Bad guys in professional wrestling should still be able to be effective bad guys. Fans who attend the shows need to take responsibility.
In the past week, incidents in the wrestling world involving bad guys have made mainstream news.
WWE Champion CM Punk made headlines by swinging and hitting a fan on live television. This happened after being physically provoked for more than 30 seconds as he stood in a sea of Sacramento wrestling fans.
Alberto Del Rio upset a mother at a non-televised live event when he ripped her 8-year-old son's Sheamus poster. This caused the boy to cry and Del Rio to mock the boy's tears.
CM Punk's actions aren't what any boss wants out of his employee. Hitting the paying customer wasn't the first thing listed to do in the company handbook of how to handle yourself. However, I can't rip CM Punk apart, nor can I say I wouldn't have done the same thing if I was in the same position.
I put some blame on WWE. Where was the security?
WWE has their own personal security who takes over the individual arena's security for every event. They lead the way in instructing where security is needed in accordance to the show. CM Punk is booked to be a sitting duck for more than a minute during the climax of the Raw episode. No excuse to not be prepared for this.
He is standing still in a crowd of people who he was just paid to berate all night long. He got pushed and hit several times until finally he had enough.
What do you notice after he took a swing at someone? Not one person touched him after that. It's a shame because it appeared that he went after the wrong guy.
WWE's official statement released also seems to recognize that the security was not adequate:
"WWE security was unfortunately not in the appropriate place at the time. Given CM Punk's persona as a 'bad guy' fans were naturally heckling him, but unfortunately a few fans began shoving him and one struck him in the kidney and on the back.
"WWE regrets that proper security measures were not in place, and CM Punk apologizes for reacting in the heat of the moment."
As a heel, you're trying to get the people to a fever pitch of wanting to see you get you butt kicked. This why they cheer for the face. They want the bad guy to get beat up.
A few fans on Monday night got those lines blurred. They thought that because the bad guy was within arm's reach, that they could touch him. That isn't the way it works.
If the people who were pushing CM Punk did that to any other person, say in a bar, that person would likely retaliate physically. The fans were ignorant. They wanted to take advantage of CM Punk being the talent and felt they could get away with it because of his status.
This is the same when CM Punk or any public figure lashes out at fans on social media. I hear people talking about how the public figure should be the bigger person or letting the fans use their right to speak their mind.
Why can't the fan be the big person? If fans have a right to speak their mind, why can't the talent speak theirs?
I've heard comparisons to the incident in 2004, when NBA player Ron Artest got into a fight with fans at a game. Not a fair comparison. Ron Artest left the court and ran into the stands where the fans were sitting.
CM Punk was in the stands as part of the show. He was trying to perform in the show and was being physically provoked.
The incident with Alberto Del Rio was unique and familair to me all at once.
A classic heel move of ripping up a sign to get heat and further his bad guy character. Now the boy's mother is unhappy with the whole scenario.
When I first heard the story, my initial thought was just pure shock. I've seen and heard of this happening hundreds of times in my life. How has a mother gotten this story to the front page of TMZ?
I had a conversation with the mother, Shelly Ehler, regarding the incident. For the most part, Ehler just provided a detailed account of what was already reported on TMZ.
She also talked about how grateful she was of WWE Superstar Sheamus for reaching out to her. Sheamus was the wrestler that her son's sign was supporting. He wanted to make it better by sending an autograph to her son and planning to meet him the next time he's in town.
It was hearing her side of the story—the circumstances—that got me thinking.
This was the first wrestling show she had attended. Her 8-year-old son is smaller than the typical size for his age, as he's only 42 inches tall.
Ehler explained to me:
“I've never seen something like this my life. This big wrestler is mocking my 8-year-old son....My son was devastated. He was more scared than anything.
“When you a take child, something they love, something that's very special to them, blatantly destroy it to their face―it's bullying.
“There's all older people there with signs. But to do that to a young child, my son is 42 inches tall. He's a tiny, little guy. To target a little guy like that, and to steal something from him and when you see him cry to try make it even worse and taunt him? I just don't think that's okay, ever. Like I said to you, I've never been to an event like this. I never knew a thing like this existed. Had I known, are you kidding me? I would have never brought my kid and subjected him to something like that. I'm still shocked the WWE allows this and thinks it's okay. Really?”
I explained to Ehler that while I wasn't happy to hear that her son got scared, Del Rio was just being a bad guy character. I talked about how Sheamus winning the match is then supposed to make fans—like her son—more excited that he defeated Del Rio.
Ehler replied with appreciation that I explained to her the other side.
“I am totally open to see other people's opinions, and I respect that you told me that.”
She would go on say that despite it being something not uncommon in wrestling, she still interpreted the actions as bullying.
“When you can't do anything about it, and someone is more powerful than you, takes something from you and says, 'Too bad,' it's actually defined as bullying.”
For me, I've been around wrestling and wrestlers nearly all my life. My grandfather was involved with promoting pro wrestling. This got me backstage around legendary wrestlers like George “The Animal” Steele and Bam Bam Bigelow at a young age―just about the same age as Ehler's son.
I learned and saw at a very early age the behind-the-scenes parts of the show. I saw these big bad characters behind the scenes and, for the most part, they were the friendliest people I had ever met. I, like many other lifelong wrestling fans, see a bad guy ripping up a fan's sign to be as common as a hip toss.
This is for myself and many others, but Ehler didn't have the same past experience to prepare her for Del Rio's actions. For her and her son, it was seen as being singled out and bullied.
Two sides to every story. Two edges to every sword. Two roads in every fork. I have sympathy for all involved in both situations.
The guy CM Punk swung at appears to have not done anything intentionally wrong. He was in the wrong place surrounded by the wrong, irresponsible fans. But again, if I was CM Punk, I would have done the same thing.
The mother and son got their feelings hurt by taking part in a stunt that's very common, but they had no knowledge that the stunt could ever be a possibility while sitting in the front row. Alberto Del Rio didn't have the intention of inflicting real-life harm on the child. He was trying to be the biggest jerk he could in the hopes that the young Sheamus fan would get more vindication by the end of the match.
So what can we learn from all of this?
There is as much responsibility on the fans as there is on the performers.
Know how to treat the performers. Just because they are under a spotlight doesn't give you the right to cross a line of respect. Know the environment of the show and the position you could be in.
I don't fault a mother for being protective of her son. But you have to remember it's an entertainment show, and you can't take things personally.
Times have changed. Standards have changed. Bad guys have changed.
Everybody has a camera in their pocket. The internet and social media highlight the immediacy of information. Trying to have a genre based on conflict but also promote a PR anti-bullying campaign―there isn't enough room for it all.
Every fan in one of those situations loses some respect for the performer(s), the company or the genre.
The paying fan who seemed to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time is now mad at WWE and CM Punk The mother and her son are now scared and disgusted at what can happen at a live show.
Professional wrestling is a special form of live theatre. When you pay for a ticket, you're signing yourself up to be a part of the show.
It's the audience's responsibility to know the line. They have to know that their involvement can get emotional.
They also have to make sure to control their emotions and respect the performance.