The Roman Empire has fallen. Not from Barbarians or lead poisoning or the depravity of the emperor, but by the ingestion of a banned substance. This week, just a day after headlining Raw and being announced as part of a a big triple threat match for the WWE Title at the Battleground pay-per-view, Roman Reigns was suspended 30 days for his first Wellness Policy infraction. We don’t know what he was busted for, but steroids would not be that crazy of a guess.
What to do with Roman now is the question. The Battleground event is more than 30 days away, so the WWE can just ignore it and plug him back into the main event like nothing happened. The WWE could play up an injury angle, which could also lead to him eating the pin at Battleground as “punishment.” Given how the WWE has built themselves on the overly muscled backs of those who wouldn’t have passed a Wellness Test if it was within 2 miles of their urine, I don’t expect a huge deal to be made of this. Especially in kayfabe mode.
The WWE is still pushing themselves as a PG product. Having any discussion of a wellness violation on television is not the kind of family-friendly entertainment the company is aiming for. Heck, maybe Roman will be on the receiving end of a snide Vince McMahon joke when he returns, like Randy Orton was. Then it will be right back to the same-old – a desire to look like the biggest superhero because they are the ones who get the pushes.
In this Fantasy Book, I take a shot at how the WWE can handle this situation, possibly even getting Roman Reigns over more than he has ever been.
I mentioned the PG nature of the WWE product. But I would argue that perhaps the WWE’s view of a PG product is not in line with what is actually a PG product in the world around us. Anyone who watches professional sports will see a ton of things which might not be “PG,” and not just the on the field action. One of the biggest sports stories of this past NBA season was the Los Angeles Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell/Nick Young cell phone fiasco. For those who don’t know, apparently Russell tried to play a trick on his teammate and recorded Young on his phone admitting to cheating on his fiance, Iggy Azalea. The recording got out into the public and caused all sorts of turmoil on the team and on every sports talk show out there. The whole thing was decidedly un-PC. But it was out there for EVERYONE to hear about, digest, comment on, and share in the experience.
Other issues come up all the time in professional sports – gunplay, felony theft, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, DUI, even murder. It’s out there and it can’t be avoided. One of the most prevalent stories we often hear from the world of professional sports is one of performance-enhancing drugs. Especially in professional baseball, there are unquestioned superstars who are pariahs now due to their use and alleged use of steroids – Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons, Mark McGuire, Alex Rodriguez, and the list goes on and on.
Whenever we hear about these issues in sports, we look for answers. We shove microphones into the players’ faces and want to hear a reasonable response. We don’t want to keep thinking that our heroes are cheaters. There has to be a good explanation, right? But we never get one. All we get are rehearsed excuses, attempts to shift blame to others, blanket denials, and an unwillingness to admit their own failures.
What Roman Reigns needs to do is what we, as fans, have always craved. We need him to talk to us. To take responsibility. To be contrite. To work his way back into our good graces.
Roman started that path already with his tweet following the suspension. He tweeted out “I apologize to my family, friends and fans for my mistake in violating WWE’s wellness policy. No excuses. I own it.” Now, the first sentence there is just a load of crap that we hear from everyone. It is a “I’m sorry I got caught” line. But the last two sentences in his statement is where I’d focus. Especially his “owning” it.
When Reigns returns from his suspension, I’d like him to be in the ring with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose to hype the Battleground triple threat. At that point, I’d have Shane and Stephanie come to the ring and make a joint statement that Reigns is out of the match at Battleground. They wouldn’t say why, only that he knows why. Ambrose would try to talk to Reigns, but he would back away. Rollins would say something like “That’s what you get,” and Ambrose would shove Rollins. Those two would get into a scrape while Reigns would back out of the ring and to the backstage area quietly.
The first Raw after Battleground would be very important to this angle. Roman Reigns would come to the ring with a microphone. It would probably be the start of the show or the start of the second hour. Chances are the crowd would boo him. He would be dressed to compete, but he would not look confident or arrogant like he normally does. He would begin by saying that this is not a promo. This is not a statement. This is just him, wanting to apologize.
