“WWE released Kelly Kelly, but Kelly Kelly has released most of the WWE.” – Colt Cabana

“They’re only throwing shade because {Kelly Kelly’s} obviously been used more than a public toilet. She brought that on herself.” – Commenter on a message board.

When WWE announced they had released Kelly Kelly (real name Barbara Blank) on Friday, September the 28th, it’s fair to say that the internet exploded. At least, the online wrestling community did. A fair share of the comments were genuine regret and sadness that one of the best beloved Divas had been let go by the company. However, quite a few were from people who were, to say the least, not fans. Remarks from “Goodbye, good riddance!” to “Good, hope she never comes back” and everything in between were thrown out. Then, the next day, independent wrestler Colt Cabana tweeted the above, which got re-tweeted by several fellow wrestlers and fans. Some replied, calling him out on his inappropriate and quite frankly disgusting comment, but most were some type of agreement. If that was not enough, CM Punk tweeted that the stinkface was now up for grabs and predicted the next person to use it would be either Natayla Neidhart or Zack Ryder. Cabana re-tweeted this with a scanned picture of an interview Kelly had done (presumably with WWE Magazine) where she described what the stinkface was.

This is not the first time Colt has made a controversial remark regarding a WWE Diva. He ignited controversy last year when, on his Art of Wrestling podcast, he claimed Nikki and Brie Bella threatened to quit when they were in developmental unless they were put on the road. However, his comment on Kelly Kelly is much worse as it insinuates that she slept with most of the roster. This has happened before, only it wasn’t a former WWE employee who said as much – it was a current co-worker. Last year on 98KUPD’s Real Rock radio show in Phoenix, Arizona, Randy Orton did an interview to plug his DVD and an upcoming WWE show. When discussing the brief romance story line him and Kelly had participated in, he used the opportunity to make some unflattering remarks. The can of worms opened when host John Holmberg joked, “I would be a method actor, and actually sleep with her.” Orton’s response was, “I could name a few method actors in WWE. Like, ten guys.” Despite being egged on to name names, Orton deflected by saying it they were bigger guys on the roster. The discussion about who Kelly had and had not slept with continued.

To his credit, Randy apologized publicly on Twitter for his remarks, stating, “I put my foot in my mouth and I need to try my best to make it right. I owe Kelly K an apology. The fact that she has dated a few guys I work with doesn’t make her a bad person, and is also none of my or anyone else’s business.” However, the damage had been done. Critics of the young woman seized on it as more evidence of her being the locker room slut. Ever since after she debuted in WWE’s version of ECW, Kelly has been the target of a relentless hatred. It goes beyond criticism of her wrestling skills. It speaks to the fact that there is an accepted (even encouraged) amount of sexism in WWE and in wrestling as a whole. It also speaks to the fact that there is still way too much slut shaming in wrestling.

Kelly Kelly was signed and debuted in then-WWE developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling in 2006. She was nineteen years old at the time. Within months she was on television with ECW and continued to go back and forth between both promotions for awhile as she continued to learn how to wrestle (she did not start training immediately, working in OVW instead as a ring announcer and referee first). Imagine being nineteen, fresh out of high school, no real world experience and joining one of the biggest companies in America. Imagine being put on television within months of signing a contract and being given the gimmick of doing a striptease with a jealous boyfriend. Imagine knowing millions of eyes are on you weekly, judging your work and forming an opinion based on what they think they know about you. The fact that Kelly had this much pressure on her and still went forward is amazing.

From 2006 to 2008, K2 stayed on ECW going from performing “Kelly’s Expose” to dealing with Mike Knox’s jealousy over her attentions to CM Punk. Knox turned on her, attacking and putting her off television with an injury for six weeks. When she returned in January 2007, she joined up with Layla El and Brooke Adams to form a Nitro Girls spin off known as “Extreme Expose.” They performed a weekly dance segment in the ring for several months until the Miz was moved to the brand and all three women had their contracts bought by him. When Kelly looked to be attracted to Balls Mahoney, the Miz threatened to fire her and she faced mockery by her fellow EE members. However, shortly thereafter Brooke was fired and Layla and Kelly began feuding. It was in the fall of 2007 that both women began to have regular in-ring time to broaden their feud. Kelly got her first shot at the WWE Women’s Championship after winning a battle royal on RAW. She was defeated by the champion, Beth Phoenix.

In July 2008 she was transferred to RAW as part of the draft. Here she had some high profile feuds with Beth and Jillian Hall. In 2009 Kelly competed in several number one contender matches and made her Wrestlemania debut in the battle royal to determine “Miss Wrestlemania” but despite her rising popularity she remained on the outskirts. Still, it was during this time that her in-ring skills improved, and she was involved in a lot of backstage sketches with the RAW guest hosts. Kelly Kelly was coming into her own as a character and a wrestler. Fans responded to her warm smile and outgoing personality. After Mickie James was released in the Spring of 2010, Kelly was the woman who garnered the most reaction from the crowds.

Also in the Spring of that year, she was transferred to Smackdown during the draft. It was here she would make her biggest impact to date. When Michelle McCool and Layla targeted her, she fought back, gaining an ally in Tiffany. Together they formed the Blondetourage and feuded with LayCool until Tiffany was taken off television. In the Fall of 2010, on season three of NXT, Kelly mentored a promising young woman by the name of Naomi. The two were a popular duo and Naomi wound up becoming the runner up at the end of the season. K2’s feud with LayCool continued in NXT and on into 2011. She felt the wrath of Vickie Guerrero after preventing her from interfering on Dolph Ziggler’s behalf when he wrestled Edge for the World Heavyweight Championship at the Royal Rumble. In her highest profile moment and match, on the following Smackdown, she teamed with Edge in a handicap match against Ziggler and LayCool. Edge’s WHC was on the line. Kelly speared Layla and got the pin, retaining Edge’s title. Despite being fired immediately after the match, she was re-hired at Night of Champions and went after Vickie. When LayCool ran down to help Guerrero, Trish Stratus made the save. Kelly made her triumphant return to Smackdown teaming with Edge to defeat Vickie and Drew McIntyre. Due to a stipulation, this ensured the firing of Guerrero – sweet justice for K2.

