Sasha Banks and Naomi: “Grin and Bear It” Narrative is Harmful
By: Katrina Blake
Mercedes Varnado, known to us wrestling fans as Sasha Banks, is one of the most decorated female champions in WWE. Ever since she made her debut in December 2012, she has been a household name. Her match against Bayley in 2015 was the first women’s match to headline an NXT Takeover. This match, at NXT TakeOver: Respect, was the first iron woman match in WWE history and also the longest at 30 minutes.
In 2016, Banks, along with Charlotte Flair, became one of the first women to headline a WWE pay-per-view event at Hell in a Cell. She was the inaugural winner of the WWE Women’s Tag Team titles along with Bayley. She would go on to be one of the first Black women to headline Wrestlemania. She shared this honor with Bianca Belair at Wrestlemania 37.
Currently, as it stands Banks, has held the NXT Women’s Championship once, the RAW Women’s title five times, the SmackDown Women’s title one time and, she the WWE Women’s Tag Team titles three times, the latter being with Naomi. She is also the fourth WWE Women’s Triple Crown Champion and the third WWE Women’s Grand Slam Champion.
Trinity Fatu is known to wrestling fans as Naomi. She is one of the most loved women in the WWE Universe. Signing with WWE in 2009, she would become the inaugural Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) Diva’s Champion. She placed second in the third season of NXT—which featured an all-female roster at that time. At Elimination Chamber in 2017, Naomi won the SmackDown Women’s title making her the first Black woman to do so. She was also the inaugural winner of the Wrestlemania Women’s Battle Royal at Wrestlemania 34. In 2022, at WrestleMania 38, she would become the WWE Women’s Tag champion with Banks. Naomi has held the SmackDown Women’s title twice.
Now, while many of these accomplishments are known, I mention them because it speaks to what they bring to WWE, and ultimately, what they bring to the fans. They are both talented and accomplished women. It makes the whole suspension situation more upsetting.
On May 16, 2022, Banks and Naomi walked out from RAW. WWE put out a statement stating the two champs left RAW, claiming they weren’t respected enough as tag team champions. The statement from WWE continued by saying that Banks and Naomi didn’t feel comfortable working with two of their opponents from a match they were scheduled to work—their opponents being Nikki A.S.H., Asuka, Doudrop, and Becky Lynch—to determine the number one contender for the RAW Women’s Championship at Hell in a Cell against the defending Bianca Belair.
Later that week, WWE stated they would have a women’s tag team tournament to crown new champions, after stripping Banks and Naomi from their titles and suspending the competitors indefinitely.
It was speculated that Banks was upset that WWE wasn’t treating the tag team titles as important as they should’ve been. Banks and Naomi have only defended the titles twice since winning them: once against Rhea Ripley and Liv Morgan on RAW, and then a second time against Natalya and Shayna Baszler on SmackDown.
Now, neither Superstar has spoken about what happened yet, and so I can’t say for sure what the story is. However, seeing fans all over now complain about both ladies leaving, saying “they should do their job”, is insane to me. We as a culture now celebrate leaving a job that doesn’t serve you or make you happy, especially after COVID hit. Many wrestlers have left WWE, gone to other companies, and said how unhappy they were. People still celebrate CM Punk for doing so. People celebrated Jeff Hardy for doing what he felt he needed to so he could be with his brother. When Toni Storm up and left after an event, she was cheered. She was celebrated. People understood.
Now, when two Black women decide that their best interests weren’t being cared for at the company both women have worked hard for, now it’s an issue. I’ve seen the despicable things people have said about them. Many with racist, malicious and misogynistic intent.
Many of the fans went to social media to support Sasha Banks and Naomi, but there was also much of the opposite. Not realizing what most women, doubly for Black women, have to do and endure in the wrestling business. Black women in general always have to work twice as hard to be noticed—damn near perfect, as we aren’t allowed opportunities to really drop the ball. We have to outshine and outperform, and if we have any grievances, we are expected to shut up and smile.
Black athletes in general are told to “just play the sport”. “Just wrestle”. They are told they should be grateful for what they have, that can’t complain about being unhappy. Two things can be true at the same time: you can be grateful for an opportunity and still be upset with your experience. You and someone else can work for the same exact person and have two very different experiences.
The implication that neither Naomi nor Banks should complain speaks to the harmful culture of being perceived as the problematic Black woman when we speak about things that bother or upset us.
Mind you, neither woman has said a word yet. Yet, so many have so many negative things to say about why they ultimately walked out on May 16.
WWE taking their Facebook pages down, taking their merch down, and removing them from a show intro reeks of petty. Corey Graves’ comments, which seemed unnecessary, and Michael Cole’s claiming the women disappointed fans also seem like an attempt to spin the situation as two Black women being “extra”. With the statements and comments, WWE is saying: two Black women are the issue and we have to let everyone know they are at fault. It lacks tact.
Many mentioned Banks leaving before, as if she didn’t address needing a mental health break. According to many close to her, Naomi is one of the most unproblematic people in wrestling. She does what she was told, even with problematic storylines, like her feud with Sonya Deville, that had no payoff for her. She has been overlooked many times as if she wasn’t athletic and talented. She hasn’t been treated like the star that she is.
Sasha Banks is a woman who has shined outside of wrestling. One would think anyone would try to understand the point of view that the WWE Women’s Tag Team titles are also important and should be treated as such. The reaction from some of the fans and the response from WWE has been disgusting, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Black women are allowed to express their discontent about things in their lives, which also include the jobs we work in.
All the implications behind the narrative of never speaking out against the issues we face in the workplace and various areas of life affects Black women more than you know. It is dangerous to our own well-being and mental health. We are looked at as always being the strong ones, and can tolerate a lot with no problems, and that in itself is unacceptable. We do feel frustration, anger, pain and disappointment. We can do so without being the villain as society would have you believe.
If and when Sasha Banks and Naomi decide to speak about it, I hope that they can do so without some areas of social media being disrespectful. If this also leads to both women leaving WWE, I feel they both will thrive outside of the company.
I hope with this incident, the wrestling community, and other communities, understand how the rhetoric of smiling and keeping our feelings inside is detrimental to Black women in various industries. Regardless, I stand with Sasha Banks and Naomi.
Katrina Blake is an author, host, interviewer and media correspondent working with organizations like Women’s Wrestling Talk, We Are Wrestling, Battle Club Pro, INVICTUS Wrestling, Shooting the Sports Ish, Sports Obsessive and Horror Obsessive.
You can follow Katrina on Twitter @InKatW3Trust.
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