Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Updated: September 3, 6:11 PM ET
Hayes opens doors for African-American wrestlers
Smackdown producer and Fabulous Freebird Michael Hayes provided a great service for African-American wrestlers currently on the WWE roster without even knowing it. On April 23rd Hayes, who made a racial remark to Mark Henry, was suspended for 60 days by WWE CEO Vince McMahon.
Since the suspension, there have been a number of African-American wrestlers that didn't have a shot at becoming a champion.
Mark Henry is the ECW World's Heavyweight Champion and I don't believe it is a coincidence that he is the leader of ECW's roster. When Hayes uttered a slur at Henry, it opened a door for "The World's Strongest Man" after 12 years with the company. Henry was often injured, but when he was healthy he never was thought of as championship material.
Kofi Kingston, who recently lost the WWE Intercontinental title to Santino Marella, was given the opportunity to become champion very early in his WWE career. He's exciting and will be heard from again.
Shelton Benjamin, the WWE's "Gold Standard," is the new WWE United States Champion. After being involved in a few embarrassing creative skits, Benjamin is finally being recognized as a singles wrestler that can be the workhorse in matches as a champion.
African-American wrestlers have always had the ability to increase attendance with their presence. The Junkyard Dog was a box office attraction in the Mid-South Wrestling area and the WWE as he feuded with the Freebirds, Kamala, King Kong Bundy, Ted Dibiase and others.
Sadly, promoters in the "territory" days looked at African-American wrestlers as a joke -- considered by some as dancers who could shuck and jive, and offer a speech pattern reminiscent of Good-Times character "J.J. Evans".
I remember watching "The Jive Tones" (Tiger Conway Jr. and Pez Whatley), a tag team in the UWF/Mid South area, and thinking the money must be good for them to be "The Jive Tones". They used to come out in top hats, carrying canes and tuxedo jackets as they pranced around the ring.
For a more current reference of African-American wrestlers being involved in an uncomfortable, stereotypical, outrageous character, see the Raw brand tag team of "Cryme Tyme." They are the new millennium version of the "Jive Tones."
It's shameful that it took a racial slur for wrestlers of color to have an opportunity to become a champion in the WWE. Here's hoping that ability, mic skills and an opportunity, mixed with a clever creative idea, will allow for more diversity in storylines and championships.