© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pro-Wrestling's Family Friendly, Racially Stereotyped Attraction in Ohio

Ring action
Ring action
NOW wrestling focuses on small towns in Ohio and bills itself as family friendly.

Professional wrestling is huge in arenas, on television and now the subject of a new series – Glow – on Netflix. It’s popular entertainment in small towns as well. Ohio has several leagues. Columbus-based New Ohio Wrestling – or NOW -- started two years ago, and touts itself as family- friendly. WOSU’s Adora Namigadde  found the league also promotes racial stereotypes.

Multi-colored disco lights and loud music all add to the atmosphere of New Ohio Wrestling’s latest showdown at an indoor sport complex in Grove City.

This night’s event featured  seven matches. It wraps up by 10, so kids who attend can get to bed at a reasonable time.

Family friendly?
Donnie and Terry Hoover founded the league. The couple has four daughters. They founded NOW so Donnie could re-engage with his passion, wrestling, and let his family enjoy it at the same time.

“Our family-friendly version is they don’t cuss. They argue with the kids, they do what they’re supposed to do but there’s no slip of the nudity, vulgarity.”

What they’re supposed to do is entertain. Wrestling is as much theater as athleticism.

Donnie Hoover passes out a four-page play-by-play rundown to all the wrestlers in the locker room before the first match. They already know who will win and who will lose.

'They wanted a character that was over the top, kind of a big strong savage guy.'

“Dark Star” Matt Taylor will win, He’s from Grove City, and won’t lose in his hometown.

Papa Dingo and African stereotypes
There was The Black Superman Onyx, a large African-American man. The nearly all white audience loved him.

One of the tag teams was hillbilly Jock Samson and Papa Dingo, an African savage captured in Madagascar. Jock Samson’s in a cowboy hat and shorts. Even though Papa Dingo is African American, he wears black face and a zebra-print singlet.

“This is our first night. I flew him in over here on a chartered flight from, I believe, Uganda?

Papa Dingo grunts out “Madagascarrrrr.”

Too stupid to speak
As a savage, part of Papa Dingo’s character is that he’s too unintelligent to speak. So Jock Samson translates everything he says.

Jock Samson and Papa Dingo
Credit WOSU
Pro wrestlers 'Jock Samson' and 'Papa Dingo' -- who is portrayed as too ignorant to speak.

“This is our first time tagging together because I went on a big tour of Southern Africa, and then I hit the island of Madagascar and I said, “Look at the big, savage, son of a -----. I need to bring him to the States.”

They even wanted me to get into the act.  That night I wore a Ugandan soccer jersey. It’s my nationality.

Samson translates: “He would like you to be his 16th wife. ... You don’t have a choice really. The tribes of Madagascar, they just tell their wife what they’re gonna do.”

Papa Dingo patted my hair and touch my shoulders.After a few uncomfortable minutes we went our separate ways.

Meet the real Papa Dingo

'At anytime, I can change and do what I wanna do.'

Papa Dingo wouldn’t break character, so I tracked him down after the event. His name’s Jabari Hawthorne, and he’s been wrestling since he was 13. He lives in in Gahanna.

“I came up with Papa Dingo once we was in Southern Ohio with WBW, and they wanted a character that was over the top, kind of a big strong savage guy.”

Hawthorne drew inspiration from Kamala, a wild savage gimmick played by James Harris in the WWE. He does not consider his act racist, rather simple entertainment that makes people laugh.

“At anytime, I can change and do what I wanna do.'

Papa Dingo is simply who he wants to be.

Gimmicks and merchandising
“I think gimmicks are necessary, especially if you wanna do merchandise or T-shirts and things of that nature. And on top of that, I enjoy doing it.”

This kind of stereotyping is nothing new in wrestling, according to Laurence DeGaris. He’s a former pro-wrestler and writes about the performative aspect of wrestling.

“You’re in the ring in tights. You body’s exposed. So for wrestlers, you body’s always the center of your gimmick. I mean, you can’t escape it.”

He says wrestling’s reliance on stereotypes is called “cheap heat,” a way to illicit reactions.

Twelve-year-old Gwen Quinby loved the show.

“My family’s gone to everyone. You get to be way closer than in the WWE.”

'They're the professional wrestlers. They know what they like to do, want to do. So we just let them do their thing.'

League founder Donnie Hoover says he does not assign characters to wrestlers. He says they put their own stories together.

“The majority of their actual matches, we let them figure out. They’re the professional wrestlers. They know what they like to do, want to do. So we just let them do their thing.”

So far, the model’s bringing success, and New Ohio Wrestling’s sticking with it.