DENTON, N.C. -- Wrestlers may wear masks, but they don’t wear hoods. That’s why a group of semi-professional wrestlers were angry when a local promoter waved off black wrestlers and fans from a bout scheduled June 23 at a Denton, North Carolina Elementary School after a veiled threat in the form of a text message purportedly from the KKK.
“I was told I couldn’t go because they didn’t want any black athletes in Denton,” said James Brody, an African American wrestler from Hudson.
Brody’s been thrown in the ring, thrown out of the ring, but he’s never been thrown out of a bout because of his race.
“I was pretty angry at first but, you know, I prayed about it and thought about it and I thought they don't want me there that's their loss not mine,” said Brody.
Wrestlers said the promoter gathered them a few days before the match in the dressing room and told them, “More or less any black wrestlers and even black fans weren't welcome in the show,” said Chris Rogers, who wrestles with his brother from Monroe.
“You could have cut the tension in the locker room with a knife because we felt like why are we even here to put on a show for these people if we can't have our brothers of another race or nationality,” said Rogers.
David Ridenhour, a Lutheran pastor who plays the role of a “mafia” wrestling manager under the name “Giovani Fino,” says the promoter told them he had tried to report the text warning to law enforcement.
“I was told they contacted police and they said, ‘You’d better pay attention. Those boys mean business,’” said Ridenhour.
“We haven’t received a complaint,” said Denton Police Chief Mark Hicks. “If we knew anything about the event we would have had an officer there. I have never heard of that group.”
Denton is a town of 1,636 residents east of Salisbury and High Rock Lake in Davidson County. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the town has 1,610 residents identified as “white” compared to “black or African American” residents–two.
“We welcome anyone here in this town,” said Chief Hicks.
“Tell them I said, ‘Shut the hell up and leave it alone,’” said the promoter, who asked that his name not be used. “I was warned by a text message from an unknown number,” said the promoter.
He quoted the text message as saying, “Do not bring no blacks into Denton. You have been warned. The White Knights.”
“I think it’s a terrible mistake to cave in to these kinds of apparent threats,” said Mark Potok, Senior Fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups.
Potok said the SPLC knows of 28 active Klan groups, including five with the name “White Knights,” but none of those are in the Carolinas.
“The rest of the radical right very much looks down its noses at the Klan,” said Potok.
If you’re unfamiliar with the long and storied tradition of wrestling (pronounced ‘rasslin’) in the southern U.S., it carries a rich cast of characters, many based on crude racial or ethnic stereotypes.
This ain’t the Olympics. In the midst of an oil embargo, expect an Arab sheik. In the first gulf war, an Iraqi. At a recent match in Lexington, a “Mexican” wrestler waved the Mexican flag and grunted rudimentary Spanish.
At the Lexington match staged outside between thunderstorms at Tumble Tots gym, a white wrestler wearing a prominent confederate flag on his t-shirt fights a shirtless black wrestler. This night, the white guy wins and the two exit the ring arm in arm. Better luck next week.
The show went on in Denton but Pastor Ridenhour quoted the promoter as saying, “’Well we’re going to go along with it and just not come back to this town.’”
Neither Denton Mayor Scott Morris nor Town Manager Victor Pizzurro nor Police Chief Mark Hicks would speak on camera about the wrestling match, saying they had received no formal complaint.
Pizzurro only recently joined the town of Denton as manager. He asked NewsChannel 36 how to pitch the town for more positive stories to attract visitors.
Perhaps he could start by reaching out to James Brody and telling him he’s welcome in Denton.
If you have a civil rights violation complaint, file a report with the FBI by clicking here or call the NC Information Sharing Analysis Center at 1-888-NC-ISAAC.