.
6. HHH-Booker T Rivalry
Many WWE fans were excited in 2003 when Booker T was given a chance to fight Triple H for the World Title at WrestleMania. As part of the lead-up for this, WWE naturally wanted to have Booker be the champion of the poor and downtrodden while naturally portraying the man formally known as Hunter Hurst Helmsley as arrogant and entitled. However, this rivalry took an uncomfortable turn in large part because Triple H’s smack talk against Booker wasn’t so much based on wealth and standing, as it was about race. Now granted Triple H was playing a heel, and this was towards the tail end of WWE’s “attitude era”, but some of the comments were pretty shocking (so shocking in fact that this writer doesn’t feel comfortable quoting them here).
5. Stereotypical Characters
Coincidentally, this topic is sandwiched between two of the best examples of it, the Mexicools at #13 and (spoiler alert) Cryme Tyme at #3. However, this practice is so common and so ingrained in the culture at WWE that I thought it deserved its own spot. For some reason, rather than take the time to develop characters which actually correspond to their performers, WWE likes to slap a stereotypical label on a wrestler and call it a day (see Finlay, Jimmy Wang Yang, Tatanka). Triple H was famously asked to give a promo in French (which he doesn’t speak) during his time with WCW because his last name is Levesque. This type of tendency is also extremely common in WWE which is why it graces our list here at #5.
4. Hulk Hogan Incident
When I suggested Hulk Hogan’s infamous racist comments should be on this list I faced some resistance because, though a member of the WWE roster, Hogan doesn’t speak for the company itself. However, the ranking on this list isn’t so much for Hogan and his comments, but for WWE’s response (or lack thereof) to them. To begin with, there is some evidence that those within WWE knew about the tape of these comments shortly after they were made, but Hogan faced no repercussions. It was only when the comments went viral that Hogan was suspended indefinitely by WWE. The problem with this, however, is that there has been many rumors (including those spread by his daughter Brooke Hogan) that Hulk’s suspension will soon be lifted so he can appear at WrestleMania 34. Pretty suspicious actions by WWE.
3. Cryme Tyme
As discussed in the Mexicools section, WWE often shows its racist undertones in its casting of its athletes in stereotypical roles. Perhaps the most well-cited example of this is the creation of the tag team of Shad and JTG, better known as Cryme Tyme. Though both members have stated that they helped to create the tag team persona, there is still something unnerving about a pair of black characters whose gimmick mainly centers around them beating people up and stealing stuff. JTG has been pretty vocal about his displeasure since leaving WWE, so if there was something fishy going on here I’d expect a pretty interesting podcast to surface in the future. The stereotypical tag team of Cryme Tyme was good enough to be placed at 3rd on our list of times WWE was low-key racist.
2. Lack of African American WWE Championships
This is a topic that has been talked about before, but I think that it highlights some of the problems that continue to persist within the WWE. The simple fact is that in the storied history of the WWE there has been only one WWE champion who identifies himself as African American (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, who is also Samoan). Now you can talk about how guys like Booker T and Mark Henry have won the now-defunct World Heavyweight Championship, but anyone within WWE will tell you that the WWE belt is the true symbol of being the companies top guy. It is astounding to me that with all the great African American wrestlers, none of them were deemed worthy of winning a title that Lex Luger held. The only reason this fact isn’t higher on our list is that it is topped by the most racist thing WWE has ever done.
1. Ted DiBiase and Virgil
Anyone who watched wrestling in the 80s should have seen this one coming. For those of you that didn’t, the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase was one of the top villains at the time, using his wealth of riches to nefariously grab both victories and titles. Along the way, someone decided DiBiase should have a “servant”, and they selected an African American wrestler, Virgil. At the time managers were all the rage in WWE, but Virgil didn’t exactly fit into that traditional role. In addition to helping DiBiase in the ring, Virgil also drove his car, got his laundry, and overall did his dirty work. WWE would later garnish flack for this Virgil character as a lot of people drew issue with an African American being a “servant” to his white counterpart. The fact that WWE never relented to the outcry to drop the character because it was profitable, just goes to show that “everybody’s got a price”!