Breaking barriers: NXT Superstars talk Black History Month
I must’ve been 6 or 7 years old when I got ahold of the Junkyard Dog action figure. Even though it came out during the mid-1980s, its true-to-life features (especially for that time) gave me the opportunity to appreciate an individual whose charisma and personality not only broke barriers, but became a worldwide attraction for a company I grew up watching. Even though my mom had issues with me head-butting my friends back then, watching Junkyard Dog reminded me that I could achieve anything I wanted and be universally accepted, regardless of my race or background.
This month, all across the United States we pay homage to the contributions of individuals of African descent to our society. Here in WWE, it’s no different. Much like Junkyard Dog influenced me, there is a host of other African-American Superstars and Divas who, in some way, shape or form, helped pave the way for the NXT Superstars of today.
“One of the Superstars I looked up to was The Big Cat Ernie Ladd. Even though he was well before my time, at 6-foot-9 he was one of the first big (literally) African-American Superstars,” said NXT Superstar Angelo Dawkins.
“He earned Hall of Fame honors in both WWE and the NFL, which tells you how good he really was,” Dawkins said. “I still have a pair of Ernie Ladd retro black trunks that I used to wear. He was class personified whether he was in the ring or behind a microphone.”
It’s not just the male Superstars of yesteryear who have made an impact on today’s generation. As Sasha Banks tells it, her influence came from a number of past Divas. “I looked up to Jazz and Jacqueline a lot. Both were such powerhouses and you could just tell when you watched them wrestle that they were the kind of women who never took ‘no’ for an answer,” NXT’s “Boss” said.
“It’s kind of humbling to think that I could potentially have a similar impact on young girls today, but if one person can find the strength to go big because of something I've done, then honestly, that knowledge is greater than any championship could ever be,” Sasha told WWE.com.
As the old saying goes, the torch must be passed. Today, that torch has been placed firmly in the hands of NXT Superstars and Divas to carry on the legacy of the aforementioned African-American stars. Does the torch come with pressure? Not if you ask Jason Jordan. Instead, the NXT Superstar sees it as a delightful honor.
“I understand the importance of having a positive male figure to look up to and model your behavior after. It makes me want to continue to better myself in every aspect of life, knowing that there are young African-American males that may want to follow in my footsteps and chase the dreams that they have,” Jordan said.
The NXT Superstar cited Ron Simmons as his biggest influence because of the WWE Hall of Famer’s academic achievements, as well as his athleticism.
“I idolized that he took a path that not all athletes travel by taking advantage of the opportunity to get a higher level education. This was a path instilled in me at an early age and it’s a path that I'm proud to have followed when I attended the University of Indiana,” Jordan continued.
“Ron Simmons inspired me to better myself and stick with the route less traveled no matter how difficult it may be,” Jordan said. “Between athleticism, intellect, and determination, I aspire to be a major element in continuing the legacy of talented African-American athletes in WWE.”
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