We held the first of two information and interview sessions for prospective volunteers Wednesday. Part of the session is an icebreaker activity, where you answer a question about yourself (questions helpfully provided on little slips of paper by yours truly). I went first; mine was “tell us something about you that we could not tell just by looking at you”. I confessed to being a huge comic book geek and, frankly, practically a comic historian. But it occurs to me that something else I could’ve revealed is that I’m a pro wrestling fan.
Yes, pro wrestling is grade-A cheese, but it knows it’s cheese. No, it’s not a Real Sport; yes, it’s rigged. But it’s fun. And something in my ballet background really appreciates the choreography, especially in matches where the wrestlers are really, really good. There’s a thrill in watching Jeff Hardy backflip off a ladder. Whee! He’s flying! And the mom in me wants to take half of these big, burly guys home and bake them cookies.
Pro wrestling has its flaws, sure. Drug use is unfortunately epidemic, and the way the female wrestlers are handled is not what you could call feminist.
But some wrestlers? Are just awesome.
I’ve been a fan of Mick Foley and his alter egos Mankind, Cactus Jack, and Dude Love from the very beginning. Foley is one of those wrestlers who is so clearly just having a blast out there, whether he’s playing it straight or whipping out a sock puppet. He’s silly, he’s goofy, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make the audience laugh or give a great match. Literally. Barbed wire has been involved. The man has ripped his ear off. Foley is committed.
And one of the things he’s committed to these days is the fight to end sexual violence.
It’s rare enough to see a celebrity taking a stand on this. Rarer still to see an athlete. And a wrestler? When I first saw that Foley was getting involved, I was bouncing around my apartment for hours. Talk about reaching a community no one’s been reaching. Wrestling is male-dominated, very macho, and rape is not a thing I’ve ever seen discussed there. Just by giving half the advance of his next book to RAINN, Foley is making a statement that will make a lot of people think about sexual violence. He presents it as an issue that men, that wrestlers and wrestling fans, should care about.
But Foley’s going farther: he’s become an online hotline volunteer.
Foley says, “When I went to Sierra Leone in November 2008 to visit the little boy I sponsor and to visit some schools I’d funded, I met some women who had been victims of rape during their civil war. I don’t know if I would have appreciated what they went through without what I knew about RAINN. It was a powerful day, to meet the woman and see the children of rape. I asked Child Fund International to come up with a program that provides loans and scholarships for the victims. I decided to donate half the money from my book advance to this program and the other half to RAINN. I have a legendary reputation for thriftiness in pro wrestling. So any decision I make about money is a well thought out, belabored one.
“It was after that I had started thinking about volunteering. Before that, my [volunteer work] was mostly showing up at different places and shaking hands. Volunteering for RAINN seemed to be a little more hands-on and challenging. It feels as important as anything I’ve ever done, including writing and wrestling. It’s a 40-hour online training program, which includes 15 hours of in-person training. When I had my first practice session with another volunteer, I just fell apart. I couldn’t bring up some of the resources on the computer. It was among the worst experiences of my life. My kids heard things they’d never heard from me. They didn’t know I knew how to curse.
“By the next week when I did my real session, partially supervised, I was much more comfortable. Last week I did my first unsupervised shift. I had a session with a young lady who had been raped by someone she knew at school. It was a difficult session, but at the end I really felt like I’d helped her. I think there’s a role for someone like me who has not been a victim. You have to learn to communicate in all different types of situations, whether they were confronted by date rape, incest, physical abuse, or it’s a woman trying to escape an abusive relationship.”
And not only that. Not only that! But he’s encouraging other men to get involved.
“Crimes of sexual violence profoundly affect men. Every two minutes in this country, someone is sexually assaulted, and the victims have husbands, fathers, brothers, friends, and colleagues ... Moreover, men are victims of sexual assault, too. For us men to ignore this problem is to lay down our arms in the fight against sexual violence. It means giving up on a battle that can be won with weapons as simple as education, understanding, and a little old-fashioned anger. We should no longer stand idly by, allowing only women and survivors to engage in this most winnable form of combat.
“Furthermore, victims of sexual assault—male and female—need to hear from male voices. They need men as well as women to take them seriously, to tell them that it isn’t their fault and that they are not alone. That’s why I am an Online Hotline volunteer, and it is why I hope to persuade more men to become aware and involved.
“There are simple things that any man can do to prevent sexual violence as well as help victims of this serious crime: if you see someone who might need help, don’t simply walk away and assume everything will be okay. Intervene! Speak up. Help the potential victim get to a safer place. If you see a buddy or a guy doing something that he shouldn’t—stand up for what you know is right. Tell him that you don’t agree with what he’s doing and ask him to leave the potential victim alone. I know it can be uncomfortable, even painful to do. Many men (including me) may have found themselves witnesses to situations that seemed wrong—situations that had the potential to escalate into something truly bad or criminal—and simply lacked the courage to speak up or step forward.
“Let’s get the courage. It’s a courage that might stop a friend from committing a crime, and stop someone—a sister, a mother, a wife, a friend, a human being—from being a victim. “
“Together, this is a fight we can win,” Foley says, and I agree.
Mick Foley, I salute you. Cookies are on me.