Pittsburgh-based pro wrestling promotion Ryse Wrestling severed ties with play-by-play commentators Paul Atlas and Jim LaMotta following the company’s Ryse Returns event on June 19 after both continually misgendered out Ryse roster member and prominent video game critic Stephanie Sterling during the broadcast.
Sterling, known in Ryse as Commander Sterling, identifies as trans non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, information that, according to both Ryse Wrestling creative lead Marcus Mann and Ryse Returns pre-show host and video games critic Laura Kate Dale, was provided to all announcers on the show, including Atlas and LaMotta, in written form prior to the event’s start.
“Ryse was very good about proactively providing that information without being asked,” Dale told Outsports. “Making sure that everyone working on the show had pronoun information provided to them was very important to the organizers.”
Despite having that information in hand, both Atlas and LaMotta misgendered Sterling multiple times while they were in the ring setting up the night’s main event match. Atlas and LaMotta’s commentary aired exclusively on the online broadcast of the show, which was hosted on Sterling’s personal Twitch channel. Viewers watching the event on Sterling’s Twitch channel, many of whom were trans and non-binary, immediately reacted with disappointment.
Mann told Outsports that he was made aware of the issue midway through the segment and verbally reminded the commentary team of Sterling’s correct pronouns before the segment ended. News of the issue reached Sterling shortly after they returned backstage.
“While I didn’t let it affect my performance in front of the crowd, I was very unhappy backstage and found it difficult to hide the sheer embarrassment and anger I felt at being so blatantly disrespected in front of my audience on my own Twitch channel,” Sterling told Outsports.
Ryse Returns represented Sterling’s first appearance in the company since transitioning and saw the event as an important moment to “assert” their identity. “It broke my heart that a return show I’d thought about for months was so completely undermined and that my biggest wish for the night was trampled on.”
Mann pulled Atlas and LaMotta aside during the show’s intermission and spoke with both again about using correct pronouns for Sterling during the rest of the event. “We asked if they could do the job or not,” Mann said. “Both were very apologetic to myself and [Ryse] owner Brandon K and assured us they would both do better.”
Atlas and LaMotta returned to the booth after intermission as Sterling returned to the ring alongside out pro wrestler MV Young for their final appearance of the night. Before the planned segment got underway, Young directly called out the commentary team for not respecting Sterling’s pronouns.
“Sterling is one brave motherfucker for coming out here to Western Pennsylvania, and they are one of the most positive voices in the queer community today,” Young said before embracing a visibly emotional Sterling and exiting the ring.
@xShawnXphoenix @THEonlyMVYoung @JimSterling— .°• kaf •°. (@TheDayface) June 20, 2021
Slightly better quality:https://t.co/c5KS6S4HSh
Full stream (02:07:00): https://t.co/uawwJpCo3y#RyseReturns #LGBTQIA+ #them #they #pronouns #trans #nonbinaryfinery pic.twitter.com/g9k4dVji2x
“For a lot of his speech I was thinking ‘I can’t believe he said motherfucker,’” Sterling recalled. “I was pretty overwhelmed by his words, and the hug I gave him afterward was very genuine.” T
They continued: “MV Young is someone that I admire in this business … and somebody who has looked out for me since we first got to know each other.”
But the misgendering didn’t stop after Young’s speech. While LaMotta made an effort to correct himself, Atlas made no attempt to do so. Both were removed from commentary with three matches remaining on the card. Mann, Tyler Cross and pro wrestler Shawn Phoenix, who corrected another announcer on Sterling’s pronouns earlier in the broadcast, finished out the event in their place.
“As a trans person, I was relieved when the commentary team was replaced,” Dale said. “During the first half of the show there was a certain degree of plausible deniability … but after MV Young made a point of coming on stage and very directly addressing the commentary team that they needed to get their act together on Sterling’s pronouns, to see the misgendering continue was deeply disheartening.”
