AEW wrestler Jon Moxley holds up the AEW Heavyweight Championship belt.

The words “empathetic” and “inclusive” are not words I usually associate with professional wrestling.

Living through the ’90s, with WWF’s “Attitude Era” that included just about every offensive phrase, storyline and character angle you could muster, you can imagine why those words don’t come to mind.

On Nov. 3, I attended All Elite Wrestling’s live taping of “AEW Dynamite” at Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence, Missouri. Before it started, it felt different.

To give you some quick background, AEW is the direct competitor to the number-one wrestling company, WWE. It features a number of former WWE superstars like CM Punk, Sting and Jon Moxley, with a more wrestling-centric approach than its competitor’s soap opera leanings.

The scheduled main event for that “Dynamite” taping was a matchup between the fan-favorite Orange Cassidy, a wrestler known for not giving a rip about wrestling until he’s back into a corner, and Moxley, who constantly looks like the meanest guy you’d ever meet that’s having the worst day of his life.

The day before the taping, AEW owner Nick Khan announced on Twitter that Moxley had entered rehab for alcohol addiction. Before the show, he came out and reiterated that statement, noting that he, along with the entire locker room, was taking the news personally. As he got choked up, the entire audience roared “Mox-ley! Mox-ley! Mox-ley!”

As I said, this felt different from previous ways wrestling companies have dealt with addiction. I remember the then-WWF turning the Legion of Doom’s Hawk’s real-life alcohol addiction into a gross wrestling plot, which culminated in him “drunkenly” falling off of the top of a Jumbotron. They did similar things to admitted addicts like Jeff Hardy and Jake “The Snake” Roberts.

These storylines ignored the fact that despite being planned, wrestling is hard on the body and mind, and it causes many athletes to become addicts. For WWE, it took decades of wrestlers living on the edge or dying to finally take that seriously.

Throughout the AEW event, wrestlers like CM Punk and Bryan Danielson would come out and voice their support for Moxley. The crowd did the same. Punk made sure to point out that there’s no shame in asking for help, and if someone in the crowd is secretly dealing with addiction, they should tell someone.

While that may sound like a pretty standard, after-school PSA-type message, it’s a huge difference from the response wrestling used to send to its viewers. It also gives me hope that sports entertainment is turning the corner and is becoming more empathetic to the real-life situations of its athletes. It’s certainly something we all could use.

Andrew Gaug can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter: @NPNOWGaug

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