What happens when two diametrically opposed sports personalities clash in their opinions on pro wrestling? The same thing that always happens, apparently. Bill Simmons, a long-time wrestling fan, went on ESPN’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd to talk about pro wrestling and his upcoming appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw, and it went about as well as you’d expect. See, okay. There’s this thing that happens when you’re a Canadian from a small town, or even just Canadian in general. Every time we’re watching a popular, mainstream American show or movie, and we see any instances of Canada, or specifically things that feature where we’re from, it’s a big deal. Canada? Nova Scotia? Toronto? Winnipeg? But that’s where I’m from!
The same thing happens with pro wrestling. Any time it goes beyond the generally accepted parameters of the wrestling community, we get excited. That’s our thing we love! Seeing someone in a wrestling shirt in the wild is like being in another country and seeing someone sporting something very specifically Canadian; it’s a brief, thrilling moment of an unspoken personal connection with a stranger. Just like my experiences with wrestling fans out in the real world hasn’t always been top notch, people in mainstream media discussing pro wrestling is not… well, it’s not great. Say “Nancy Grace” to any wrestling fan, and actual lava forms behind their eyeballs. Okay, that’s any normal person you say “Nancy Grace” to, so maybe that’s a flawed example.
From the outside, wrestling is a carny, degrading, prejudiced, dangerous business full of unnecessary deaths and fraught with drug and steroid abuse. I mean, the view form the inside is the same, we just also see the good parts instead of refusing to acknowledge that they exist. Colin Cowherd has taken a very strong, very public anti-wrestling stance in the past. He’s referred to wrestlers as “roided out freaks,” and uses the deaths of wrestlers like Owen Hart, Eddie Guerrero, and most recently Ultimate Warrior to justify that basically everyone is on drugs, wrestling kills people and nothing else exists in the pro wrestling world.
It’s rhetoric that doesn’t take any amount of research or knowledge on what you’re talking about, but it seems like you’re taking a moral stand on it when you shout. The reality is that you’re not doing anything to address the causes, to empathize with victims or families, or trying to have a conversation that brings any amount of change. Bill Simmons seemed prepared for this, most likely because he’s a professional, but also has had to defend himself against Cowherd before.
I used to watch pro-wrestling when I was a kid, but I also used to eat my boogers. You’re a good looking guy with a big broad life and you’re super smart, and you’re going to be on WWE Monday Night Raw talking about guys fake wrestling. You would be the last person in the company I’d expect to like fake wrestling. What is it?
Simmons asked if he’s seen any movies recently, and Cowherd responded that he just watched The Imitation Game.
“Did you hold it against Benedict Cumberbatch that he couldn’t really overthrow Germany? Did that ruin the movie for you? It’s people playing parts and playing characters, and they’re trying to beat the crap out of each other. These guys take a lot of punishment. I think as athletes, they’re amazing. There’s no off season.”
Simmons then went on to ask if it was so bad, why would someone like their coworker Michelle Beadle like it? And then Cowherd said something that makes his stance pretty clear:
“Most people who like it I have utter disdain for. But when people I like watch it and I seek out their opinions, it disappoints me greatly. It’d be like if I found out our President played with LEGOs during summits.”
That’s a huge problem, huh. Not just that the distillation of what pro wrestling is so problematic that it makes him not want to have anything to do with it, but that wrestling fans help drive him away. Now, I don’t really care what two shouty white dudes have to say about something I love, but it’s really telling when people he likes give their opinions, he doesn’t try to listen, or learn, or grow. He’s just disappointed in them.
Now, this guy is obviously being a total butt-head (the technical term, as far as I know), but it’s hard not to think that someone in the mainstream is being kept away from changing his opinion on a thing he admittedly used to enjoy. I don’t know how many more red flags go up before people realize that the culture of wrestling has to change, both for it’s own sustainability, but also because, much like Bill Simmons, much like Michelle Beadle, and much like any person who loves wrestling and wants others to love it, I want to stop having the same argument.