Jack Swagger used to be pitched as an All-American wrestler on World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Now? He’s being billed as a “real American” and has teamed up with manager Zeb Colter as two anti-immigrant patriots who want to drive out those coming across the border.
Anyone who has seen professional wrestling knows that storylines drive the action and weave a narrative leading up to when two wrestlers, who don’t like each other, finally square off in the ring. But now the WWE is trying to build buzz after re-introducing Swagger and adding Colter to the mix.
“They just introduced this storyline last Monday,” says Bryan Alvarez, editor at WrestlingObserver.com. “The WWE is going at it hardcore, really trying to get attention.”
There is one big reason why the WWE is pushing the story line. Swagger recently beat five others in a pay per view event for the right to face the World Heavyweight Champion — Alberto Del Rio, a Mexican aristocrat “good guy,” who is a fan favorite. The two will fight at the WWE’s marquee pay per view event, Wrestlemania.
Alvarez says the WWE was interested in having a Hispanic champion to reach out to Latino fans and now they have a dream story line. “You have Jack Swagger, anti-immigrant crusader fighting a Hispanic at Wrestlemania,” he says.
Colter, who was unveiled as the new manager and mouthpiece for Swagger last week, has since released a video where he says “America has gone from a land of opportunity to a desert of despair.”
“We have allowed a bunch of greedy, selfish criminal delinquents to cross our borders and rob this great country of all its wealth,” he said.
But many don’t care that the “E” in WWE stands for entertainment, blasting the storyline as racist and ill-conceived.
“It’s extremely offensive for these wrestlers and the WWE to really take on this blatantly xenophobic and racist approach to the Latino community, particularly the immigrant community,” says Arturo Carmona, the executive director of Presente.org, the largest organization of Latinos online.
But Latino organizations weren’t the only ones who were upset. In a piece on Infowars, a site dedicated to defending “the Bill of Rights, property rights, and our nation’s borders,” the writer accused WWE of making a mockery of those who are in the Tea Party. “World Wrestling Entertainment has jumped on the bandwagon of demonizing Tea Party Americans as racists by creating a xenophobic character who espouses anti-immigrant rhetoric, as WWE commentators quip that he receives “fan mail” from Alex Jones, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh,” the piece began.
In a statement WWE defended the storyline and said it is in the business of entertainment. “WWE has a long history of creating fictional characters that serve as either protagonists or antagonists, no different from other television shows or feature films. To create compelling and relevant content for our audience, it is important to incorporate current events into our storylines,” the statement read in part.
“WWE is creating drama centered on a topical subject that has varying points of view to develop a rivalry between two characters,” the statement continued. “This storyline in no way represents WWE’s political point of view. One should not confuse WWE’s storytelling with what WWE stands for, similar to other entertainment companies such as Warner Brothers, Universal Studios or Viacom.”
Followers of professional wrestling say there is another reason WWE moved to create the anti-immigrant storyline: A similar attempt by a much smaller player, Lucha Libre USA, which caters to Latinos, and features RJ Brewer, who says he is Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s son as part of his character.
“WWE is on a much higher level than Lucha Libre USA,” Wrestling Observer’s Alvarez says. “But the RJ Brewer character, Mexican fans took that very seriously. He’s actually a character the fans are very passionate about.”
The buzz around Swagger and Colter even led Brewer to respond on his Facebook page on Tuesday after repeated requests for comment.
“This will be the only time I respond to the questions I have received regarding WWE ‘stealing my stuff.’ I have been wrestling for Lucha Libre USA for almost 3 years and have been using that platform to speak against illegal immigration from the start,” Brewer wrote, adding that he is sincere in what he says, and has been invited to Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s walk and a Russell Pearce fundraiser.
“Our audience is Latino, our wrestlers are Latino and that is why RJ Brewer is so effective,” he said.
Presente’s Carmona says the anti-immigrant characters in wrestling may lead to a national campaign from his organization.
“I’m concerned to see this during a time when the country is having a serious conversation about how we welcome the immigrant population and I think this is unacceptable and unforgivable,” he said.
But Alvarez says this is nothing new for the WWE, which used to do storylines with “evil foreigners” like the Iron Sheik. “But now there are a lot of lines they have to be careful they don’t cross,” he says.
“It’s not offensive, it’s just weird. It’s like a storyline out of the 90’s and here we are in 2013. It seems out of place.”