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It Could Be Said #39 I Forgive Jay, Not Turner
Remember Jay Briscoe and the heartless corporation who refused to honour his memory
The world of professional wrestling was rocked on Tuesday as the news filtered out of Delaware that the man known worldwide as Jay Briscoe had been killed in a car accident whilst taking one of his children to dance practice. The other driver was also killed, and both of his children that were in the car were injured, one particularly seriously.
The world of pro wrestling is used to performers dying young but usually due to demons or vices that somehow darkly align with the larger-than-life personas that they bring to the squared circle. When we hear about someone dying from a drug overdose or due to prolonged abuse of steroids, that makes what happens feel distant and alien; it was the business that caused their death, and we as mere viewers don’t understand its strange ways.
But this tragedy wasn’t one that only happens in the brutal world of pro wrestling. Instead, its one that happens every day, all over the world. Any one of us could be fulfilling some mundane errand only for everything to suddenly end through no fault of our own. And just like Jay, we would leave behind friends and family whose lives had changed forever without warning or reason.
It is common when paying tribute to a fallen pro wrestler to talk about how big a fan of his you were, sometimes to the point of exaggeration. I do not want to do that today. I did not follow Jay’s career as closely as others, but I greatly admired what he and his brother Mark brought to the business. I remember when I wrote for Fighting Spiriting Magazine, my then editor Brian Elliot sent me a couple of Ring of Honor DVDs to broaden my wrestling perspective; Jay and Mark’s matches across those DVDs were the clear highlight. That was always one of the ironies about the Briscoes, who despite having been the one constant through every permutation of the promotion, they were the ROH act that non-fans could most enjoy. The brawling brothers from a chicken farm were a classic act that everyone who watched them could enjoy; when Gabe Sapolsky and Kevin Owens and Jim Cornette and Tony Khan all agree that someone should be at the heart of a promotion, you know you have something special.
But the reason I’m writing this article today is to address the issue that not only defined both brothers’ careers for a decade, but has shockingly prevented AEW from giving a full tribute to Jay. That of course is the homophobic comments he made back in 2013. Responding to Delaware legalising same-sex match, Briscoe congratulated those who were happy about the move, before threatening to shoot anyone who tried to teach his kids such marriages are morally right. This was the second time he had been criticised for a homophobic tweet, as two years before, after being caught up in the NYC LGBTQ+ Pride Parade whilst waiting for a show, he noted that there were a lot of ‘fags’ in the city that day.
Clearly both comments were utterly horrendous. And Jay deserved to be punished, which he was. It is an open secret that the Briscoes were at one point close to leaving ROH for NXT, a move that was stopped in its tracks by his outburst. But what was bizarre is that these comments haunted him for the rest of his life, despite no repeated mistakes and numerous apologies. Not only did Jay repeatedly accept that his comments were wrong and apologise for them, but both brothers stressed that they welcomed LGBTQ+ fans and were sorry that these comments may have made people feel like their fandom wasn’t welcomed or appreciated.
Despite this when they toured Britain in 2018, some fans protested their presence. That brought fresh controversy when the Briscoes, whilst playing heel during a tag match in Manchester, grabbed someone’s rainbow flag to aid their heel beatdown. And even as ROH imploded WWE never reconsidered their decision not to hire one of the best tag teams in the world. Then when Tony Khan bought their home of two decades, his broadcast partner made it clear that the Briscoes were not welcome on AEW programming, even as they were one half of the only nu-ROH feud that gain any real traction with fans. Despite being relegated to the minor leagues, any one of their matches against FTR on ROH PPV may have been the best match of the year in either Khan-owned promotion.
I am far from an expert in the career of the Briscoe Brothers, but I am a bisexual man with over twenty years’ experience in LGBTQ+ activism and equalities advocacy. Through the latter I know enough to know that this was wrong. Jay absolutely screwed up, and it was right that WWE passed on signing him when they first planned to. But you cannot condemn people forever for what they do in their worst moments, especially on a topic like same-sex marriage that has seen attitudes change so rapidly. What is the point of championing societal progress, if you refuse to believe that individuals can walk that journey themselves?
Back in 2018 I thought the protestors were dredging up old issues which had been resolved. Nearly five years later Jay is somehow still so toxic that Turner wouldn’t let Khan allocate any running time to a proper tribute for a man who died a champion in one of his companies. The same company that when the combined rosters will do their delayed tribute for FITE and HONOR CLUB, will be broadcasting the premiere episode of a Power Slap League helmed by a man in Dana White who was recently caught on camera slapping his wife repeatedly.
We LGBTQ+ people have experienced a lot through our time, but I hope we can all see the actions of Turner for the self-serving, hypocritically and downright cowardly nonsense they are. They don’t deny Jay Briscoe the tribute he and those who loved him deserve in my name, and I hope they didn’t prevent that tribute in your name either. Love and forgiveness will always be a truer ally to our cause than self-serving corporations.
Rest in Power, Jay Briscoe.