On February 18th, 2013, the WWE aired a promo featuring Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter lampooning the Tea Party movement during an episode of Monday Night Raw. In order to promote his bout with Alberto Del Rio at WrestleMania 29, Swagger was portrayed as a nationalistic, xenophobic “redneck” in juxtaposition of Del Rio’s Mexican heritage.
The WWE turned to racism in order to generate interest in a bout that, quite frankly, was already interesting. Swagger’s anti-immigration message was noticed by WWE fans and mainstream-media sources alike; the two had very different reactions to the promo, however.
For seasoned WWE fans it is easy to differentiate the character that Swagger portrays and the real-life ideas that he parroted on Raw. However, the angle is generating real mainstream interest, albeit in a negative way. A simple Google search of “Jack Swagger” produces a plethora of news articles from sources outside of the pro-wrestling media sphere. Glenn Beck has even been invited to appear on Raw next week because of his criticism of the promo. There is no doubt that the angle will bring some new viewers to the WWE. But the situation is a double-edged sword. New viewers also bring increased media coverage from people who don’t necessarily understand how the WWE works.
With that in mind, Swagger picked the wrong time to get arrested. The WWE knew immigration was a hot-button political issue. They knew would bring increased scrutiny to the WWE. Now, with the arrest of Swagger, the lines between character and person have been blurred for non-wrestling fans. The mainstream media already viewed Swagger as a racist. Now, in their eyes, he is a racist and a criminal. Had the promo never happened, the mainstream media wouldn’t have even known Swagger existed, let alone cared that he was arrested.
While fans know that Swagger is just playing a character, the mainstream media has had trouble acknowledging that fact. Their confusion and outrage are going to put more pressure on McMahon; he may decide to punish Swagger more harshly as a result.
Where does this leave Swagger? The “racism” angle, coupled with Swagger’s untimely arrest, puts McMahon in a bind. Another factor in this situation is the Wellness Policy. Will McMahon treat the rising star equally? Swagger is certainly to blame here and it would be wrong to attempt to ignore his part in his own demise as well.
The intentionally provocative promotion of Zeb Colter and Swagger brought a period of intense negative scrutiny upon the promotion. Colter and Swagger could have been turning into a truly memorable team; it would unfortunate to see such a rising star fall so quickly.