As a once passionate WWF/WWE fan, I still find myself following the storylines and the behind the scenes causes for those stories regularly. Even as I rarely watch the paid content and never watch their weekly shows, something about the drama in the squared circle has kept me interested for more than a decade since I stopped calling myself a real fan of the show. The writers room and general culture surrounding the brand has a storied and usually problematic history, which is partly what led me to get out of the fandom, but on this week’s Smackdown Live, a shift occurred that I find to be both fascinating from a brand angle and inspiring to the many fans in attendance and watching at home.
If you missed it, the WWE Champion Daniel Bryan came out to the ring to do a spot with the WWE Championship belt, the most iconic symbol in all of the brand. He dismissively and shockingly called it trash, literally threw it away in a garbage can, and replaced it with a brand new, 100% sustainable, vegan, eco-friendly title belt. Bryan, an outspoken vegan and environmentalist promised that he would change the world when he became champion again and added: “to change the world we need new symbols.” With that, he unveiled the new belt made of sustainable, organic hemp and wood from an oak tree that had naturally fallen.
THIS is the new symbol of excellence.
— WWE (@WWE) January 30, 2019
This symbolic change represents a more drastic, tangible one in the culture of the WWE. It says, for one, that they’re involving Bryan in his own plot pretty closely. Being a staunch advocate for animal rights, for environmental protectionism, these things aren’t gimmicks for his character to perform on the “stage” of the WWE. These are beliefs he holds very near and dear to his heart and the injection of them into WWE in this way marks a monumental shift for the brand, which has for so long gotten by with some of the raunchiest, crudest writing seen on TV. The WWE has an ugly history with institutional racism, sexism, and poor working conditions, and this belt sadly doesn’t address any of those, but it does tell us they’ve realized you don’t have to go for the lowest common denominator to tell a compelling story or make headlines. They should be applauded and so should Bryan to whatever extent he had in making this storyline come to life, which I suspect was a great extent.
Everyone that has a platform of any size has a moral imperative to use it for the greater good. It’s why the “stick to politics” trolls you see on social media don’t hold any weight. We look up to our heroes in sports and entertainment often more than the politicians themselves. If people like Chris Evans, Damon Lindelof, or in this case, Daniel Bryan, want to use their massive platforms to spur real, compassionate change, that’s a beautiful thing. Public opinion often swings on actions such as theirs and to do nothing when you have such a voice leaves one complicit in the problem. Bryan’s revised title belt acts as a call to arms for WWE fans of all ages, but especially the youngest of them who will feel the effects of climate change the longest. With his toss of the old, inhumane leather belt into the trash can, as he holds the new eco-friendly belt high, he has made a promise to fans, to himself, and to this planet on which we all live together, that he will speak up, he will help alter the course of WWE’s problematic history and our planet’s future alike. He has become the Planet’s Champion, as he so branded himself this week, and he’s exactly the hero the WWE Universe needs right now.