HARTFORD—It’s tough to keep kids on message and bullying wasn’t the only thing a group of young fans wanted to talk with wrestler David Otunga about at a WWE sponsored event aimed at reducing bullying.
“Some of my teachers say that wrestling is fake,” one young fan told Otunga during a Q&A session Monday.
Otunga, who’d just wrapped up a talk with Hartford youths about how he’d faced bullying growing up, was quick with a response.
“It’s entertainment and it’s definitely storyline driven, but I don’t know about that. If you saw John Cena against Brock Lesnar, I’d rethink that one,” he replied.
While some of the children at the Wilson Gray YMCA did ask Otunga about bullying, many wanted to know about other things, like why he tends to quickly lose matches against fellow wrestler Cena. Another wanted to know why his skin appeared to be darker on television.
“How come on TV you’re darker and now you’re lighter?” the boy asked.
“I’ll give you this secret—it’s the baby oil. It makes my muscles look bigger and darker. Don’t tell anybody, I’m only sharing this with you guys,” Otunga answered.
Otunga, who’s also an attorney and Harvard Law School grad, visited the Hartford YMCA as part the WWE’s “Be A STAR” campaign. The initiative is an effort co-founded by the WWE, aimed at reducing bullying by educating kids.
The anti-bullying campaign comes to Connecticut as the nature of the WWE’s programming has been called into question in light of former CEO Linda McMahon’s campaign for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat.
The wrestling corporation has been involved in an ongoing feud with editorial writers who characterize the programming as violent pornography. It started when the Journal Inquirer’s Managing Editor Chris Powell wrote in a column that McMahon had acquired her wealth from “the business of violence, pornography, and general raunch.”
The WWE responded by calling for a retraction and threatening to sue Powell for libel. Powell took the threat to the Federal Election Commission, saying the company was trying to help McMahon’s campaign.
Though a Quinnipiac University poll released last week suggested most voters disagree with the assertion the WWE’s programming is pornographic, it also found that McMahon’s association with the company is increasingly hurting her with some voters. Thirty-eight percent of those polled said her experience as CEO of the WWE made them less likely to vote for her. That’s up two points from two years ago.
However, McMahon’s daughter Stephanie McMahon, the company’s executive vice president of creative, said Monday’s event was about giving back to the community and reaching out to the state’s youth, not about reinforcing a family-friendly image. However, she said the media has “completely mischaracterized” the WWE’s programing.
“That’s not who we are at all. We feel the need to stand up for ourselves much like we teach these kids here to stand up against bullying,” she said.
The event preceded an episode of “Monday Night Raw,” which was to be filmed at the XL Center Monday night.
Shripal Shah, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, issued a press release Monday saying the event would put McMahon’s “disgusting record” on display for Connecticut to see.
“The WWE’s visit to Hartford tonight serves as a perfect reminder for Connecticut voters of Linda McMahon’s record as the company’s CEO,” Shah said. “The fact is that Linda McMahon got rich marketing sex and violence to little kids, all at the expense of the health and safety of her own employees.”
At least a few of those little kids are paying attention. One of them asked Otunga about bullying within the WWE’s programming. He acknowledged it’s part of the story.
“I hate to say it but I was part of this group called the Nexus and we did bullying for the better part of a year. We pretty much bullied the entire roster,” he said. “… In WWE we see a lot of times there’s bullying and people will bully somebody else but it never works out well for the bullies in the end.”