There are very few people who will argue the value of AJ Styles to the current wrestling landscape. There may be more who would argue his place in wrestling history, but as the years go by they are being drowned out by a loud chorus of people proclaiming Styles as one of the best of all time. I’m of the mind that Styles is a fantastic wrestler, one of the best of his generation. He may even be one of the best of all-time when all is said and done. He has charisma, talent in between the ropes, is popular everywhere he goes, and has been involved in important moments in wrestling history. To check all those marks means that the person in question is someone special in the world of professional wrestling.
It’s been reported by a few different outlets, and speculated on by too many fans to count, that Styles is headed to the monolith that is World Wrestling Entertainment sometime soon. After many years of being the man in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and various independent promotions he wants to conquer the golden goose so to speak. For Styles it is a career move that makes a great deal of sense. For the fans it gives them a chance to see Styles, hopefully, excel in yet another major promotion. It could strengthen his case as one of the best wrestlers of all-time, and guarantee that he is remembered by casual and hardcore wrestling fan alike for years to come.
During Styles’ path to this point in his career he has wowed and entertained at every stop. He was one of the lone bright spots in some dark TNA days. His presence made me tune into RoH during a time period when RoH has become a promotion I don’t view as essential. No matter where he went, Styles made a splash. Unfortunately that splash wasn’t always wrestling related. You see, Styles has a dark side; an aspect of his real life personality that occasional creeps its way into a promo or angle that gives me great pause about Styles as a person.
I had heard a lot through the years about Styles being a massive homophobe. To be fair, it wasn’t a topic I ever explored that deeply. I pride myself on being able to separate the performance from the performer. I can watch Chris Benoit matches and appreciate the art on display, but also acknowledge that Benoit is a murderer. The homophobia of Styles was well removed from my eyes or ears. I knew he had homophobic incidents in his folder, but they took place when I wasn’t watching so they didn’t resonate with me as strongly as they should have.
Fast forward to earlier this week when I am watching a clip of a match from last year between Styles and Chase Owens. It’s a match-up that I have high hopes for as I happen to be a big fan of Owens. Then I was hit right in the middle of the eyes by massive babyface Styles insulting Owens’ manager by calling him a faggot on the house microphone. No longer could I claim that Styles’ particular brand of homophobia wasn’t taking place right in front of me. For AJ Styles being a babyface meant calling someone a faggot as a derogatory term.
This led me to doing some more research to make sure all the allegations I had heard over the years were true. What my research uncovered was a man so content to be a homophobe that he revels in gay slurs and gay bashing. To Styles the very idea of someone being gay is wrong. Perhaps that is why there are numerous reports of him vehemently opposing hugs from other men? Be that as it may, the evidence against Styles speaks for itself. There’s his infamous chainsaw promo in TNA where he almost called Glen Gilberti a faggot once and then finished the promo by actually calling Gilberti a faggot. People still talk about his appearance on Wrestling Observer Live where he sounded off with disgust that someone dare mention his large following in the gay community.
There are plenty more instances of Styles allowing his real life homophobia to enter into his wrestling persona. They are the basis for this article, but they are not the meat of this article. Rather, the continued acceptance through ignorance by most of the wrestling fan community is what I’m most interested in. I asked about Styles’ homophobia getting a free pass on Twitter recently. I did receive some well thought out responses, but the majority boiled down to, “People don’t want to be bothered by it.”
Is the above an acceptable response, or do we as human being need to offer more than, “I don’t want to be bothered by it?” That’s where I begin to question myself and the way I typically react to a public figure I enjoy being outed as something like a homophobe. For me the answer is to find a middle ground. I still believe it is okay to enjoy the art that Styles produces, but it’s not okay to sweep his homophobia under the rug because it may get in the way of the enjoyment of said art. Styles’ documented homophobia need not be mentioned in every article about him or every review of a match he wrestles. At the same time it needs to be put into the public conscious more and to be acknowledged as existing.
My purpose with this article is not to attack Styles or to cost him a chance at his moment in WWE. People believe that may have happened with someone like Jessicka Havok and various Twitter users going all in on suspect past Tweets of hers. I take no issue with people outing her as a racist and a homophobe, but when it turned from exploration of what she had said into hunting for her head a line was crossed. It’s not up to me, or anyone really, to be some sort of soldier attempting to take the bad people down. Let the chips fall where they may in that regard, because much as I may find Styles’ homophobia disgustingly vile it’s not my place to be his judge, jury, and executioner.
It is the responsibility of all fans to examine what Styles has said and the type of person he is in relation to the art he produces. That’s all I’m asking for really, to take a moment and reflect on who Styles is, the values he represents, and realize that there is more to him than just being a talented professional wrestler. Enjoy his wrestling all you want, I know I will continue to, but know that behind the talented wrestling is a disgrace of a human being. That needs to be discussed as well, because to ignore it is to allow his defamation of the gay community to go unchecked. Choosing to remain ignorant is giving someone a pass, and Styles does not deserve a pass for the type of person he is proud to be.