Q&A, Part I: Sudden spotlight for schoolteacher-turned-wrestler
E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. — On July 11, Matt Striker, a New York City schoolteacher forced to resign from the classroom, came just one second away from outlasting former WWE Champion Kurt Angle.
It was the culmination of a wild series of events that received national media attention — and it was a chance for Striker to move one step closer to his dream of becoming a WWE Superstar.
WWE.com gets Striker's side of the "sick-days scandal" in Part I of this two-part series:
WWE.com: How do you explain this teaching controversy and your subsequent resignation?
Matt Striker: I was a New York City schoolteacher for this past year. I taught high school social studies. I was also pursuing my dream in sports-entertainment. An opportunity came up right before the holidays to go to Japan, which outside of working for WWE, is probably the greatest achievement you can have in wrestling. So, I took that opportunity, and I needed to take four days off right before the holiday break and I did that. What happened was, some of my students saw me appear on SmackDown! in my first Kurt Angle Invitational (back in February). So, they found out that I was, in fact, a professional wrestler. They found out that I had a Web site. So, they went to the Web site. And I guess as you scroll through the Web site you can look at past dates and appearances. And someone was able to match the dates that I had been in Japan to the dates that I had missed school. From there it became — in my opinion — a witch hunt to try to get rid of me at that school.
Things progressed. Things came across the assistant principal's desk. She took it to the principal. He took it to the City and it just moved up the chain of command until finally they had an investigation and the teacher's union appointed me a lawyer. That lawyer said that my best bet would be to resign so that I could maintain my teaching license in the City. So, that's what I had done.
I had offered to pay back the money that I received for the four days that I had been "sick," back to the City. I understood what I did was wrong because I took them as sick days when I could have taken them as personal days and I did not know that there was a difference in that. It had been my first year teaching in the City. So all of this, to my knowledge, had gone away until a couple of weeks ago — ironically enough a few days after school had ended — the Special Commissioner's office puts out a report outlining my situation. It's funny, though, that they put it out when they couldn't reach any students, any parents, anyone who would speak in my favor. It's also interesting that over this summer coming up, New York City and the New York City teacher's union are going to go into contract negotiations because the teacher's union does not have a contract for September. So, I'm assuming — that's all I can really do — that anything the City could do to gain leverage in the negotiations they would.
But ultimately, I realized that it was the wrong course of action — that there was a different avenue that I could have explored to go to Japan. The offer's still there to make things right by returning the four-day's worth of pay to New York City. I'm apologetic and remorseful that it had to go down this way. I love teaching and I love kids almost as much as I love being a professional wrestler, and it's just an unfortunate situation. But it has garnered me worldwide attention and ultimately it landed me in a WWE ring, so things work in mysterious ways, I suppose.
WWE.com: Do you think teaching is still in your future?
Matt Striker: I think my future is to be a WWE Superstar.
WWE.com: Will the fans see you in the ring again soon?
Matt Striker: I certainly hope so. I would want nothing more.
WWE.com: You came to the ring with an apple on your tights. Was that poking fun at your teaching situation?
Matt Striker: Actually, I just had those made that morning. (The apple) was a "hello" to all my students because they always watch WWE television. And it was also a way for me to remind myself of the path in my life that had led me to that moment. I always like to remember where I come from because it makes where I'm going that much more important. So, I just thought it was pertinent and it was a glimpse into the way I am.
WWE.com: Have you gotten support from your former students?
Matt Striker: Absolutely. There has been such an outpouring of support from my students, from my fellow teachers. The story has become international news, and fellow teachers and friends and family and students and people I've never met have come out to tell me that they support what's gone on, and they don't understand why (my situation) has been pursued so diligently. Like I said, it was really touching that so many people would come out and support me.
WWE.com: Are there any parallels between your passion for teaching and your passion for sports-entertainment?
Matt Striker: The parallel is reaching people — of course in different ways. There's a performance aspect to both. As a teacher, you're in front of a classroom for six or seven hours in a row and you always have to be "on," and you're reaching people and you're making a difference.
It's the same thing with being a professional wrestler. The reason why people respond to Ric Flair and Triple H — the reason why these kids coming up are going crazy about John Cena — is because these men have impacted the fans' lives in some way. I know that Rowdy Roddy Piper and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka were responsible for developing my personality as a child because they impacted me so much — their performance, their passion, the attention that I paid to them day-in and day-out — the same way that Ms. Brewster, my fifth-grade teacher, impacted my life and my personality because of the attention that I paid to her day-in and day-out.
WWE.com: What's your next goal in the world of sports-entertainment?
Matt Striker: I want to be a WWE Superstar.
Click here to watch Striker come within one second of outlasting Angle.
For part II of this interview with Matt Striker, click here.