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Ross Forman always valued the ability to tell a good story.
It should come as no surprise then that he found himself drawn to both pro wrestling and journalism at an early, formative age, laying the foundation for a near-30-year career blending both of his loves.
Forman, an out gay man, has spent the last 17 years as head of media relations for IMPACT Wrestling, dating back to when it was known as TNA Wrestling. He helped build the company founded by wrestling legends Jeff and Jerry Jarrett into the major televised promotion it is today.
For his incredible impact on professional wrestling as an out gay man, Forman is one of our honorees in the inaugural Outsports Power 100.
Getting a foot in the door
Forman’s legacy in pro wrestling began more than a decade prior to his time with IMPACT.
He grew up watching pro wrestling as a fan, noting “Macho Man” Randy Savage as his all-time favorite.
He didn’t let his curiosity end with the images he saw. He wanted in.
“I always wanted to see if that was a real path,” Forman told Outsports. “I really had no interest in getting in the ring. I wanted to work behind the scenes.”
He found that foot in the door while attending Indiana University. In between balancing his college hockey career, his fraternity and attending classes, Forman worked for the student newspaper and another publication based out of Terre Haute, Ind.
He picked up his passion for journalism in high school, noting that it “just clicked” with him despite not being great at writing “long term papers or anything like that.” Putting those skills to work in college proved to be the needed catalyst.
“Anytime WWF came to Indianapolis, I would write about it,” Forman said. “Eventually I was talking with their PR person and said, ‘What about your magazine?’”
It wasn’t long after that conversation that Forman began writing for WWF Magazine on a freelance basis.
“I thought that was pretty cool as a college student to get those byline credits,” he recalled. “I cherish looking back at those memories.”
His work with WWF Magazine ultimately opened up a full-time spot as editor of the relaunched WCW Magazine in 1994 after Vince Russo took over as editor of WWF Magazine.
“[WWF] SummerSlam that year was in Chicago, so I went there and [Russo] told me at the time, ‘I’m the new editor. I’m going to write the whole thing. Your services aren’t really needed,’” Forman said. “It wasn’t any animosity, you know? That’s fine. Two months later, WCW asked me, ‘Hey, we’re going to relaunch our magazine. We’d like you to be the editor.’
“One of the stories I always laughed at when we agreed to do it was WCW said to me, ‘Well, at this point, you cannot write for WWF Magazine if you’re going to do our magazine,’ which I kind of laughed at. I’m like, ‘Man, that won’t be a problem.’ It was off to the races at that point.”
Taking the helm at WCW Magazine
The newly minted editor took a more journalistic approach to building WCW Magazine in an era where most pro wrestling publications strictly wrote within the context of the pro wrestling presentation.
“I’m not just going to write something. If it’s a feature story on Kevin Nash, it’s going to be with quotes from Kevin Nash. It’s not going to be what I think Kevin or Kevin’s character would say,” Forman said. “At that point, there were a lot of newsstand magazines, and I’m not quite sure that all those stories that included a quote from somebody were direct quotes from the wrestler, but that was one thing I was adamant about.”
That approach opened new opportunities for Forman to get to know the WCW roster and be entrusted to tell deeply personal stories related to them.
“For several years, whenever we wrote about Sting it was just Sting the character talking,” Forman recalled. “I wrote the first story he ever did as Steve Borden, and that was him talking about the real person.”
Forman recalls writing a candid article about a WCW talent overcoming drug addiction.
“That was his way of helping himself get past his demons,” he said. “He wanted to talk about it publicly, what he endured, and he trusted me to tell his story. People might say, ‘That’s only pro wrestling,’ but these are real people. It’s flattering and humbling to me when they trust me enough to tell their story.”
One story that remains close to Forman’s heart is a piece on pro wrestling icon Bret Hart following the tragic in-ring death of his brother, Owen Hart, during a WWE event in 1999.
