Another American athlete came out of the closet on Thursday, but the world hardly noticed. In an interview with TMZ, WWE superstar Darren Young, rather nonchalantly, acknowledged his sexuality. This is a big deal. Not because of Young’s admission, but because of the lack of headlines it generated.
WWE is not one of the major American sports, but it still has a large following. Leading into its second largest pay-per-view, Summerslam, the company’s flagship show, Monday Night Raw, has averaged around four million viewers. For a comparison, that is roughly a million more viewers, on average, than the 2012 Stanley Cup.
Professional wrestling has also vaulted into national media when news sources deem its happenings worthwhile. Chris Benoit’s double murder-suicide captured headlines in 2007. WWE has routinely made bad press on account of the large amount of early wrestler deaths. The company has also largely been on the forefront of steroid and PED reform.
In regards to entertainment news, WWE has also managed to weasel into the mainstream from time to time. ESPN covers a match whenever an A-list celebrity or athlete is involved. Recent Wrestlemania matches involving Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Brock Lesnar made the 11 o’clock Sportscenter. In 1996, Real American Hero Hulk Hogan turned heel—became a bad guy—in act so shocking that it, too, made the final cut of Sportscenter. Suffice to say, The Worldwide Leaders in Sports and wrestling entertainment have rubbed shoulders on more than a few occasions.
On Thursday there was no mention of Darren Young on the front pages of either ESPN or Sports Illustrated’s websites. Sports Illustrated was so starved for news that its side bar had two stories on Tom Brady—one that he hurt his knee, another that he was back at practice. In April, Jason Collins coming out dominated the media. Yesterday there was very little mention of Darren Young.
With professional wrestling it’s always best to be guarded about any newsworthy story. Performers are always somewhat in character, and anything can be part of the show. Just recently the WWE incorporated the death of a longtime employee into a—rather uncouth—storyline.
However, Young’s timing seems to suggest that this isn’t a typical WWE storyline grab. Young is a mid-card wrestler that works predominately in a tag team. Which is to say that he’s rarely, if ever, featured prominently. His announcement was also before the second-largest event of WWE’s year. His homosexuality is a non sequitur to any running plotlines heading into Summerslam. If any part of this story is a work it’s the timing. WWE is in Los Angeles, a major media market, and is ramping up the PR load. Young’s announcement, and the company’s immediate acceptance, shine one more light on WWE and possibly add a few more subscribers Sunday evening.
It’s refreshing to see how little traction this story has gained in the national press. Of any sport, you would think wrestling would be most adverse or wary of homosexuality. Major sports like basketball and football always address issues of the locker room. WWE also has a locker room, but the sport extends beyond that. Performers grapple, sweat, and sometimes bleed on each other. Their work resides somewhere between a tango and a fistfight. If any group of athletes were to be reticent of homosexuals it would be wrestlers. Yet there has been nothing but positivity and support coming from WWE performers and management.
When NFL players eventually come out it will be a big deal. Anything that happens in the NFL is a big deal. Hopefully, though, this latest coming out shows how far the country has progressed in merely four months. When people stop making headlines for their sexuality, ethnicity, race, and religion we, as a society, have truly evolved.