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    Friday, April 14, 2017

    Word Life: Why We Have To Keep Talking About Mauro Ranallo

    Let’s talk about bullying. And let’s talk about Mauro Ranallo. And right now, you can’t really talk about one without the other.

    By now, you’ve pretty much read everything that has to be said about Mauro’s situation with WWE. And by now, you’re probably aware that WWE is doing whatever it can to sweep this under the rug. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter has even reported that WWE is trying to reach a settlement with Mauro so that he doesn’t speak out about whatever went on between him and SmackDown Live broadcast partner John “Bradshaw” Layfield.

    It’s ridiculous enough that the most talented play-by-play wrestling commentator of his generation has to stop working on SmackDown Live because of the abuse he went through. It’s even more disgusting that WWE would rather protect its image and one of its longtime bullies rather than address a symptom of the horrible work culture that’s festered in their company for decades.

    Make no bones about it. Mauro Ranallo is a victim of bullying, and what the WWE is doing about it right now is just about the worst thing you can do to a victim. You see, growing up, every bully victim will tell you that the biggest reason the bullying never stopped is because they never talked about it. It’s not like they never wanted to. More often than not, it’s because nobody ever cared to listen or do anything about it. And, really, with a problem like bullying, failing to do the latter is pretty much just like failing to do the former. I should know.


    I was bullied for a majority of my formative years. I was bullied for being lanky, for being a nerd, for liking Eminem and Yao Ming—of all things, that still doesn’t make sense until now—for being unable to defend myself in a war of words, and for having a silly name that reminded kids of Stanley Ipkiss.

    Yes, I was bullied for having the same name as this guy.
    Photo from denofgeek.com

    I never lashed out immediately whenever I was bullied. I’d let it build and build until I’d eventually explode. That, or I’d run. I ran to teachers, I ran to friends, and I ran to my parents. My parents eventually told me as an adult that they did try their hardest to keep tabs on me and the demons who were trying to eat away at my sanity by constantly checking in with teachers at my school. But outwardly, I remember my dad teaching me to keep repeating this phrase, Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

    Looking back, I think of that phrase as cute, but ultimately useless. See, here’s the thing about bullying. A lot of it can be done verbally, but its effects will haunt its victims psychologically. In fact, I’d argue today that words can be just as hurtful as those sticks and stones because those wounds weigh a person down for years—most times, without them even realizing it. I grew up with an intense insecurity and sense of self-loathing as a result of bullying, and even today, you could make a case for me not fully loving my own skin and I won’t disagree.

    I still hate my name, even omitting parts of my legal name on documents out of spite. I still look with disdain and disgust at my bullies, thinking of all the ways I’d bested them academically or financially, while they rot away at their mundane corporate jobs. I still have a humongous chip on my shoulder which forces me to constantly prove I’m better than everyone else, because that’s all I ever had to define my self-worth.

    Hell, it’s likely that victims never truly get over the bullying, even through their adulthood, which I know from personal experience. But what do you expect a kid to do when a bully terrorizes him at school? Tell the teachers? What’ll they do? Give him a slap on the wrist for “teasing?” When I was a student at Xavier School, bullying wasn’t even an offense that could get a student in detention, let alone get them tagged on their permanent records.

    What’s worse that in my time there, I was also bullied by teachers—the very same people I needed to turn to for help. And yet, these were the same pricks who buddied up with these “cool kids” because they never felt the same popularity when they were students. Here’s the worst part of it all: when you—as the victim—finally blow up and stand up for yourself and hit your bully in a moment of rage, you’re instantly tagged as the aggressor, and you’ll be the one who’d end up with a sanction. That, or you begin to believe the insults and you're convinced that you are a horrible person who doesn't deserve love and acceptance. Tell me how that isn’t fucked up.

    But if there was one thing that kept me together growing up, it was wrestling. I’d been exposed to it as a child, but I never really got to fully follow it until I was 13 or 14. By then, I’d known that the matches’ outcomes were predetermined. That didn’t matter, though, because I looked at it as another TV show with storylines I could follow just like the other series I watched at the time.

    What enamored me was the basic trope of wrestling storylines: good vs. evil. I watched bullies like Brock Lesnar, JBL, and Triple H make life miserable for guys like Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, who would become my heroes. I was horrified when they’d do despicable things like call for border police to arrest them for illegal immigration, use a sledgehammer to bludgeon their opponents’ skull, or mock their histories of drug abuse. But when Eddie finally won the WWE Championship from Brock Lesnar and when Benoit won the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XX, it felt like all the suffering had been worth it. In the end, the good guys won. If I couldn’t get that satisfaction in my real life, then at least, I could get that catharsis through wrestling.

    As an adult, I see the irony in me enjoying a medium which maximizes the perceived violence that performers put each other through. You’d imagine that for someone who grew up being bullied, I’d be averse towards any form of violence, full stop. But that perceived violence in wrestling stops becoming bothersome when you look at it as an art form, where wrestlers are more like dance partners than actual opponents. Wrestling insiders will tell you that the most important principle when being in the ring is to protect your opponent at all times—again, the irony isn’t lost on me.


