Jeff Melton is an unabashed fan of professional wrestling.
As part of Morning Edition’s exploration of how fandoms help shape identity, our producers spent a night amid the smoke, strobes, spandex and screaming fans at a pro wrestling match with Melton, 40, and his friend Adrian Rohr, 42, who had traveled four hours from Charlotte, N.C., to Atlanta.
For Melton, wrestling offers not only an escape from stress but also a way to connect — with other wrestling fans like Rohr as well as with the storylines in the ring. Here, Melton, in his own words, shares how wrestling has been a part of his life since growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness.
This has been lightly edited for clarity.
I started watching as a kid about 6 years old. The first time I saw it on TV, the first person that I remember is Chief Wahoo McDaniel, and he was a big, huge character who came out with a huge Indian headdress, and that immediately caught my attention.
They were just losing their minds on the TV screen and that really appealed to me.
Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, that type of entertainment strictly wasn’t allowed. You go to school, you’re not allowed to partake in anything. I wasn’t able to do any sports, of course, they don’t believe in birthdays or holidays, so you always had to ask to be excluded from the class when that stuff is going on.
I went to church four to five nights a week, and also on a Sunday. But definitely if the parents had to be out running errands or out paying bills or something [and] you definitely had a chance to get to the TV, you definitely took an opportunity for it.
I grew up in a very blue-collar kind of family. It’s definitely escapism, whether you’re working a crappy job or you’re going to school and you’re having a bad day at school. There’s definitely a lot of escapism into it.
If you’ve had a bad day at work or a bad week at work you can go there and just let all your stress out.
People are cheering and booing for everyone and saying things they probably wouldn’t say in front of their moms.
There’s a lot of stories that go through pro wrestling but usually the favorite ones that I had were not necessarily the good versus the evil but maybe the bossman versus the worker. Especially when I started in to the workforce, if you’re low- or medium-income, you’re just constantly clocking in and clocking out — not really willing to say what you need to say. There’s been times I’ve wanted to punch my boss, but in real life you can’t do that. But if you see somebody doing it on TV or in a live arena, that’s awesome to me.
I have been pushed around a lot in life. So that’s probably why the storylines in wrestling appeal to me.
Digital News producer Heidi Glenn adapted this story for the Web.