We Should All Stand With Sasha and Naomi
Last week, Sasha Banks and Naomi (Mercedes Varnado & Trinity Fatu) reached their breaking point. If reports are to be believed, they dropped the women’s tag team championships on the desk of Johnny Ace, and walked the hell on out of an episode of Raw. This was reportedly due to multiple factors, including stark creative differences with the direction in how both women were being booked.
This was a wonderful, yet controversial move.
Can you imagine the nerve of two women standing up for themselves? Do they not know their “place” in WWE and their subservient role as independent contractors? The women’s wrestling revolution has long been over, so just sit down and shut up, right?
As a result of speaking out of turn, they have been suspended, championships stripped, merchandise pulled, and used as a shameless public relations stunt through Michael Cole’s cringe-worthy announcement about their suspension on Smackdown.
All sarcasm aside, if you’re a decent human being, you should support this walkout, and support Mercedes Varnado and Trinity Fatu.
Just Another Brick in the Wall
Let’s go over a few reminders for those at home regarding WWE “contracts”.
Even though these superstars are classified as “independent contractors”, WWE talent:
-Can have their contracts frozen at anytime
-Receive no full-time employee benefits (health insurance, 401k, etc.)
-Are not allowed on third-party platforms without guidance/approval
-Can only work within WWE (independent contractor for one company?)
-Must adhere to a 90-day no compete clause after separation
“But they signed a contract!” — as we’ve seen over hundreds of years of human history; signing a contract doesn’t mean the contract is fair, nor should a person be held to it in certain circumstances.
In addition, a talent has little, if any, creative control over their own character and direction. Vince McMahon owns you as an intellectual property, and your role in the company is to be another cog in the machine.
Those who defend this move likely believes a living should be made “on the sweat of one’s brow” and that folks should just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” when things get tough. You know, keeping your mouth shut when rich white men are in control.
The ‘E’ in WWE truly means expendable, and that’s exactly how Mercedes, and likely Trinity, feel in this situation. There is no real attention placed towards tag championships that are supposed to hold some level of prestige. Instead, they were planned to be served as fodder for the current women’s champions while the tag team titles faded into obscurity.
Lost in the shuffle with no control over any level of creative direction over their own personas, a dark reality sets in: Even though Mercedes and Trinity and Sasha and Naomi are one in the same; Vince McMahon owns them both. Everyone is expendable, and as a talent, your voice matters very little.
The Misogynistic Double Standard
Steve Austin essentially “took his ball and went home” in 2002; a move largely applauded by wrestling fans. In 2022, for doing a very similar thing, many fans have turned against Mercedes and Trinity.
Sexism? You betcha.
Professional wrestling has always been a bit patriarchal, but from the comments by former wrestlers and fans alike, it would seem they believe that Mercedes and Trinity should “know their place”.
Let’s recap: If you’re a high-profile male talent then you can make all the demands and throw all the fits you want in the name of creative direction; the fan base will forgive you. If you’re a high-profile female talent who feels misused in her creative direction and does the same; you’re in the wrong.
So the WWE women’s revolution really is over, isn’t it?
Mercedes is Right About Ronda
Can we be honest?
Ronda Rousey has had just over 50 matches in her entire professional wrestling career. At best, she’s an average in-ring performer, her promo is awful, and on name recognition alone, now holds the Smackdown Women’s Championship.
Mercedes Varnado has busted her ass her over the span of her career, honing her craft, and stacking well over a thousand matches under her belt. If you worked at a company for a decade, and were glossed over for a promotion in favor of someone who was brand new to the industry, quite inexperienced but “popular”, how would you feel?
It’s the same thing, here.
Yes, it’s show business, but these are not actors.
These are professional wrestlers who carry their brand with them in and out of WWE, for the rest of their lives. They don’t simply take on various roles within the movie (or wrestling) industry. You are one character, and even if renamed, you’re still (mostly) that same character. (Think of Butch, or Gunther).
If Mercedes Varnado is upset over Ronda’s hot-shot placement on the roster, she’s right. Celebrity or not, Ronda is far from deserving of the title she holds right now. Any wrestling fan with any level of dignity knows this to be true.
Mercedes Varnado to AEW
In the end, I do believe that McMahon will hold on to Sasha Banks as long as possible, one way or another. Even if he just pays her to sit at home just so that she doesn’t leave for the competition.
But what if it happened?
I don’t think anyone predicted in 2019 that the promotion would see the likes of Bryan Danielson or C.M. Punk, yet here we are. She would easily have a few high-profile feuds lined up that would be featured on a weekly basis. Even this move would force Khan to give more time to the women’s division (though this is more of a time constraints issue over anything).
-Mercedes Varnado vs. Britt Baker
-Mercedes Varnado vs. Thunder Rosa
-Mercedes Varnado vs. Toni Storm
The fantasy booking here is endless.
Furthermore, while I don’t see Trinity Fatu leaving her husband and the WWE family, if she did, bringing these two in as a pair would give TK one hell of a reason to finally give women’s wrestling fans the AEW Women’s Tag Team Championships.
Most importantly, Mercedes and Trinity would see a level of creative freedom in AEW that they do not have in WWE. In the age of social media branding/marketing, this freedom is everything.
In 1986, Jesse “the body” Ventura attempted to form a union in the WWF. The next day he was threatened by Vince McMahon to never do so again or be fired.
With larger companies like Starbucks and Amazon seeing rising union formations, the messaging is becoming clear: Workers’ rights matter.
Ask Zelina Vega or Paige about their rights to third-party platforms, or the many wrestlers throughout history that have been blackballed from the industry for simply trying to stand up for themselves. It’s not just WWE, as the NWA has a soiled history of mistreating talents, and blackballing them from the industry for many terrible reasons (an article for another time).
The over-arching point here is that the voices of Mercedes and Trinity matter. Their creative struggles in a company that sees them as intellectual properties first, and human beings second, should be recognized.
Their struggles represent the same as many exploited workers across the nation; albeit, under very different circumstances and context (Yes, Mercedes and Trinity are both millionaires).
However, the messaging is the same: “I own you; do what I say, or else.”
This narrative needs to end. Workers’ rights matter; even if you’re a professional wrestler. I wish Mercedes and Trinity the best, and I hope they don’t break under the surmounting corporate pressure and shame that McMahon will no doubt put on them.
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