AJ Styles appeared on Louder with Crowder, a right-wing conservative podcast and joined them for an interview and touched on topics such as the “controversial” Gillette commercial, toxic masculinity and WWE’s ability to operate in modern culture. The host Stephen Crowder has come under fire in the past for inflammatory alt-right rhetoric, and Styles getting that close to this outlet was a head-turning event when the news broke on Twitter Monday afternoon.
AJ’s political allegiance isn’t exactly a secret among fans. His like history on Twitter will reveal a whole lot if you are not familiar, and he wouldn’t be the first high profile wrestler to have his political leanings spotlighted. Remember at the WWE Hall Of Fame this year when Kid Rock (who is a story himself, which I don’t have time to discuss) said he would like to body slam some Democrats, then the camera cut immediately to the WWE Champion AJ Styles who was howling uncontrollably with laughter next to Kurt Angle. However, I am fascinated this was allowed to happen at this time, and what AJ was trying to accomplish by doing this show.
On WWE’s end they’ve gone almost radio silent politically since the 2016 election, and have never stood near anything left or right wing, or Donald Trump despite him being a member of the WWE Hall of Fame, and Linda McMahon being a sitting cabinet member. His involvement in Wrestlemania 4, 5 and 23 has essentially been washed from current references.
Bobby Lashley returned to WWE last year, and his history in WWE most famously with Trump has never been reflected upon. Aside from a picture that was taken in the Oval Office with the McMahon family and the President, WWE has remained as apolitical as possible, not wanting to draw the ire of their large minority fanbase, particularly in the Black & Latino community. To be honest, I don’t want to see them flaunting the Trump relationship anyway so I can appreciate that.
For Styles, he’s been one of WWE’s most popular wrestlers, and at the moment, their top merchandise mover, so when I heard about him appearing on the show it was certainly eyebrow-raising. However, if we know anything about how WWE controls the outside appearances of wrestlers, how did this appearance get through the office? Just take a look at the shirts that were being peddled minutes before he went on the show.
Just started watching this AJ Styles interview on Louder with Crowder. These are the shirts being sold moments before the interview begins. pic.twitter.com/mLbEF6sARD
— Ryan Satin (@ryansatin) January 22, 2019
For those of you that know the topics I take on, these shirts are absolutely disgusting, and Styles even being there is going to make him and WWE by proxy look guilty by association.
So how did this happen? For me, it looks to be one of two things. AJ Styles contract is coming up soon, and with All Elite Wrestling in the fold, WWE could have felt like they couldn’t say no to his request and get a small bit of promotion for the Royal Rumble out of it.
Maybe they realized this could seriously impact their ability to retain him if they didn’t grant this concession. I think WWE probably scored some points with AJ on this front by not “censoring” him and “limiting his free speech.” AJ couldn’t just show up here by himself, WWE had to greenlight this. Additionally, maybe there’s something else at play.
What if WWE is tired of privately hiding their affiliations? Maybe they figure that this won’t hurt them anymore and see value in going after that segment of fans. Remember, they literally played a waiting game with sponsors until they felt like they could welcome back self-admitted racist Hulk Hogan to sell a few shirts. If there’s money to get, WWE will grab it.
And although they didn’t put their name on promoting Styles appearance through any of their large public outlets, they gave their approval privately. Out of morbid curiosity, I watched it, and right now there are clips going around Twitter with one of WWE’s faces of their company linked with Stephen Crowder. This is a sharp contrast on what their political stances have been as of late and could reveal future dealings. Dealings, that many fans aren’t going to want any part of.
For AJ’s part, he didn’t come on the show and recklessly insult anyone. It was rather mundane, to be honest. He demonstrated some anger at the Gillette ad and confusion about who it was targeting, but he was careful not to walk through any doors that Crowder was opening for him.
The things AJ feigned confusion about could easily be explained with a google search. This could have been FAR worse than it actually was. As it stands only the optics look terrible, but most people only see the optics. In the court of public opinion and fast-moving Twitterverse, this was an L for Styles and WWE.
The most interesting part was when Crowder pejoratively said: “Pro Wrestling seems to be immune to the Social Justice left.” Styles was unsure about that and said WWE stands in the middle because they are aware of the “PC culture” and they want all fans to be welcome. AJ Styles thought there might not be that many of them watching, but he wasn’t sure. Crowder pushed the old retread idea of “Heartland” wrestling fans, totally missing the boat on the impact that wrestling has globally on fans.
Styles said the one thing that helps WWE is that there is one guy in charge, alluding to Vince McMahon, who he noted was aware of the society we’re in. However, neither McMahon or Styles seemed to be aware of how this appearance positioned each of them.