When rumours first began circulating that Sasha Banks was unhappy at WWE, the internet wrestling community was divided in its response. But with Jon Moxley laying bare the truth about WWE’s stifling creative atmosphere on Chris Jericho’s ‘Talk is Jericho’ podcast, it’s time for Sasha Banks’ detractors to admit she was right all along.
Sasha Banks’ history of criticizing WWE goes back a long way. She’s never been afraid to be outspoken about her discontent. In 2017, she spoke out on Sam Roberts’ podcast about the chaotic booking of main roster storylines, and the total crapshoot that constitutes ‘continuity’:
“I wish we had the opportunity to know what we’re doing in the next three months. If we’re going with a storyline, I would like to know, ‘yeah, we’re going with you and Alexa [Bliss] and this is where we want to take it and where we want to go’ instead of just being, ‘oh, maybe you’ll have a tag match. Maybe you’ll have a promo. Maybe you’ll have this random match that doesn’t make any sense or whatever. Who knows? Or maybe you’ll just sit in catering. Who knows?’”
Banks noted further that this is a roster-wide phenomenon:
“I think that’s with all of our [WWE] Superstars. None of them know what’s going on. When you see Monday Night RAW, we’re all surprised. Sometimes we’re even confused [about] where we’re going. And sometimes, maybe they don’t even follow through with a storyline, which kind of sucks sometimes.”
It all jives neatly with Moxley’s account of his time in WWE, which paints an almost surreal picture of a bureaucratic system propped up by disillusioned talent and Vince McMahon’s white-knuckled stranglehold:
”I can’t even tell you how their system works. It’s some kind of system of meetings that take place in Stamford with the home team, it’s writers and producers and production meetings and nobody knows what’s approved and what’s not and like the bureaucratic red tape you have to go through to get anything approved is just – it’s crazy. It doesn’t work. It’s killing the company.”
Moxley speaks frankly about how he felt forced by circumstances to make the best of an increasingly bad lot during his WWE tenure. He speaks of embarrassing promos and murky character work, of Vince McMahon’s insistence that his own personal sense of humor will translate to the thousands of viewers tuning in and expecting consistent characters and storylines.
When the interview hit, the response was overwhelmingly (and justifiably) sympathetic to Moxley, translating more widely to equally legitimate criticism of the WWE product and its stifling of its ‘superstars’.
The response to Sasha Banks has been nowhere near as empathetic. And while Banks’s discontent is largely pieced together out of backstage rumours, vague tweets and her own past criticisms, it’s still striking to note the difference between how Banks and Moxley have been perceived.
It can’t only be down to the divide between rumor and statement: when PAC sat out his contract in silence for a whole year there was only speculation and hearsay to go on, and rumors that The Revival are unhappy at WWE remain just that.
So why is it then that when Moxley quits and lays into Vince and the WWE machine, he’s hailed as a hero, but when Banks speaks out about her own dissatisfaction, she’s branded as egotistical and only out for herself? Why is it that when PAC goes off the grid for a year and refuses to honor his contract he’s in the right, but when Banks does the same she’s ‘bought into her own hype‘?
Why is it that former grand slam champion “Dean Ambrose” – who has held his many and varied WWE titles for a combined 772 days across a six year period – is not called ‘whiny’ and ‘entitled’ when he talks about how miserable he was in WWE?
Banks, on the other hand, has never held a main-roster singles title for longer than 27 days – her tenure as one half of the first ever WWE Women’s Tag Team champions lasted a paltry 49 days despite Banks and tag partner Bayley ostensibly being the driving force behind the tag belts in the first place.
PAC was booked as dominant Cruiserweight Champion for 197 days, and yet fans generally agree he should have been given more, treated better.
Banks is rumoured to have complained about dropping the tag belts that she and Bayley fought so hard to make a reality after a reign of less than two months, and she’s painted as greedy. She’s told she should be happy with what she’s got. She should be professional and do her job, presumably the same way that PAC did.
One would hope that those same fans are also angry that Moxley refused to ‘do his job’ and say the lines Vince McMahon wrote for him, regardless of how distasteful they were. Isn’t that what professionals do?
There is not just cognitive dissonance in all of this, but a cognitive gulf. When The Revival clamor for better treatment, fans explode with support. When Banks is rumored to be unhappy about her treatment, fans personify her as a sulking toddler who should just put up and shut up.
What is the difference?
