by Robot Hammer (@robot_hammer)
By now, we’ve all heard the story about Alberto del Rio recent release from the WWE. 4CR’s Billy and Shanna have already tackled the issue on the latest ‘Absolute Heroes’ podcast, but I thought I’d add my two cents, too. For the sake of clarity, I’ll recap the story briefly, as I understand it.
Someone who works on the social media side of the WWE was in catering and left their tray of food behind. When it was brought to this guy’s attention that he needed to clean up after himself, he remarked “That’s Alberto’s job.” When del Rio heard this, he confronted the gentleman, and asked for an apology. Instead, the gentleman smirked at del Rio, causing ADR to strike him. The WWE then promptly released del Rio, later stating on the official WWE twitter account “There’s no excuse for a pro athlete not to conduct themselves in a professional manner.”
So, there’s that. In a professional corporate world, workplace violence is a zero tolerance issue. No excuse, no possible explanation you give will save your job if you violently lay hands on a fellow employee. There’s no justifiable reason that’s going to make you look like the good guy for slapping the racist taste out of some body’s mouth.
From the time Alberto del Rio debuted on Smackdown in 2010, the most important fact that the WWE wanted you to remember about ADR was that he was Mexican. He was presented as the Mexican Aristocrat, riding to the ring in a parade of luxury cars, a different one for each night. He had Ricardo Rodriguez, his personal ring announcer, announce him in Spanish, to antagonize the English speaking majority. When the ever present Creative Department felt that phase of ADR’s character had run it’s course, del Rio was transitioned into a good guy role.
Goodbye, Mexican Aristocrat. Hello, Mexican Hero. He was presented now as a man of the Latino community and given the phrase “Born In America, Made In Mexico.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in and of itself. The WWE presenting a non-white non-American male as a hero was a step in the right direction, but unfortunately, it wasn’t a step many fans seemed to be willing to take with del Rio. ADR was transitioned back into a heel persona, this time without Ricardo or the luxury automobiles.
This leads to del Rio’s seemingly final stretch of his WWE career. He became the most ridiculously over qualified enhancement talent in the company. He continued to be one of the WWE’s most reliable in ring performers, giving Main Event and Superstars matches that belied their C show status. He appeared on Raw and Smackdown as well, where JBL never filed to remind us that del Rio was Mexico’s Greatest Import.
Another character phase, even one where he wasn’t positioned as a key player, where we were again reminded of the fact that del Rio was From Somewhere Else. ADR couldn’t be an aristocrat, he had to be the Mexican Aristocrat. Not just a hero, but a Mexican Hero. Not to say that cartoon-like nationality characteristics are a new phenomenon in wrestling, because the idea of painting non-white Americans in the simplest of colors is as old as arm bars and ring ropes. But just because something has happened before and the world’s still spinning isn’t a good reason to keep doing it.
How does all that tie back into del Rio’s slapping a guy from the social media department?
From day one, the WWE identified del Rio as his nationality. In every match, in every segment, his otherness, his being From Not Here and being Not One Of Us was mentioned. He was marked and labeled, and one day, an adult was told to clean up after himself, and this guy’s answer was “That’s Alberto’s job,” with the clear implication that ADR should do it because he’s Mexican.
As I ran this story over and over in my head since the incident started making the rounds on twitter, figuring out what it was I wanted to say about it and what part of it bothered me to no end, I kept thinking “ADR heard about the remark, lost his cool, and hit the guy.” Which isn’t quite right, according to the story as it’s been told. He didn’t attack the guy in a stairwell or jump him in a parking lot. He found the guy, confronted him, and wanted an apology. An apology. His first instinct wasn’t to try to get the guy fired, or punch his lights out. He confronted him, like an adult, and wanted an apology. He received a smirk and a laugh instead, which seems to me like it was the last straw.
I’m not going to condone del Rio striking the guy, just because he was one of my favorite WWE Superstars during his time there. I can’t condone it, even if saying something offensive and racist about someone who kicks people in the head for a living is the mark of a true idiot. I can’t condone it, but I can’t condemn it either, because I can’t imagine that reporting the remarks of a dot com guy to upper management would have accomplished much.
It’s easy to say what del Rio should have done, sitting behind our keyboards and divorced form the emotion of the moment. Doing that reduces this entire situation to a black and white issue, and everything about it is shaded in gray. I can’t condone del Rio’s actions, and I can’t in good conscience condemn him, but I can attempt to understand what led him to that moment.