By Mike Mooneyham
Sept. 22, 2002
The WWE’s recent foray into social commentary with a gay wedding storyline appeared to be a positive step – at least in the eyes of one gay rights activist organization. When the angle was consummated, however, the watchdog group felt like it had been left at the altar.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]“It was disappointing,” GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) spokesman Scott Seomin said Friday. “They (the WWE) weren’t honest with any media outlets.”
The storyline involving tag-team partners Billy and Chuck (Kip Sopp and Chuck Palumbo) had generated a wave of publicity for Vince McMahon’s company, but even more surprisingly had drawn praise from GLAAD, a group that had sharply criticized the WWE in the past for its portrayal of such darkly homophobic characters as Goldust.
The bubble burst, however, when Billy and Chuck revealed during a so-called commitment ceremony on a recent edition of Smackdown that they weren’t getting married, that they were both straight and that the angle had been nothing more than a publicity stunt. Making matters worse, the pair was attacked by a rival duo, leaving some with the impression of yet another stereotypical, gay-bashing wrestling gimmick.
Seomin, GLAAD’s entertainment media director in Los Angeles, initially had gone so far as to publicly give his blessing to the storyline, heralding it as a step forward for professional wrestling and a positive message to teenage fans intimidated by “potential bullies and gay-bashers.” His organization even delivered a wedding gift, a Pottery Barn gravy boat, to Billy and Chuck that was presented by Today Show host Matt Lauer. Ironically the presentation came two days after the wedding angle was filmed.
“They went on the Today Show knowing full well that they weren’t going through with the wedding,” Seomin said. “The Today Show (later) called and asked if we were upset and if we wanted the gravy boat back. We told them that we knew Billy and Chuck were secretly making a nice home for themselves, and that we wanted them to have a nice gravy boat to put in it. We also can play along here.”
Seomin said WWE officials originally had told his group that Billy and Chuck would get hitched on the air, and was even informed after the show had been taped that the wedding had taken place. While disappointed that the heavily hyped ceremony failed to produce the anticipated result, Seomin said he wasn’t furious or irate, as some media outlets had characterized his reaction to the stunt.
“There was some confusion over how we were dealing with it,” Seomin explained. “We’re disappointed, but we believe they are gay and they’ll come out when they’re ready. This is about the storyline, and we believe in the storyline that they’re gay. It’s all tongue-in-cheek anyway.” Seomin acknowledged that he had no problem with how the former WWE tag-team champs had been portrayed.
“We felt the representation of the characters up until the wedding was really a good thing. The characters of Billy and Chuck were not invented to incite gay-bashing or anti-gay slurs from the crowd, as we have seen in the past. They were over the top, but this is wrestling – they were no more over the top than other characters. The actors who portrayed them did a really nice job handling interviews. They were not only entertaining, but enlightening as well.”
The idea for the wedding angle grew out of an article on the ambiguously gay duo last month in the New York Times. Seomin expressed GLAAD’s support in the article.
“We supported it, but so many media outlets were surprised by GLAAD’s support. We have a sense of humor. We don’t want every representation to be a picture-perfect portrayal of gay men. And it’s entertainment. I was surprised that the media was surprised we were supporting that. It got them (the WWE) some extra ink.”
Seomin said the wrestling business garnered negative publicity when GLAAD took an Eric Bischoff-led WCW to task in 1997 over a “gay” team known as Lenny and Lodi.
“They were invented to incite the crowd simply because of their sexual orientation. There were signs in the audience that said kill the (homosexuals). There were signs that said Lenny has AIDS. They made only one appearance, and we met with Turner and WCW and asked that they be removed. There was no fixing here. The damage was done. Turner realized that he had made a mistake.”
Seomin said he would naturally be skeptical next time the WWE introduces a gay-based angle.
“I certainly would be suspicious. But I believe that in this business you need to take people on their word. If they call me six months from now and tell me there’s a gay character or a lesbian wrestler, I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. But I would give them one more chance. This was a publicity stunt. They were even in Time magazine, and that’s what they wanted. They played it for everything it was worth.”
Seomin scoffed at the Raw segment last week involving imposter lesbian protesters.
“They’re doing this to be outrageous and to incite their crowds. They would love for GLAAD to protest this. We’re not going to touch it, because that’s exactly what they want. I know that GLAAD’s support of Billy and Chuck helped them. I think had we been against it, it would have helped them more because the media loves the conflict.”
Seomin called Vince McMahon “an extremely smart marketer.”
McMahon, defending the WWE’s handling of recent storylines, said last week that no segment of society was off limits to his company, which he described as an “equal opportunity offender.”
Seomin said he believes Billy and Chuck will re-emerge as gay characters.
“We at GLAAD believe their actions of affection over several appearances speak louder than their words of denial,” said Seomin, putting his own spin on the controversy. “We know that in the public eye it’s hard to come out of the closet, but when they’re ready to come out and accept themselves for who they are, we’ll still be here to support them.”