According to Dale, who was monitoring the Twitch broadcast remotely, the constant misgendering of Sterling drove a significant portion of the audience away. Much of that heavily trans and non-binary audience tuning was doing so because they follow Sterling and Dale’s work in the video games field, most notably Sterling’s weekly YouTube series “The Jimquisition” and Dale’s “Access-Ability” video series.
“I think the majority of the audience was won over by the end of the night, but, in the moment, [Atlas] and [LaMotta] turned a lot of potential new wrestling fans away and we had to work overtime to bring them back,” Sterling said. “I don’t hold Ryse responsible for that, but those hosts did hurt Ryse’s reputation for many first time viewers for whom respecting pronouns is a personally important matter,” Dale added.
According to Mann, LaMotta resigned from Ryse immediately after the event because “he felt he did not do enough in that moment.” Atlas was informed that he wouldn’t be used on Ryse events for the foreseeable future. The decision falls in line with the company’s harassment policy, which is publicly available online and is read aloud at Ryse events.
A notice for fans coming to our event tonight.— Ryse Wrestling (@rysewrestling) June 19, 2021
This is our official policy on harassment. Fan interaction is crucial to our shows. Be loud. Get involved. But be kind to each other. We want you to be you and enjoy the show. pic.twitter.com/HNdSNK8paQ
“Ignorant attitudes and unwillingness to respect somebody’s gender identity have no place at Ryse, which is why I am proud to call it my home,” Sterling said. “I never want to see them again, I will not share a venue, a card, a show, or anything else with them again. The current plan is to continue to stream Ryse, and I would absolutely never welcome that team back into my house.”
The company plans to re-record commentary for the portion of Ryse Returns featuring Atlas and LaMotta for the event’s on-demand release.
In a statement to Outsports, LaMotta confirmed his resignation, said his misgendering of Sterling was due to his lack of “experience with announcing matches for non-binary wrestling” and offered apologies to Sterling and “anyone else that was upset” for his “unintentional mistakes.”
Atlas, on the other hand, threatened critics of his disrespectful comments, referring to them as “keyboard warriors,” with physical violence in a tweet following the event before locking his Twitter account.
Sterling called Atlas’ comments “pathetic and cowardly,” stating, “it was frankly a weak display from an old guard wrestleboy who thinks ‘keyboard warrior’ is still a relevant insult.”
Apropos of nothing, I just want to say that @JimSterling looked amazing in their dress and wresting kit last night. Also, Craig the Intern in a silver morphsuit was fantastic, and @THEonlyMVYoung is a king for calling out those shitty transphobic announcers. #RyseReturns pic.twitter.com/dbBPbNUZLU— Katlamos Quickdraw (@Katlamos) June 20, 2021
Dale shared similar sentiments. “Any benefit of the doubt I might have given to [Atlas} on commentary went out the window when his response to being replaced was to go on Twitter and complain about ‘keyboard warriors’ he would punch in the face,” Dale said. “No apology, no feeling he had done anything wrong, just a disregard for those hurt by his actions.”
Atlas did not respond to Outsports’ request for comment.
Both Sterling and Dale commended Mann and other Ryse officials for their handling of the situation and stressed that Saturday’s events shouldn’t reflect on their or Ryse’s commitment to inclusion. In hindsight, Mann wished he had pulled Atlas and LaMotta sooner.
“I don’t make excuses, I only live in a world of solutions. The proper way to handle the situation is that there never would have been a situation to handle,” Mann said. “Knowing what I know now I would have just made the change at intermission.”
Mann also apologized to the trans and non-binary viewers who tuned out due to Atlas and LaMotta’s actions.
“That’s not what we want our company to be about. We stand by our talent, we stand by Sterling, and we stand by the decision to pull commentary,” Mann said. “I truly hope that everyone can move to the next chapter and lift people up to be welcome at any event.
“Long-term, I don’t think the unprofessional commentary will outweigh the response Ryse has had in the aftermath,” Sterling said. “If anything, I hope it shows my audience that pro wrestling can be for everyone except for those who don’t think wrestling is for everyone.“