Pro-wrestling’s “Stone Cold” Steve Austin voiced his support for gay marriage on his weekly podcast months ago and WWE fans weren’t surprised. But when audio of that weekly podcast, below, hit more mainstream corners of the Internet this week, suddenly Stone Cold’s perfectly reasonable and, yes, unsurprising view on marriage equality becomes news. What gives?
Nostalgia. For those who still think of today’s WWE as yesteryear’s WWF, when extreme masculinity equated to fan respect, a pro-wrestler being okay with homosexuality seems unthinkable. That’s perfectly understandable. Back then, any bit of feminine swag (besides, of course, the oiled-up muscles and tiny spandex outfits) made a wrestler an instant bad guy. Back then it was the bigger, the better, the more “real American.”
But times change, organizations evolve. Or devolve, in the case of WWE’s “Attitude Era” in the late ’90s and early ’00s. For fans who grew to love Stone Cold during that time, his time, it’s quite understandable why people would be surprised at Austin’s political views of late. Besides Austin, who came into the ring and exhibited such manly acts as shotgunning beer, sassing his boss and wearing jorts, there was the Rock, Triple H and a whole slew of other manly men, who would trash-talk their opponents using homophobic jabs. Many fans ate it up. Here’s a low point too stupid to embed (NSFW).
But then things got real. Literally, what’s now known as the “Reality Era” reigns today, and the line between kayfabe (the term used to describe the story lines behind a wrestler’s in-ring character) and the wrestler’s real-life personality has become blurred. In other words, it’s largely okay to be yourself in today’s WWE, and luckily not many people around today seem to be huge homophobes, and if the company slips and does regress back in time, they get called out and apologize for it like adults.
But that kind of smack-talk is happening less and less, and the concept of what makes a WWE superstar is changing. Today, you don’t need to be 6-foot-whatever, ‘roided-up greaser to get to the top. You don’t need to trash-talk your opponents using over-the-top, homophobic slang to become the best. And you don’t have to be straight to be a WWE superstar, which superstar Darren Young proved when he nonchalantly came out to TMZ last year and still has a fruitful WWE career, although he’s currently temporarily sidelined with an injury.
Most importantly, though, Young had and continues to have the support of his colleagues, including John Cena, who’s a bit of a holdover from previous eras (after all, he wears jorts). That’s because the WWE is one of the most progressive organizations in sports entertainment and in the athletic world, in general, and the notoriously loud and active WWE fan base continues to respect Young, as well. If fans turn on him, it won’t be because of his sexuality but rather his performance. And that’s why no one should be surprised by Steve Austin’s views.
Maybe football can learn a thing or two …