“I went up to Calgary with Bret, and we went to the grave site where Owen is buried. At the grave site, there is a bench and in the middle of the bench is a plaque dedicated to his memory,” Forman said. “I have a photo of Bret and I sitting on that bench in my office that means a lot to me. He trusted me to tell his story, to put his life, his world and what he’d been going through out there for everybody.”
It stuck for Hart as well, as a chance meeting between the two at last year’s WrestleCon convention saw him tell Forman that he was his favorite memory from WCW in front of a collection of IMPACT personnel.
“That’s pretty powerful,” Forman said.
Forman’s time at WCW saw him take on additional responsibilities, building his public relations skills as marketing manager, accompanying WCW talents to appearances, photographing matches and being asked to join the creative team. He even got an on-screen moment with Savage at WCW’s “Road Wild 1999” event where Savage clocked him, stole his camera and used it as a weapon in his match against famed NBA champion Dennis Rodman.
“It’s crazy, especially when some of the guys now learn that you were beat up by Randy Savage,” Forman chuckled. “You know, here’s one of the greatest of all-time and your all-time favorite wrestler, and he’s beating me up on pay-per-view.”
When WCW closed its doors after being sold to WWE in 2001, Forman didn’t know if that would also be the end of his wrestling journey. He wanted to continue working in the business he loved, but WWE was the only major promotion at the time, and an offer to join TNA Wrestling prior to its 2002 launch “didn’t work out at that point.”
He wound up joining TNA in 2006, but the time away from pro wrestling didn’t slow his journalistic endeavors. He wrote for USA Today, Chicago Tribune, The Daily Herald, Windy City Times and a collection of other publications, turning his focus to sports and LGBTQ topics.
Forman has covered everything from the HIV/AIDS crisis to prominent DJs to LGBTQ athletes and events. He utilized his role in the Chicago hockey community to help facilitate bringing the Stanley Cup to the Chicago Pride Parade after the Chicago Blackhawks won it in 2010.
His profile of out gay former NFL player Esera Tuaolo earned him the Chicago Headline Club Lisagor Award for Best Sports Story in 2012.
“I never thought in my wildest imagination that I would win sports story of the year,” Forman said, holding the award. One of the first people he contacted afterward was the dean of IU’s journalism school when he was a student.
“Journalism school wasn’t easy for me, so I was very appreciative when the team worked with me,” he recalled. “I contacted him just to let him know that that struggling journalist from Indiana has done pretty well with his writing.”
And Forman has continued that work during his time with IMPACT. He continues to cover LGBTQ topics for Chicago Pride and sports with Sports Collectors Digest while managing media operations for the pro wrestling organization.
Advancing LGBTQ inclusion in pro wrestling
His focus on the LGBTQ community through his work with IMPACT is also a key point of pride for Forman. He helped facilitate IMPACT’s partnership with the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance, organized media and advocacy tours for pro wrestlers Kiera Hogan and Gisele Shaw after coming out and continues to highlight fellow out IMPACT wrestlers, including Jai Vidal and “Speedball” Mike Bailey.
Forman said the friendships he has forged with the IMPACT locker room, fans and office, including floor director Ingrid Isley and production supervisor John E. Bravo, are the most gratifying aspect of his time with the company.
“I just think we’re really close-knit. Maybe it’s because we are a smaller company. We don’t have the front office or the wrestling quantity that other companies may have, but it’s a fun place to work.”
The growth of LGBTQ identities in pro wrestling is also a key point of reflection for Forman as he looked back at his own wrestling journey. He expressed amazement at Outsports’ annual QWI 200 list and the amount of out figures throughout the pro wrestling world.
“It’s great with what everybody can do and be themselves,” he said. “It’s a different landscape than 20 years ago. When you can come up with a list of 200 out wrestlers, that speaks volumes right there.”
Forman remains “flattered, humbled and purely honored” at his inclusion in the 2023 Outsports Power 100 as he continues his own story.
“I’ve done a lot,” Forman said. “I’ve been fortunate and I’ve had a lot of people who have supported me. When people have trusted me, I’ve given trust … it’s a super honor that I don’t take lightly.”
You can follow Ross Forman on Twitter.