The Confederate battle flag has a long and unfortunate history in professional wrestling. The rebel flag has been worn by the Fabulous Freebirds, the Godwinns, the Briscoe Brothers and many others. They’ve painted their faces with the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia. They’ve worn it on sequined robes and trunks. Some have even fashioned it into masks. And it’s time to stop.
Let’s get this out of the way: There is no place for the Confederate flag in professional wrestling, and there never was a place for it. There’s no place for it in our popular culture or outside of a government building. Now, 150 years after the war, the Confederate flag remains a symbol of racial prejudice, the enslavement of black people and the South’s treasonous secession from the Union. It’s meaning has never never twisted — it stands for a heritage of hate, resurrected in the 1940s and 1950s in opposition to the civil rights movement and desegregation. White supremacist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, have embraced it because, let’s be real, it’s always been about white supremacy.
And yet, every wrestling promotion has sanctioned its use, allowing its performers to don the rebel flag. WWE? Guilty. WCW? Guilty. Ring of Honor? Guilty. The list doesn’t end there. It’s practically been everywhere, from the heights of WWE to the indies.
The most prominent and recent offenders have been Mark and Jay Briscoe. This is not a good look.
Neither is this.
Ring of Honor signed off on the creation of that championship belt and sold those T-shirts last year (they are no longer for sale in ROH’s online store). I get the Briscoes’ gimmick. Dem Boys are controversial. They’re entertaining and outlandish, decidedly non-PC or even PG redneck characters. It’s bitten them in the ass before. (Remember Jay’s homophobic Twitter rant?)
The Briscoes don’t need this symbol of hate to get themselves over. They’re talented enough in the ring and on the mic. Hopefully, the Briscoes — and ROH — steer clear of the flag in the future. Note to ROH, pulling this DVD form your website store would be a good move.
Of course, the Briscoes are only the latest offenders. The Fabulous Freebirds — the bad guy trio of Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts — weren’t afraid to use race-baiting to draw heat. Here’s Hayes calling Junkyard Dog “boy” in the most demeaning of ways.
Disgusting. The Freebirds would use the flag throughout their careers. Here’s the trio with the battle flag painted on their faces for a match with the Road Warriors at the AWA’s Superclash at Comiskey Park in September 1985.
Is it all surprising then that Hayes, who remains an executive with WWE, would later end up suspended for using a racial slur directed at an African-American wrestler? That’s exactly what happened in 2008. Hayes, who was reportedly joking, told Mark Henry: “I’m more of a n—– than you are.” Henry didn’t find it so funny and reported him to upper management, who levied a two-month suspension.
The flag wasn’t exclusive to heels. In the late-1980s and early-1990s, World Championship Wrestling, the now-defunct Georgia-based circuit, promoted the good-guy tag team the Southern Boys, Tracy Smothers and Steve Armstrong, who wore Confederate war uniforms and carried the battle flag. Of course, they ended up feuding with the Freebirds.
In the mid-1990s, WWE’s evil hillbilly team, the Godwinns, waved the flag and wore shirts and patches with it.
Unfortunately, there’s always worse in wrestling, which has been far too eager to allow its characters to be stereotypes. Slick’s introduction of Akeem was an abomination. Col. Robert Parker, who dressed like a southern plantation owner, supposedly won Harlem Heat’s Booker T and Stevie Ray, both in shackles and convict outfits, in a card game. The Million Dollar Man had a manservant/bodyguard named Virgil. The Godfather was a wrestling pimp. The Nation of Domination was a militant group, a take on the black power movement. Tony Atlas became tribal warrior Saba Simba. The list could go on forever.
Wrestling has a racist history. It’s never been the most sensitive entertainment form, lagging behind on race, gender and sexuality. It’s pushed xenophobia, homophobia and sexism. pushing xenophobic and homophobic storylines. The defense is either “It’s just wrestling” or “It’s just a TV show.” It doesn’t have to be. If fans don’t demand better entertainment, we won’t get better. Now is the time to demand it because wrestling promoters can’t erase the sport’s past, but they can and will write its future.