The recent incident with Seth Rollins appears to have some unique circumstances involving an “imposter scam” and this analysis does not specifically cover those, but rather merely elucidates one theory around the general phenomenon of wrestling fans seeking to directly involve themselves in the storyline.
One of the most beautiful things about the sport of pro wrestling is that it inspires fans to show the strength and courage necessary to win in life against the most impassioned, malevolent foes with even the most overwhelming of odds against them. The storylines make it so that the grit shown in the ring is not just fighting for fighting’s sake, but for a purpose, to prove a point, to validate the culture and community which the athlete represents through their character. This is why I view pro wrestling as an art form and an act of creativity, tantamount to the action sports disciplines, more than an expression of violence. And this concept has uniquely inspired many, in a way perhaps nothing else could, to make positive changes in their lives in areas ranging from physical fitness to making major changes in personal and business relationships. Darby Allin perfectly articulates the state of mind wrestling should instill in a fan, a belief that “you will not break me mentally.”
Furthermore, these stories show a dynamic world where passionate and sometimes reckless combat has the chance to be rewarded with victories and titles. Where triumph that defies explanation and defeat by overwhelming force are equally likely possibilities, even though we all know the outcome has been pre-determined. The fan is to understand that this is but an exquisitely detailed and emotionally compelling metaphor, a parable so to speak, to be applied largely on a philosophical, not a literal, physical level. It is an attitude, not a schematic. Sadly, I believe it is possible that a very small set of individuals who are likely dealing with the burden of serious mental illness will become so dissociated from reality and disillusioned by socioeconomic circumstances, which limit literacy and opportunity, that their most primal instincts (or as psychologist and author of “Thinking Fast and Slow” Daniel Kahnemann called them “System 1”) will suddenly make the mistake to directly involve themselves in the story where they feel they have found their place. Grasping the emotional sentiment shown but not the context or application thereof, they see a place where they personally, against all notions of reality or rules of conduct, feel something can potentially be “made right“ by their own aggressive actions, even though in reality their actions can only hurt and this is a space only meant for exhibition by professionals. The thinking mind, or “System 2,” knows this truth, but people when broken mentally will act far too quickly and without restraint to do things that feel right in the moment but are against their moral values and which will sabotage their chances of victory, if not destroy their lives or that of others. Likewise, we see through history how all too often frustrated people at their boiling point channel their energy to the wrong mechanisms for seeking change. Wrestling fans will understand this concept from seeing that a post-match unsanctioned fight does not alter the outcome of the match or really provide any true benefit. Of course, this is just one theory and we often cannot predict or determine with certainty the true causality of violent incidents, inside or outside of wrestling.
This is why I greatly applaud those athletes that have chosen to speak out about mental health in the wrestling community, as they have brought legitimacy to the struggles of the public and shown a path for others to follow. The next fight ahead you should choose to train yourself for is not the one within the storyline that exists merely to entertain and instruct you, crafted by people who play different characters but have the same goal, but rather the fight to not be broken mentally. It’s an invitation to make your own story. Maybe you will feel redemption in training your body as if you are headed to a title match, or maybe you will feel it by challenging those who “have it all” in business or as an activist, or maybe you will find your peace in a simpler life. I cannot be the booker of this future for you; this storyline is for you to write.
Greyson Peltier is host of The Fixerpunk Podcast, a communications consultant specializing in politics and social impact, and founder of Laguna Beach, CA-based consulting firm Off Speed Solutions. His columns feature social analysis and discuss the fight to Change The World, through the lens of kayfabe. Peltier holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Southern California, an AA in Social and Behavioral Sciences from Coastline College, and has been featured by media outlets like Vice, ESPN Radio KLAA, USA Radio Network, and Street Fight Radio.