    Here’s the thing about real life. Real life isn’t wrestling. In real life, when someone decides to fuck with you, you can’t demand a match against them at a pay-per-view to settle the score. When someone decides to make your life miserable, you can’t grab a foldable chair and smack them across the back when you’ve had enough. That’s assault and that can get you arrested. And again, there’s the irony in the bully-victim relationship. More often than not, the bully can get away with torturing his victim until the victim snaps and loses all sanity, and in the end, the bully is seen as the victim.

    That brings me to back where we began: why we have to talk about bullying and Mauro Ranallo.

    What’s most appalling about this whole situation is that WWE is now finding a way to keep Mauro Ranallo silent. And everyone who’s ever been bullied would—and should—know that that’s the last thing you should do when you’re a victim. Keeping mum is the one thing your bully wants you to do because if you stay silent, people will eventually forget about it. If you don’t talk about it, then there’s nothing to hold these assholes accountable for. Given the nature of bullying being a form of assault that’s not as physically visible as, I don’t know, murder, it’s really hard to prove you’ve been bullied unless you speak out yourself.

    It gets worse when you don’t have allies to back you up when you do decide to take a stand. When I was bullied, I wasn’t as lucky to have had a lot of friends to stick up for me when I needed them, let alone teachers who actually gave a shit about their students instead of their reputation among the “cool kids.”

    Mauro Ranallo is much more fortunate. He’s got the support of his MMA podcast partner Bas Rutten and that of the MMA community.

    And more importantly, he’s got the support of people like you and me, who are rightly incensed that he’s been treated with such blatant disrespect by someone like JBL, and that this shit is being condoned by WWE (or at least, the old guard of wrestling) to begin with. This week, fans at SmackDown Live have been chanting versions of “Fire Bradshaw” or “Fire JBL,” while we try to make #FireJBL a thing on Twitter. But that’s not enough.

    Mainstream media outlets like Sports Illustrated and the New York Post have begun covering this story in the U.S. as well. It’s also pretty timely that Justin Roberts’ autobiography about his time in the WWE, and all of his experiences being bullied by the likes of JBL, had just been released. Even sites like WhatCulture have begun fleshing out the story by digging up horror stories of talents who’ve been bullied by JBL over the years. Hell, JBL appears on half of that WhatCulture list. But even then, that’s not enough.

    We can’t just let #FireJBL get loud for a hot second and then forget about it when Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles begin tearing SmackDown Live up like we expect them to. We have to keep the conversation going because the bullying is real, and it’s only symptomatic of a larger disease. As our resident eulogist and most pragmatic writer, Maro Rimorin, puts it, wrestling is “a broken industry founded on broken principles and run by broken people.” He isn’t wrong because we have to face the fact that even if JBL is fired, if Vince McMahon continues to condone this shit, then the only way this ends is if Vince retires or when Vince dies, whichever comes first.


    So aside from keeping this conversation alive, what do we do?

    There has to be a massive public outcry towards WWE’s corporate sponsors. That’s one way to hit them where it hurts. Snickers, Mountain Dew, KFC, Tap Out, the USA Network—these are brands that are putting money into WWE. But if people call them out for conscientiously supporting a company who treats its talents very poorly and these sponsors decide to pull out, then that could be the first step before this all snowballs.

    See, at the end of the day, when you’re the victim of a bully, what you need is support. The last thing you want is for people to just take in whatever punishment you’re getting, whether you deserve it or not. That’s the type of shit that’ll trigger you to hide away in the deep, dark recesses of your mind, when you start to believe that what the bully says is real. Or that could trigger you to live with the broken pieces of yourself that you’ll never fully come to love nor accept. Or even worse, that could be the shit that triggers you to lash out at other people, or worst of all, to become a bully yourself. I know this because I’ve gone through all three, and there’s not a day in my life that I don’t regret any of these things.

    And frankly, that’s why I’m speaking up. I’m tired of bullying supposedly being a part of the business and supposedly toughening you up. Life does enough of that on a daily basis already. None of us need an extra asshole to make it worse for the rest of us. I’m speaking up because wrestling has always been a form of escapism for me whenever the bullying got too real and the insults too nasty. Wrestling has made me hope that through all the strife, good will always be victorious over evil. And while that hasn’t necessarily been our reality, especially in these dark, troubling times, isn’t it time we make it so for someone? Isn’t it time we make it real for once? Isn’t it time we put our foot down and tell the world that we’re tired of being forced to hate ourselves?

    We’re not going to change the ridiculous system in WWE overnight, in the same way we’re not going to eradicate bullying right here, right now, in (insert whatever town you’re in)! But we have to start somewhere. And holding JBL—and by extension, WWE—accountable for this is as good a place as any to begin the fight for change.

    So go and use #FireJBL, tweet WWE’s sponsors and tell them how angry you are, and keep the conversation alive on social media. No one person is truly untouchable, but together, we might just be strong enough to crack the system. Who knows? We might just get someone in that WWE Board to go, “Mamma mia!”


    Stan Sy (@_StanSyis the Editor at Large of Smark Henry, and is also an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast and The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, NXT, Lucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. He dresses up in fancy suits from time to time to book matches as PWR's General Manager.
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    Item Reviewed: Word Life: Why We Have To Keep Talking About Mauro Ranallo Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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