Jim Ross may believe that race, religion and politics do not belong in WWE but he’s sending the wrong message to underrepresented wrestlers and fans.
There’s a plethora of uninformed takes an individual can have on various topics, but especially those that are complex and require a nuanced understanding of all the variables at play. WWE Hall of Famer, Jim Ross, sadly added himself to a growing list of poorly-developed takes when it comes to professional wrestling when he commented, rather incorrectly, about the aspect of race within the Kofi Kingston angle on WWE television. While everyone is free to share their opinion, they are also open to having their opinions critiqued – and potentially their perspective enlightened.
“Race should never have been brought into the @TrueKofi [Kofi Kingston’s Twitter Profile] storyline. It’s a classic underdog story,” Ross tweeted. “Race, religion and politics have no place on rasslin tv, IMO.”
That’s quite a powerful statement from an individual who may be considered the voice of professional wrestling for such a large generation. His voice carries weight across the industry and has helped shape thoughts around various characters and moments that we’ve all come to enjoy, which is why this take is so unfortunate to hear. Ross’s comments are akin to Laura Ingraham’s “Shut up and dribble,” remarks to LeBron James. To tell someone in a minority space that their race, religion or political views don’t belong in a space is to tell them that they don’t truly belong.
Albeit due to Mustafa Ali’s sudden injury (another minority wrestler who is rapidly breaking down stereotypes), Kingston has ridden the wave of #KofiMania to an opportunity to face Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 35. While many are operating under the impression he’s to win the WWE Championship and cement himself in the annals of history as a Grand Slam champion, there’s much more to this storyline that Ross is ignoring.
Yes, Kingston is an underdog. Billed at 6-feet tall and 212 pounds, Kingston clearly has the size issues that have held back many wrestlers in WWE in the past. But he’s also facing the uphill battle of being a Black wrestler on the roster, as so many Black wrestlers before him have been halted from rising to substantial ranks.
Let’s look at some facts. In 2019, WWE has still not had a promoted Black male champion as its marquee title holder. Yes, The Rock is Black and Samoan, but the heritage that his father bequeathed him is rarely mentioned by the promotion when talking about the most electrifying man in sports entertainment. WWE will proudly reference his Samoan bloodlines, but rarely do they focus on that of his father – who is a Hall of Famer in his own right.
Now let’s look at the WWE singles titles. As mentioned, the WWE has never had a Black man as the main champion. As Triple H once put it when speaking to Booker T a decade ago: “somebody like you doesn’t get to be a world champion.”
And the stats reflect that stance. Bobby Lashley is enjoying his second reign as Intercontinental Champion. Before that, Big E was the last Black wrestler to hold said title back in 2013 – six years ago. The same can be said about the WWE United States title. R-Truth recently held that belt (also interestingly winning it during Black History Month) and was the first Black person to hold that belt since Kingston – also six years ago.
That trend of unequal title reigns doesn’t stop with the men, as Black women also struggle to reach the forefront of the WWE women’s division. Even though Naomi and Sasha Banks have found success and title reigns on SmackDown and Raw, both have struggled for the long-term prominence that have been enjoyed by the likes of Charlotte, Alexa Bliss, and others. In fact, minority women have a truly hard time reaching the top as both Bayley and Asuka were badly marginalized during their title runs. That fact even goes back to the Divas Championship, where there were 17 different champions. Alicia Fox was the only Black woman to hold that belt, and she has the second shortest reign at 56 days.
Race, religion and politics have a place in professional wrestling today because they have always had a place in professional wrestling. Hulk Hogan’s iconic theme song is Real American. Lex Luger wore tights designed after the United States flag. The reason why men like Kamala, Umaga, Yokozuna, Papa Shango and others were characterized as heels is because they were built around negative stereotypes of cultures that the mainstream American fan wouldn’t understand; thus, making it easier to paint them in a negative light. While those types of characters may have died out in this generation of wrestling, there are still questionable caricatures of minority wrestlers such as the Street Profits that easily raise an eyebrow.
When an individual who is a part of the majority, tells an individual or a group of individuals who are a part of their minority that something about them doesn’t belong, he or she is in also saying that those minorities themselves do not belong. Race, political beliefs and religion are important personal aspects of diversity that need to be embraced across industries. This is one of the rare times – if not the first at all – that the WWE has approached a narrative as touchy as this one in a “correct” fashion. To denigrate that aspect of Kofi’s character, also denigrates a clear reason why so many fans of color are cheering for him and interested in this angle at this time.
The New Day are a group of Black men that were originally paired together in a gimmick that was meant to parody the Black church. To see them take that gimmick, turn it into one of the most important groups of this generation and now excel in a way that no one expected is a story that will surely inspire future generations of wrestling fans. Jim Ross’s statement is almost as bad as saying one is “colorblind”, asking us to ignore a part of Kingston that makes him and this story so special to the masses.