Reigns would continue on to talk about the pressure of being “the guy” in the company. The pressure of being on top when everyone is against him. The crowd would begin to boo even louder, sensing that this is Roman’s version of a non-apology apology which we have all heard before. But Reigns would continue, going on to say that he felt like he needed to stay strong, needed to stay on top, needed to stay healthy. Then he would admit the thing that we hardly ever get from our sports stars – he would admit to taking steroids.
He would say it was a choice he made and it was a horrible choice. He would say it was not anyone else’s fault. He wasn’t tricked into it. He was convinced to do it. He did it on his own. He wanted to stay “the guy” in the WWE, and he thought that would be a way to help that happen. He got caught and he is glad he did.
He said he owns his mistakes. He knows what he did was wrong. Wrong for himself. Wrong for the company. And wrong for the fans. He pauses, takes a deep breath, and says, “Everyone, I am sorry. My only hope is that you allow me the chance to make it up to you. Shane and Stephanie removed me from the main event at Battleground because I asked them to do it. I need to go back to the start. I need to earn your trust. I need everyone to know that I am doing this clean and the right way. I am sorry.”
And then he would leave the ring. At this point, Roman Reigns would not do promos for a long time. In interviews, he would be short and to the point. His newest catchphrase, for lack of a better word, would be, “I’m just trying to be better.”
Reigns would go to the end of the line as far as championship contenders. He would be curtain-jerking against scrubs. He would spend a lot of time going up against the likes of Heath Slater or Fandango or Curtis Axel. And the matches wouldn’t be squashes. He would show that he was struggling. He’d lose every now and then. But he’d come back and learn from whatever mistake would cost him a match and attempt to work on fixing it. When he built up some wins and some good will (probably about 3 months or so… it would have to be long term), he could possibly be built into a midcard feud. It could work against someone who has a history of railing against drug use. Perhaps Luke Gallows could be split from Karl Anderson for a little while, bringing up his Straight Edge Society history. The two could have a decent length storyline with Reigns eventually going over. (If I were dreaming, this would be the perfect way to reincorporate CM Punk back into the WWE, but even that is a little too out there for me.)
Through all this, there would have to be one constant – Roman Reigns would have to take all the crap thrown at him. He couldn’t argue back. Not with the crowds, not with other wrestlers, not with authority figures. He would have to be willing to eat all the crow that could be tossed his way. And he would have to do it quietly. He would have to remain contrite. He can show that he is determined and focused and working hard, but he will have to show, over and over again, that he knows he was wrong and that he is still trying to make things right.
Eventually, I have a feeling the WWE crowds would start to warm up to Reigns in time. It would be more organic this time around. They would appreciate Reigns’ honesty. They would respect his decision to do it all again the right way, even if it was the hard way. They would see him struggle and empathize with that. And eventually, I believe, they would cheer him.
Upper card battles and confrontations could still be had with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose down the line. Ambrose can continue to be Reigns’ buddy, but struggling to trust him again. Rollins could turn holier-than-thou, furious at Reigns for taking an easy way while he was busting his ass rehabbing to get back. Other wrestlers who have been suspended could go after Reigns thinking he is saying he is better than them. I could see a feud with Randy Orton over something like that.
Eventually, Roman Reigns will be back on top in the WWE. If the WWE plays it right, and more importantly, Roman Reigns plays it right, he could even be the top babyface they’ve wanted all along. The only thing Roman Reigns would have to be is the exact opposite of what we’ve always seen.
What do you think? Could Reigns pull it off? Or is he a lost cause at this point?
Until next week…
Tags: CM Punk, Curtis Axel, dean ambrose, Fandango, Heath Slater, Luke Gallows, Randy Orton, Roman Reigns, seth rollins, Shane McMahon, Stephanie McMahon