However, instead of following up this momentum, Kelly was pushed to the background in favor of Trish teaming up with Jersey Shore’s Snooki to feud with LayCool. Instead of having a Wrestlemania moment and getting a rub from Trish, it was Stratus, Snooki and John Morrison who defeated LayCool and Ziggler. Despite being the most popular woman on the roster, for some reason she was shifted out of the feud and later in April of 2011 was drafted back to RAW. With the introduction of Kharma, it seemed as if they were building towards the ultimate underdog versus monster heel story line with both women, but it was cut short due to the former woman’s pregnancy. However, thanks to the fans’ votes, on the “Power to the People” RAW, Kelly finally won the Divas Championship, defeating Brie Bella on June 20th. Up until August she feuded with the Bella Twins.

K2 entered into a feud with Beth Phoenix and the two had a series of matches that were some of Kelly’s best. She dropped the belt to Phoenix at the Hell in a Cell PPV in October after holding it for 104 days. Her rematches for the belt were unsuccessful. For a few months she drifted with no real story line or program, until Eve turned on her and the two feuded. Kelly teamed up with Extra’s hostess Maria Menounos to defeat Eve and Beth Phoenix at Wrestlemania in 2012. In June she was granted a vacation due to her years of hard work with no time off. Her last appearance on television was on RAW August 6th where she defeated Eve in singles action.

According to cagematch.net, Kelly wrestled a total of 406 matches. She went from seven matches in 2006 to one hundred and three in her peak of 2011. This stat isn’t restricted to television either, she was consistently working house shows, working more of them than other high profile women such as Michelle McCool. She was one of the few Divas chosen to fly to Iraq in 2007 and 2009 to perform for the troops, and also flew to bases in the United States for the “Tribute to the Troops” show in 2010 and 2011. She was also consistently chosen to go with WWE on their overseas tours, represented the company at outside events, worked with the Wrestlemania reading challenge to help kids realize the importance of reading, and did a lot of work with the Make a Wish Foundation, meeting with kids whose one wish was to meet her.

My point in recapping her career and achievements was to prove something that has been overlooked in all the furor over her departure: she was hired to do a job, was put into another job, did her best and was one of the hardest workers in the seven years she was with the company. Whatever WWE asked her to go, wherever they asked her to go, she did with only two periods of time off. Kelly was never injured, nor did she injure anyone else. She was not on the par of Beth Phoenix or Natalya in terms of skill, that’s undeniable, however she played it safe and as a result was a consistent performer which is more than you could say for some of the other females on the roster. Kelly also was the only woman in the past year to get a reaction from the crowd, unlike Layla who, despite getting the Divas title and a push upon returning from injury, failed to get any sort of response as a returning babyface.

Now twenty five, K2 is free to make her own path in the world either inside wrestling or outside. She is still young, beautiful and most importantly leaving with her health intact. That’s something most people leaving WWE can’t say. As a consequence, she is free to start a family at any point and certainly has the money to provide a loving and well cared for household. Frankly I wish her well, because she has received far more hatred and disgusting comments than any other woman in WWE ever. Not even Ashley Massaro, who had a far worse reputation and was nowhere near the worker Kelly was, got the amount of negativity she has.

To grow up in front of the television and internet as a public star is a daunting thing. In this day and age, we see celebrities of all sorts as “fair game” to make judgment calls on their choices, despite not having the full information. Why should any of us believe Randy Orton or any of the other former co-workers when they say that Kelly has slept around? Going by solid confirmation, we know of two certain relationships she has had in wrestling: with the late Andrew “Test” Martin and Justin Gabriel. She is currently with NHL hockey player Sheldon Souray and has been for quite some time. Everything else is fueled by rumors and speculation. America has an unhealthy fixation on female sexuality – who we have slept with, who we haven’t, how many partners we’ve had. It remains acceptable to slut shame women who acknowledge and embrace the fact we are sexual creatures and are free to have as many partners as we choose so long as it doesn’t hurt a third party. Women in wrestling have it harder than men due to this, and due to the double standard – if they date another wrestler, they are using him to get ahead in the business. Meanwhile CM Punk has dated a slew of women in wrestling and in WWE, but he has gotten a free pass. So have the other men in WWE who have been married and chose to cheat on their wives. Lita was driven out of the company due to what happened between her, Edge and Matt Hardy thanks to fans’ vitriol yet Edge went on to have title reigns and retire as a beloved WWE Superstar. The double standard is glaring, from fans as well as from people in the business.

To Kelly’s credit, she left on her own terms with good health and a future ahead of her. She has kept her positive attitude and no doubt has learned a lot while growing into an adult in the spotlight. I wish her well in life. And if anything comes out of this, I hope it is that wrestling fans should realize how harsh and unyielding they can be towards people that they dislike. Criticizing her skill in the ring is one thing, but calling her a slut is another. It’s demeaning and cruel. Saying that she was “obviously used more than a public toilet” is appalling. Barbara Blank is a human being, like you and me. She worked hard at her job, brought a lot of happiness to fans worldwide and was a safe worker in the ring. That’s deserving of respect and puts her above previous Divas.

Good luck Ms. Blank, safe travels on the road ahead.