The Night Roman Reigns Became Superman
I have mentioned in the past that I am a gigantic fan of professional wrestling, and one of the elements of the genre that I was drawn to when I was a child is that the wrestlers seemed to be superhuman. It was like watching a live action comic book or Saturday morning cartoon. Wrestling has changed quite a lot since I first started watching, as wrestlers are less like cartoonish caricatures and now (for the most part) are more like professional athletes. While professional wrestling has taken a more “realistic” form, there is still the sense that their strength and abilities surpass that of normal mortals while they are in the ring.
Yes, of course this is all theatrics, and the fighting is less important than the stories that they tell, but there is always the aspect of professional wrestling that they are somehow superhuman that is appealing to watch, especially to younger audiences.
Because of the internet age, the idea of kayfabe (a term created for professional wrestling to describe the fictitious world that the characters in the sport live in and their storylines are able to exist) has started to diminish, and many fans know that what wrestlers do in the ring is separate from what they do outside of it. During a wrestling program, however, the world of kayfabe is 100% in play and what is happening outside of the ring (unless it is worked into the storylines) is forgotten.
In the WWE, there is a professional wrestler named Roman Reigns, and he is currently one of the promotion’s top stars. While older fans are very divided on his character, younger fans are as drawn to him as they were with John Cena and Hulk Hogan. Much like Cena and Hogan, he is a Superman-like character that can defeat any and all competitors, and they do so in the most honorable way possible. Nothing can keep him down, for whoever and whatever knocks him over, he gets up and finishes the fight.
On October 22, 2018, however, that mystique was challenged, as Reigns came down to the ring to open Monday Night Raw with an announcement. He was relinquishing the WWE Universal Championship (a title that is perceived as the top title in the promotion), for his real life 11 year battle with leukemia had returned, and he needed to receive treatment to fight this disease. He broke kayfabe, called himself by his real name (Joe), talked about how he fought the disease the first time and how it ended his football career, and thanked the WWE for taking a chance on him and allowing him to be the performer he became, and told the crowd that he would return.
It was a short speech, but it came from the heart, and it was evident that this was not something cooked up for a storyline but was actually something he was dealing with. And you could see it on the faces in the crowd, as they were digesting the fact that they weren’t listening to Roman Reigns, the WWE Universal Champion, but Joe, the man fighting for his life against a terrible disease.
At least, that’s how the older members of the crowd dealt with this news.
For younger fans, this strong dose of reality was hard to digest. This was ROMAN REIGNS. He can defeat anyone and everything…right?
Right, mom and dad? He’s going to be ok? Right? We’ll see him on the next show, or maybe a couple shows from now, bigger and stronger than ever, right? This is for sure going to have a happy ending, and he’ll be victorious once again, right?
And that’s when, if you’re a parent of a young Roman Reigns fan, the fantasy world that has been created comes crumbling down, and that’s when you need to talk to them about the scary and unknown parts of life with someone that your child may have felt was invincible. Now they have to face the fact that if it can affect their superheroes, it can also affect those that they love.
I remember when Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV positive and had to retire from basketball. It was hard to grasp that someone so strong could be infected with such a terrible disease, for in my mind it didn’t seem like someone with such strength could become ill in such a manner. His announcement helped facilitate many conversations that I had with my parents and with my teachers, talking not only about HIV and AIDS, but also about mortality and appreciating life and never taking anything for granted. It helped open up dialogue about what is important in life and when others may need support when they are down.
I think that Roman Reign’s announcement with his own medical battle will help facilitate similar conversations for current youth, for they will have a lot of questions about what is happening to one of their favorite WWE Superstars. It’s going to be scary at first, for they will have to come to the realization that there is a chance that he won’t be able to overcome this disease and that he may end up losing his battle with leukemia. But amongst that fear will also blossom hope and learning about what one goes through when battling such a disease and the importance of support during that time. And by Reigns going through this battle, it can also be used as an example if a loved one is going through a similar ordeal.
On October 22nd, Roman Reigns became much more than just another professional wrestler. He became a man who is facing struggles that we can all relate to, with stakes that are much higher than any championship match. He is in the literal fight for his life, and it is a fight that many families are also facing every day. He will become a beacon of hope for those who are facing similar battles, for his fight is parallel to so many other people’s fights, and he will fight the same way that they are. His fight won’t involve a suplex or a flying punch or any type of feat of physical strength. Instead, his strength will come from the drive to not give up and stare down fate.
Because of this, October 22nd is the night that Roman Reigns became Superman.