Update: They did the exact same segment on Smackdown Tuesday night.
Every October, the WWE is awash in a sea of pink—trotting out its pink ring ropes and ribbons in commemoration of breast cancer awareness month. It’s a noble endeavor that a high-profile sports-entertainment company would commit so much primetime air for a cause that afflicts one out of every eight women in their lifetime. For that, the WWE—and their partnership with the Susan G. Komen Foundation—should be commended.
On last night’s episode of Monday Night Raw from Denver, a segment aired where the Raw women’s roster, breaking kayfabe, stood in the ring as a unit, as three breast cancer survivors were presented with WWE championship belts. Some watched and might have thought, “that’s a nice gesture.” My reaction was more of discomfort.
The segment was hosted by Dana Warrior, widow of the wrestler Ultimate Warrior, who died suddenly three days after being inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014. In WWE’s telling of the Ultimate Warrior narrative, the man born Jim Hellwig exemplified a fighting spirit, who never gave up, and lived every moment of his 57-year life like it was his last—essentially, a living embodiment of a motivational speech. “Please join me in honoring their warrior spirit!” Dana Warrior said to cheers from the Denver crowd.
Seeing these three women in Warrior shirts on WWE isn’t just bringing attention to breast cancer, though—it’s also posthumously rewriting the long history of Warrior’s hateful diatribes. Although we don’t know how he would have felt about WWE participating in breast cancer awareness month, we do know about his treatment of many others. He said that gay men suffered from the same “disease” as pedophile priests. At a speech he delivered in 2005 at the University of Connecticut, Warrior (he legally changed his name from Hellwig) remarked “queering don’t make the world work.” Our colleagues at Deadspin has a far more complete anthology of Warrior’s many disparaging and hateful remarks.
Since Warrior’s death, the WWE has established what it calls the Warrior Award, presented during its annual Hall of Fame ceremony. In a long show with plenty of levity and insider wrestling references, the Warrior Award is the serious part of the proceedings. The company has given the award to an eight-year-old WWE fan who died of cancer, a Rutgers football player who was paralyzed on the field and became a motivational speaker, and former morning show host and cancer survivor Joan Lunden. It’s hard to watch this and not get swept up by the emotions of it all. But every year I watch it, something in the back of my head can’t get over the man whom the WWE named this award after. He literally once wished cancer would kill off Bobby Heenan. It’s as if Warrior, who ostensibly said Hurricane Katrina victims were fat and poor and had it coming, never happened.
On Tuesday’s episode of Wrestling Observer Radio (subscriber only), Dave Meltzer—the country’s preeminent pro wrestling journalist—expressed the same distaste about the segment.
“The lionizing of Warrior really bothers me, especially right now. He said stuff worse than almost anybody when he was alive... it really rubs me the wrong way,” Meltzer said. “I just find this whole thing, of somehow, breast cancer survivors wearing Ultimate Warrior T-shirts for this guy who said all that hateful gay stuff. I found it very repugnant. It didn’t wash well with me.”
The Monday Night Raw segment was just a continuation of WWE’s remaking of its backstory in a more flattering light. The company asking these three women to shake the ropes—Ultimate Warrior’s signature in-ring move—provided the applause cue they wanted, but such craven opportunism shifts the spotlight away from breast cancer awareness to a man whose words and actions the WWE would rather you forget.