I am not a wrestling fan. I am a huge comic book nerd, which is why I'm headed to the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo this weekend.* But this weekend I'm going to get in line with wrestling fans (oh God what am I doing?) so that I can hopefully shake hands with Mick Foley, a man of such massive proportions that if I were to meet him in any other situation I would likely have a moment of fear. Hell, I can't guarantee that I won't be scared meeting him, but I can guarantee it will be no fault of his.
Here is where I admit that I had never heard of this man until a little over a year ago, when I was listening to an interview he gave. But the passion with which he spoke about the charities and organizations he works had me quickly falling down an internet black hole, reading articles on website catered towards people who feel about wrestling the way I feel about Nutella and Netflix, which is to say very, very strongly.
Like many athletes (no stop we're really not having that debate), Foley has spent a lot of time visiting the men and women in the armed services; his near-monthly visits to wounded veterans in the DC area are stuff of legend. But this is a man who has dedicated himself most to children. He's been involved with the Make-a-Wish Foundation as well as ChildFund International, sponsoring several kids personally and helping to build schools all over the world. He speaks about the experiences he's had with these organizations with a mixture of pride, awe, and shock that he's been allowed to do such awesome things. He's written four kids' books and openly admits that Santa is real for him.
What has me prepared to stand in line with people who will be wearing shirt featuring names and faces I do not know is the fact that Foley works with RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). After meeting Tori Amos at San Diego Comic Con, he decided he could not stand by without doing anything. He spends hours manning their online hotline and speaks loudly and at length about the dangers and struggles faced by survivors. Over the course of a little over a year, he logged 550 volunteer hours working with survivors. That's twenty three full days of speaking to people who needed help. He's auctioned off several items from his wrestling career to benefit RAINN fundraising efforts, even going so far as to offer to mow the lawn of anyone who donated over a certain amount of money.
I'm not here to have an argument about how allies should get treated. That debate will continue to rage on long after I get my photo op and shake his hand. I certainly don't think anyone deserves a cookie for just being a decent human being. I don't think that Foley should get applauded because he's not assaulting women. But for a man, a giant of a man, to hear and try to understand, to ask questions and really listen, then to take substantial and meaningful action to evangelize to others...that gets my attention. And when that man comes from an industry that is chronically and foundationally wrapped up in the concept of machismo, I sit up and take note. This is a man who will never have to fear what most women fear every day. This is a man who has no frame of context for what it is to be physically frightened of nearly half of the people in the world around him, but he does this anyway, because it matters.
I am reminded of something that Junot Diaz said, and while completely aware of the irony that I'm using a quote from a man to demonstrate my point here, I can't resist sharing.
I think the average guy thinks they're pro-woman, just because they think they're a nice guy and someone has told them that they're awesome. But the truth is far from it. Unless you are actively, consciously working against the gravitational pull of the culture, you will predictably, thematically, create these sort of fucked-up representations.
Mick Foley is actively and consciously working against the gravitational pull of the culture. He is doing more than many friends I've had, men who've claimed to my face that 80% of rape cases are fake, knowing that I'm a survivor myself. Men who have touched me without permission and been agog when I was upset. Men who, without fail, reminded me that "Men are raped, too!" and "Not all guys are like that!" when the subject of sexual harassment and assault comes up.
So that's why I'm going to stand in line to meet a wrestler that I didn't know existed 15 months ago. That's why I'm probably going to burst into tears while thanking a huge stranger that I might have crossed the street to avoid before I came to recognize his face. Because he, without even knowing me, has treated me and my experiences with more respect than people who probably still think we're friends.
I'm just hoping that, with shoulders that big and arms that strong, Foley can drag some people along with him while he resists gravity.
Image of Foley via Wikipedia.
Image of cookie via sajbrfem.
*Disclaimer: I am also a panelist and involved in several events throughout the weekend. But I'd be going even if I wasn't.