This is the third in a series celebrating Black History Month. We will take a look back at influential African Americans throughout the history of professional wrestling and what the history means to stars of the past and present.
To read part one on Booker T, click HERE. For part two on Ernie Ladd, Click HERE.
When looking back at the history of African-Americans in professional wrestling, there are many lessons to be learned.
Among them are determination, perseverance and the willingness to adapt to almost any situation.
If there’s one lesson that the current generation of African-American wrestlers has taken from the past is the value of an education.
For prime examples of this, look no further than the WWE’s Xavier Woods and David Otunga.
Past generations of wrestlers, no matter the race, were mostly guys who just wanted to wrestle. They didn’t necessarily have a backup plan. They slept, breathed and lived for wrestling. It was more than likely their only passion.
That worked to some people’s advantage and worked to the detriment of others at the same time.
That’s not to say that there were never any college graduates that graced a squared circle, but those who did were in the minority for the most part.
As with anything else, things eventually change, and Woods and Otunga are just two examples of the latest trend of well-educated wrestlers with multi-faceted backgrounds.
“I think education is extremely important,” Otunga said during an interview with Philly.com. “If you have a solid foundation, a solid education, you can do anything.”
“I feel like our generation has way more college-educated guys,” Woods said. “I’m not the only one who has something else to fall back. It’s something that’s over the broad spectrum. We’re sports entertainers. We’re not just wrestlers anymore. We do lots of different things and one of those is making sure that we’re set up after wrestling.”
It has been touted on numerous occasions on WWE television that Otunga has Harvard law degree, which he feels gives him a leg up in the entertainment industry, as he is well-versed in solving issues and thinking critically.
Woods on the other hand has not one, but two degrees in psychology and philosophy and is currently working on his dissertation for his PhD — all of this while having the full workload of a WWE superstar, which is not light by any stretch of the imagination.
“It’s a bit a difficult,” Woods said while laughing. “It’s another thing that my parents instilled in my brain. If you want something bad enough, you’ll figure out a way to do it.”
“It’s just figuring out time management,” he added. “Rather than going out after a show, I go to my room and do homework instead. I’ve been lucky enough to find two things that I’m very passionate about. One is obviously wrestling and the other is my education.”
As lessons were passed down to Woods and Otunga, they want to do the same for the generation that follows them.
Among the things Woods wants to do with his psychology degree is work with children and guide them through the trials of growing up. The main lesson he wants to pass along is the value of finding themselves and never losing sight of it.
“You can like video games, you can read comic books and you can do your thing. Be a nerd and embrace it. Don’t hide it,” Woods said. “Growing up, a lot of people made fun of me because I watched stuff like ‘Dragon Ball Z’ and all that sort of stuff.”
“Be whatever you want and be a nerd at the same time,” he added. “Don’t even worry about being made fun of because you are who you are and you got to embrace it.”
Otunga is passing his lessons to one child in particular; his son David Jr. Otunga’s son is just beginning his educational trek as he recently began pre-school.
“To be able to be there for that as he gets started and adjusted, it’s important to me,” Otunga said. “School is a big part of my life.”
Otunga will spread his knowledge to more experienced students as well, as he has been chosen to be a keynote speaker at the Sports and Entertainment Symposium at the Harvard law school.
The lessons Otunga and Woods will share may sound a little different than the ones they were taught, but the moral of them will remain the same: An education can and will take you a long way no matter path you choose.
“I feel like hard work and determination is the common denominator of everything so as long as I keep that up hopefully it’ll pay off,” Woods said.