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Pro Wrestler Hurls Anti-Gay Invective

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Jul 7, 2011
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A WWE wrestler took it out of the ring and made it homophobic when he hurled anti-gay invective at an audience member, Examiner.com reported on July 6.

The WWE was touring Australia when Punk called a fan a "homo," the Baltimore Sun reported on July 5. The exchange was captured on video and became an Internet sensation. TMZ reported on the incident on July 4. Punk subsequently tweeted an apology.

"I’m glad TMZ posted that video because everybody needs to be held accountable for their bullshit, me included," Punk sent out, reported multiple news sites, including Wrestling News World. "What I said was bullshit. I’m embarrassed. I own up to being a total douche in this situation and I offer a sincere apology to anybody I hurt with careless words."

WWE sent out its own statement, though it was less an apology than a distancing of the WWE from the wrestler’s remark.

"WWE does not condone this type of language or bias and we reinforce that with our talent who are independent contractors," the statement said.

WWE and GLAAD jointly mounted a highly publicized initiative to educate pro wrestlers about homophobia following a homophobic rap by John Sena in February. A second instance of anti-gay commentary took place in March, when announcer Michael Cole "tweeted the word ’faggot’ " to fellow announcer Josh Mathews, according to a March 29 posting at 365 Gay.com.

"WWE takes this issue very seriously, and has already spoken with our talent about these incidents," a WWE spokesperson said at the time. "We are taking steps and working with GLAAD to ensure that our fans know that WWE is against bullying or discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."

365 Gay reported that Cole sent out a new tweet to make amends for the slur. "I apologize to any and all who were offended by my tweet toward young Josh Mathews," Cole sent out. "It was obviously not meant the way it was taken."

Punk’s slur was the latest in a string of setbacks for a company that has recast itself from earlier days, noted a Bleacher Report editorial.

"Long gone is the Attitude Era, and in its place is a more family-friendly company," wrote Adam Wells in the column. "This is a WWE with shareholders, with characters and storylines that pander to children."

Added Wells, "This is the WWE gone Disney, and when CM Punk got into an altercation with a fan in Australia, he shattered that image the company has worked so hard to portray."

Homophobia in the realm of professional sports has long been stereotypical. but that is beginning to change. In addition to high-profile responses, such as the one undertaken jointing by WWE and GLAAD, pro athletes are now emerging as supporters of GLBT causes, even though an active gay American athlete has yet to come out of the closet.

But the time may not be far off. Already, one ESPN gay sports announcer has outed himself, and on the air no less. In January, a sports columnist for a conservative Boston tabloid emerged from the closet. In May, the CEO of the Phoenix Suns, Rick Welts, came out of the closet.

In other nations, gay athletes have been edging out of the closet for years now, including British rugby player Gareth Thomas and Australian diver, gold medalist Matthew Mitcham.

British Rugby World Cup winner Ben Cohen, a heterosexual athlete, recently embarked on a new career as a public speaker as well as anti-bullying activist. Cohen’s new StandUp Foundation launched less than two months ago.

But anti-gay jibes remain common parlance in the field, or court, of play. In April, Kobe Bryant hurled anti-gay invective at a coach; the following month, an identical slur was given voice by the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah. Both players apologized, saying that they were speaking not out of homophobic hatred but simply responding in the heat of the moment.

But the use of such reflexive slurs is part of the point, GLBT equality advocates say.

"We need to get to a point where you don’t use an anti-gay slur to respond to events," Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said after Noah’s outburst.

The Examiner.com article said that Punk has rejected contract renewal offers and will be leaving WWE later this month.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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