– George’s Sports Bar and Grill, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the WWE’s Unforgiven pay-per-view tonight beginning at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $5.
– “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase will be appearing at Bonneau Pentecostal Holiness Church, 116 Black Oak Road, at 7:15 p.m. Oct. 12. Tickets are $12, which includes a meal and entertainment (meal times are 5, 5:30, 6 and 6:30). For more information or to purchase tickets, contact the church at (843) 825-3687.
– Monday Night Raw hits the North Charleston Coliseum on Nov. 25. Smackdown will be taped the following night at the Carolina Coliseum in Columbia.
– Brian Gerard James has shed his “Road Dogg” persona and, according to an article on the NWA-TNA Web site, a lifestyle that once cost him his job and his family.
James, son of veteran Southern wrestling star “Bullet” Bob Armstrong and formerly one half of The New Age Outlaws with Billy Gunn, said on the Web site that he recently attended a Christian-based, drug rehabilitation center and is now a born-again Christian.
“I can tell you the truth,” James said. “The party, it had caught up to me and it’s always right there. It’s always like a lion, just waiting to attack. It’s always there and it’s a constant battle. A daily battle. I’m a drug addict. And there’s no hiding that … And I try to live every day now just like God’s watching me and do what would be pleasing to him, actually it’s not that hard. You just kind of gotta be good and that’s not that bad. I don’t know what I was … I was actually a slave to drugs. I woke up every day having to do something and that’s just slavery, that’s bondage. And that’s no way to live life, there’s too much out there to do.”
James, now appearing as B.G. James for the Tennessee-based TNA-NWA promotion, said that he has since restored his relationship with his wife and children. Only months ago James was under house arrest for a parole violation, and not allowed to talk to his children due to a restraining order that his wife had secured.
“It used to be like a burden to go home to my family and I don’t know what I was thinking, or what I was running from. But that’s what’s most important. It ain’t being married to the wrestling game – and that’s what I was when I worked for the WWF. And when you work full-time, you’re really married to the road. Married to the wrestling game. And there’s not enough time in your life to be doing that anymore.
“Now, we’re back together and my relationship with my wife is better than ever. We’re back, everything is just going great. I just realize now why everything is going so good in my life and I hate to sound like a Jesus freak, but I am. But my family life is great now.”
– A benefit show will be held for the ailing Superstar Billy Graham on Oct. 5 in Wakefield, Mass. Among those scheduled to make appearances are Road Dogg, Kid Cash, Ox Baker and Michael Cappetta.
Graham remains in desperate need of a liver transplant, and his health insurance doesn’t cover many of the medications he needs to stay healthy while waiting for a donor.
– Sports Illustrated will feature a piece on Vince McMahon and the WWE in this week’s Scorecard section.
– A Texas judge has scheduled an Oct. 9 trial for Steve Williams (“Stone Cold” Steve Austin) on misdemeanor charges of assault causing bodily injury, which carries a maximum penalty of a year in prison. Williams is accused of beating wife Debra. Williams had filed for a divorce from Debra a few weeks back, but the two are attempting to reconcile.
Austin’s lawyer said he felt confident that the case could be settled before going in front of a jury.
– Some random thoughts:
* Triple H’s recent use of the sleeper hold as a finisher evokes memories of Carolinas great Johnny Weaver sending his opponents to dreamland with that maneuver. It also gives Jim Ross a chance to pay tribute to his mentor, the late great Gordon Solie, when he describes how the hold “cuts off the blood supply to the carotid artery.” While the hold may not be as exciting as the five-star frog splash, it certainly is more realistic and believable.
* Several readers recently have asked if a different wrestler is playing the role of Kane. The mask is different – exposing his chin – and he lost some weight while being sidelined for several months, but Glen Jacobs is still the man behind the hood.
* Booker T just might be the most underrated performer in the WWE. He never fails to get a big pop, but seems destined to languish in mid-card territory.
* Rico may be a rising star, but placing Ric Flair in the designated jobber slot was another slap in the face to many who consider the Nature Boy the greatest of all time. After this latest farce, the least they can do is give Flair an Intercontinental title win over Chris Jericho tonight at Unforgiven and a fresh new angle with Triple H.
– Darryl Cochran, a mainstay in Georgia and Alabama during the 50s and 60s, passed away on Sept. 13 at the age of 72.
– Lance Storm recently commented on the Canadian Senate recommending the legalization of marijuana.
“I am quite obviously very anti-drug. I’m about as clean cut as you can get,” Storm wrote on his Web site. “If I had to choose between anti-drug and anti-American, I’d be drug free and red, white and blue.”
– Heartland Wrestling Association has postponed its training camp due to restructuring. The camp originally was scheduled for five days beginning Nov. 11. The camp, featuring Ricky Steamboat, Sensational Sherri Martel and HWA head trainer Les Thatcher, will be rescheduled for early 2003.
For more information on the training camp, call the HWA office at (513) 771-1650 or visit HWAonline.com.
Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected] He is the co-author of “Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation,” published by Crown.