UPDATE: WWE released a statement Friday on behalf of Lars Sullivan, aka Dylan Miley, apologizing for his past hateful comments.
“There is no excuse for the inappropriate remarks that I made years ago. They do not reflect my personal beliefs nor who I am today, and I apologize to anyone I offended.”
WWE itself has not yet addressed any of the other incidents of homophobia detailed by Outsports, below.
Original Story: To say WWE’s recent relations with its LGBTQ fans have been problematic would be an understatement. Over the past two weeks, both company contracted talent and WWE itself have been involved in a variety of homophobic incidents.
Hearing WWE and homophobia in the same sentence is unsurprising. The pro wrestling juggernaut has a decades-long history of utilizing discriminatory language and actions in both its storylines and business practices. This is the same company that pulled a bait and switch on GLAAD, after all.
The most recent wave of events began on April 24 during a live stream on NXT wrestler Brennan Williams’ Twitch channel. A viewer’s $15 donation requesting to “receive an insult in Spanish or Australian” prompted fellow NXT wrestler and former NXT UK women’s champion Rhea Ripley, a native Australian, to fulfill the request with a homophobic slur.
“You stupid motherfucking faggot … there’s an insult for you from Australia. We can say all those,” Ripley said. She released an apology later that night via Twitter, claiming that her “brain to mouth filter came down for a second” during the stream. All videos on Williams’ Twitch channel were deleted soon after.
Four days later came another homophobic incident, but this time it was televised. A segment during the April 30 episode of WWE’s flagship program, Monday Night Raw, depicted the villain tag team The Revival being “secretly recorded” while shaving each other’s backs while wearing only towels.
The scene quickly devolved into thinly veiled gay jokes, masked as questioning the wrestlers’ manhood. It is unknown which member(s) of the company’s extensive writing roster scripted the offensive segment, but all storylines are subject to approval by WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon.
Rather than distance themselves from the scene, WWE doubled down by promoting the anti-gay angle via Twitter that night.
The segment was met with heavy backlash, but that didn’t keep the company from recapping it on the May 6 episode of Monday Night Raw.
WWE’s business relationships weren’t exempt from the wave of bigotry either. On May 1, the company announced its June 7 return to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as part of its 10 year agreement with the Saudi General Sports Authority, reportedly worth $450 million. The unnamed event will be the company’s third under its incredibly lucrative deal with the Saudi government. It will also be the third to come under heavy scrutiny.
WWE’s first Saudi-funded event, April 2018’s Greatest Royal Rumble, was criticized for its exclusion of female talent and inclusion of pro-Saudi puff pieces, with some categorizing the presentations as propaganda.
Its next event, Nov. 2018’s Crown Jewel, went on despite calls for WWE to cancel the event after the CIA confirmed Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s role in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The WWE’s only public comment on the killing was that it was “monitoring the situation.”
The announcement of the June 7 event means that WWE will continue to take money and tacitly support a regime with one of the worst records of discrimination against the LGBTQ community. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, Saudi Arabia is one of 70 nations that still criminalizes same-sex relationships and consensual sex acts between adults. Even worse, being gay and/or transgender is not only illegal, it’s punishable by death under Saudi Arabian law.
These facts garnered renewed attention thanks to reports of the beheading of 37 Saudi prisoners in Riyadh — the location of WWE’s Crown Jewel event — as well as Mecca and Medina on April 23. Five of the men were executed for allegedly engaging in gay acts after one prisoner allegedly revealed he had sex with four other prisoners in a confession obtained through torture.
WWE realizes the problems its association with the House of Saud present, but the company continues to cannibalize its public image in favor of the bottom line. The company dodged questions about the Saudi deal during its Q1 2019 earnings call in April, continuing its cagey approach to reporting revenue from the agreement.
Most recently, a collection of homophobic, racist, misogynist and all-around hateful comments resurfaced on Tuesday, allegedly made by WWE wrestler Lars Sullivan on the Bodybuliding.com forums prior to signing with WWE.
Under the usernames “elperfecto” and “disenfranchised,” Sullivan expressed his approval of mocking gay people while stating he would make any gay man that openly talked about having sex with another man feel like “a worthless outcast of society.” Sullivan went on to make light of out former WWE wrestler Chris Kanyon’s suicide in a different thread.
Sullivan seems to be blocking any Twitter user confronting him about the posts, but fellow WWE wrestler Big E didn’t hesitate to respond online, when asked by fans about Sullivan’s comments.
Many are aware. If true, he has to bear the albatross of being a bigot & working in a company that is now filled with minorities.— Florida Man (@WWEBigE) May 8, 2019
Sullivan referred to Big E’s New Day partner and close friend Kofi Kingston as someone that looks like he “could be in a prison black gang.”
If WWE isn’t going to be influenced by a nation’s propensity to execute individuals for allegedly being LGBTQ, then it comes as no surprise that this $801 million dollar company wouldn’t take a stance against homophobia within its own workforce or product. Just look at the last two weeks. At least Ripley apologized, which is more than can be said of the company’s other offenders.