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Change for the better doesn’t happen if those working with a historically oppressive regime ostensibly to steer them in a better direction don’t set certain parameters and make it clear there is a line you don’t cross.
Today on Fox Business channel’s “Varney & Co.,” John Bradshaw Layfield said WWE is “gonna go there” even though “the official line is they’re ‘monitoring the situation.'”
He added that his personal opinion is they should go there. “I think the only way you promote change, like we did with Cuba, you isolate a country, all you do is impoverish that country. You want to promote change? WWE went to Abu Dhabi, did the first women’s match that had ever happened in the Middle East, the crowd was chanting in English ‘This is change’.”
This was an argument that some accepted before the disappearance and apparent brazen murder of Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, who was an outspoken critic of the propaganda being disseminated by the young and supposedly progressive-minded Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
JBL’s argument may have seemed reasonable a month ago. I think the supposed altruistic perspective on Saudi Arabia’s direction, and the need for U.S. businesses to work with them to accelerate those changes, evaporated with this awful development.
It’s one thing to argue that WWE bringing its “culture” to Saudi Arabia can lead to social change and pressure more conservative voices in power to soften their limits on women’s rights and gay rights. It’s a whole other thing – and rather astounding – to not adjust that stance when evidence points to a critic of that regime being tortured and dismembered with a bone saw in an alleged orchestrated abduction by 15 men, nine of whom flew on a private jet from Saudi Arabia that morning and accosted him inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. This is no longer about opening minds to women in sports or movies in theaters. This is about drawing a firm line that says certain actions come with massive consequences.
Let’s be real. If WWE stood to lose $1 million on this Nov. 4 show, would they be monitoring the situation or would they have extracted themselves from the deal by now? When it’s tens of millions of dollars per show (a reported $45 million, give or take, per show on a ten-show deal over a decade), then it’s a whole different story.
I don’t believe many people are going to buy WWE’s stance that they are going to Saudi Arabia to “make a difference” anymore. They are going to see it as a financially-motivated decision coupled with greed-driven rationalizations to try to drive public acceptance of their continued relationship with the regime.
It’s one thing to use their platform to promote progressive change in Saudi Arabia when it comes to positive steps to open minds to women as athletes, but once they look like they’re enabling or excusing murder, it’s time to move on from that argument and extricate themselves from the relationship.
JBL, after bashing senators for taking a strong stand against U.S. businesses continuing to work with Saudi Arabia and characterizing their viewpoints as just attempts to improve their dismal approval ratings, said: “WWE has been at the forefront of change, and if you want to change Saudi Arabia, you send something like WWE there.”
I believe if you want to see change in Saudi Arabia, you send a firm message that silencing critics with murder is a disqualifying action in terms of doing business with anyone from the United States. And until there’s a hint of exonerating evidence to indicate otherwise (which doesn’t smell like an implausible cover-story to protect the wealthy and powerful who benefit from status quo relations with Saudi Arabia), WWE’s only defensible move now is withdrawal – today, not tomorrow.
(And while you’re at it, send a message to JBL that he’s not helping, and maybe leave it to WWE Corporate to speak on this matter in the mean time.)
NOW CHECK OUT THIS RELATED STORY: Endeavor cancels $400 million deal with Saudi Arabia to back projects, pressure mounting for WWE to follow suit
(PWTorch editor Wade Keller has covered professional wrestling for over 30 years. He is a Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame member for “Excellence in Writing on Professional Wrestling,” class of 2015. He hosts the Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Podcast and publishes the Pro Wrestling Torch Weekly Newsletter.)