When Luke Harper requests his release it’s agreed that he’s been underutilized and deserves more. When Sasha Banks reportedly requested her release she’s arrogant and will never succeed anywhere else.
When PAC sits out his contract, it’s because he knows his worth and has self-respect. When Sasha does it…well, you already know what I’m going to say.
And although the tides of opinion are changing, there’s still a significant proportion of fans who seem to think that even Banks’s push for the Women’s Tag Team Championships was a stone-cold ploy to build more opportunities for herself.
When The Revival, The Club and Luke Harper were reported to be unhappy, where were the spurious tweets about them allegedly lying on the floor and throwing tantrums?
We are infinitely capable, it seems, of responding to male superstars in a nuanced way, but when Naomi complains about slapdash booking and last minute decisions, she should “remain humbly silent”.
When Naomi fights for better booking for the SmackDown women’s division, she’s ‘stupid’, ‘ignorant’, ‘disgusting to look at’. And it is not a coincidence that the majority of the bile is directed towards women superstars who speak out.
The perception that women should know their place and be happy with their lot is insidious and rooted in old-school sexism. It’s the same mentality which pervades in the workplace, in which assertive women are ball-breakers, backstabbers and witches, while assertive men are ambitious go-getters.
A man who is unhappy with his lot and speaks out about it is acting out of pride and self-respect. A woman who does the same is being greedy, grasping, selfish. And it is notable that Black women disproportionately bear this burden.
We are seeing this attitude replicated on a macro level in the way fans respond to the equally justified complaints of male versus female superstars.
CM Punk walks out on WWE and becomes a folk hero. Sasha Banks walks out and “journalists” smear her with utterly unsubstantiated stories about toddler behavior.
The hard truth is this: Sasha Banks was right. It’s galling that it takes Jon Moxley’s word to convince people – Sasha’s should have been enough – but it’s no longer possible to write off Sasha’s complaints as her being spoiled and entitled when Moxley has basically confirmed that WWE creative is at best woefully ineffective, and at worst downright damaging.
Sasha was right to be unhappy about lack of continuity. She was right to be unhappy about slapdash writing decisions. She was right to be unhappy about not being listened to, about having to fight to have her ideas accepted, and then being removed from the picture she fought to create.
Sasha Banks was right, and it is simply not possible to listen to Moxley’s podcast with one ear and remain deaf to her complaints with the other.
And it’s false equivalency to claim that Moxley has earned legitimacy and respect by stoically working his contract to the end. As mentioned previously, both PAC and CM Punk walked out on their contracts, and responses to this behavior have largely erred on the side of ‘good for them’.
Sasha Banks continues to pull high numbers of merch sales for WWE, indicating a lasting popularity in spite of her recent mishandling. She has worked hard, and she has paid her dues. William Regal himself is a massive advocate for her.
Has she not earned the right by now to speak her mind about what we are now starkly aware seems to be an incredibly unhealthy working environment?
If Moxley has made anything clear, it’s that nothing about working for WWE is simple. Luke Harper was reportedly punished with six extra months on his contract when he requested – and was refused – his release.
The Revival refused lucrative new contracts and were reportedly punished with both extra time on their existing contracts, and frankly embarrassing segments on RAW apparently designed to humiliate. Few people have responded to The Revival’s recent cryptic tweets apparently in support of AEW with the assertion that they ought to shut up and do their jobs.
And frankly, when wrestlers appear stuck in this kind of company – pulling these kinds of petty, unprofessional stunts should they dare to ask for their release – why shouldn’t they take to Twitter to speak their minds? Why shouldn’t they stand up for themselves?
When Moxley openly states that keeping silent and ‘just doing his job’ led to depression, why are fans continuing to advocate this unhealthy practice in the name of ‘professionalism’?
It seems evident that it is not easy to quit WWE. And when even former WWE writers are openly supportive of Banks’s struggle, it seems ridiculous that so many have already made up their minds in spite of the overwhelming evidence supporting the legitimacy of Sasha Banks’s unhappiness.
It shouldn’t take Jon Moxley’s word for us to believe Sasha Banks, but that’s where we are right now.
But Moxley’s word is out there now. There can be no illusions as to the kind of company Banks, The Revival, Luke Harper and no doubt a great many other unhappy performers are tethered to. And we can no longer shrug our shoulders and write Sasha Banks off as entitled and whiny when she is only saying exactly what Moxley has said. When she is only doing what CM Punk and PAC did before her.
Sasha Banks was right. And we owe her an apology.