When the news broke this morning that Renee Young had been promoted to a permanent position on the announcing team for WWE’s flagship program, Raw, the internet exploded. It is the first time in the 25 years the show has been on the air that a woman has been given the big chair, besides a few novelty guest appearances here and there. Young’s new gig is a huge move for WWE, a company that has taken tons of social media heat for a perceived tone-deafness towards its fans.
Young is replacing former ESPN commentator Jonathan Coachman, who had previously worked with WWE during the late 1990s and 2000s. His return to the announce table in 2018 was met with disdain by fans, and for good reason. Audiences had a difficult time with Coachman’s unique commentary style, which seemed to involve not watching any of the company’s product, missing spots, and calling signature moves by incorrect names. Coach’s recent work made the sometimes incoherent ramblings of former announcer Booker T sound like Patrick Stewart performing Shakesphere.
When Young filled in for Coach a few weeks ago while he was doing some work for The Golf Channel, fans reacted positively. Young had already become popular as a backstage interviewer and the co-host of the greatly missed WWE Network talk show, Talking Smack. Young’s breezy approach to her role helped advance current storylines, but her knowledge of the business and its history made her a bright spot in what were some dreary times in the company. She was intelligent, funny, and often received more applause than the in-ring performers. It was obvious to wrestling fans that she needed to be calling matches and Coach, well, didn’t.
But there’s more to this move than simply improving the on-air product. WWE has long been thought of as a boys’ club, where male writers and bookers did their best to make male personalities popular, while female performers were relegated to such indignities as bra and panties matches or trying to fight in kiddie pools filled with chocolate pudding. The current social climate is not receptive to that. All one needs to do is go back to the Attitude Era and listen to Jerry Lawler squealing how about how he wants to see Debra McMichael’s “puppies” to realize just how cringeworthy that sounds nowadays.
This isn’t to say problems still don’t exist with how the WWE handles its female performers. The company caught insane levels of heat for the Greatest Royal Rumble, which took place in Saudi Arabia. The womens’ division took to social media to voice their displeasure about the event. How could the company claim to be leading the womens’ revolution within the sport, yet hold a major event in a country where women are routinely oppressed? The women were not allowed to compete at that event and the whole show was, as required by the laws of that country, a sausagefest. In a thinly-disguised attempt to make up for that, WWE is holding the first all-women’s pay per view, Evolution, in October. However, reports indicate that just days after that show, the company will be returning to Saudi Arabia for another huge event.
Even as they send out mixed messages, WWE has been banging the drum on a daily basis about how they are elevating the position and visibility of women within their company. That has never extended to the announce table until now. Some critics will wonder why it didn’t happen before instead of being joyful that it is finally happening now. With Young on board, there is a chance that Raw may once again have a three-person commentating team for the ages. Young’s style, wide-eyed and unafraid to wince when a wrestler takes a solid Flair chop to the chest, is the perfect complement to the snark of Corey Graves and the staid company man persona of Michael Cole. It feels as if there is someone for everyone now; Young represents the fans, Graves is the voice of the smarks, and Cole makes sure all the catchphrases and buzzwords get repeated. It’s an ideal combination of personalities and viewpoints.
Beyond that, there’s a sense that women in the sports broadcasting field should be brushing glittering shards off their shoulders because a new glass ceiling has been shattered this morning. It’s a new day (yes, it is) and for this one shining moment, it feels like anything is possible. While this decision is at least partially business based, as having a woman on the microphone will probably increase numbers in WWE’s female demographic, it also seems that the company is listening to its audience in a way it hasn’t since they allowed Daniel Bryan to hijack Raw. This is a refreshing development, and a bit of a surprise.
The WWE may be on unsteady footing concerning how to keep up with the times and remain relevant as audiences evolve and mature, the promotion of Renee Young is a firm step in the right direction.