Mick Foley's Other Life's Work

The WWE legend took a long time to make it as a wrestler. He's spent much of his life since then giving back.
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In 2013, I wrote an essay for VICE about getting sexually assaulted. Through that, I was approached to be in a documentary called Slut, which concentrates on sexual bullying and slut shaming. The film was to be funded through Kickstarter, but it wasn’t going so well. This is a tough topic, and there are no guarantees where Kickstarter is concerned, but it certainly didn’t look like the project would hit its goal as the deadline approached.

This changed when Mick Foley, a hulking man I remembered from my childhood as toothless WWE wrestler Mankind, saved the day. He donated thousands of dollars, and announced he would match anybody that donated from there forward. The money was raised, and the film is in the process of being made, thanks to Mick. He heard about the film through his friendship with the adult film star Siri, who was also vocal in her support for the project. That made a certain type of sense, given Siri’s past activism. The heroic arrival of a massive, gap-toothed wrestler seemingly didn’t, at least at first glance.

A closer look, though, revealed that this was something Foley does nearly all the time. I was shocked to see that he was a huge advocate for survivors of sexual assault and RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), raising over $140,000 for RAINN alone. He donated his entire book advance for Countdown to Lockdown to charity, half of which went to RAINN. He has been sponsoring kids through Childfund International since 1992 along with his wife, and their donations helped finance the construction of schools in the Philippines and Mexico.

We don’t generally expect this sort of thing from massively famous sports people, and we certainly don’t expect them to keep this sort of generosity more or less to themselves in the event that they manage it in the first place. This was my first lesson in Mick Foley, who turns out to be pretty much one of the best celebrities ever.

***

In a phone conversation recently, Foley told me that his involvement with RAINN started with an admiration for Tori Amos’s music. This was in 1992, and Foley was riding in the back seat of an old car -- the stereo system was worth more than the car, he told me -- with tag team partner Max Payne. The two had been blasting heavy metal for hours and Mick asked Max if he had anything mellower. Max, somehow, put on the Tori Amos album Little Earthquakes

Mick was mesmerized when he heard the first track, “Crucified.” “It was unlike anything I’ve ever heard before,” he recalled. “By the time the song ‘Winter’ [Track 5] played, I had a new favorite artist.” He finally met Amos in San Diego in 2008 and afterwards wanted to visit her website. Strange as it may sound, he had never used the internet before then, he said, and had to rely on his kids to assist him whenever he wanted to visit a website. His quest for Amos’ website broke this cycle and through visiting Tori’s site he found a link to RAINN, for which she was the organization’s first national spokesperson. From there, he found a way to navigate over to the RAINN information. He never really stopped after that.

“I felt like instead of RAINN being important vital work that was best left to survivors, it seemed like a perfect place for an unlikely ally to make the biggest difference possible,” he says. Foley initially started as a financial donor, but felt that he could be a better advocate if he volunteered his time, especially given that RAINN is uniquely dependent on them. So he took a forty-hour online course and went through a twenty-hour in-person training. Due to what was at the time still an extremely limited knowledge of the computer, he had trouble navigating the site’s dashboard. He claims it was the only time his kids heard him curse. In time, he figured it out.

***

Mick stopped watching television for two years and instead focused on giving as much of himself as he could to RAINN’s hotline, mostly by speaking to survivors, individually and anonymously, online. “I don’t mean to brag, but I was really able to help out some of these women.”  In 2010 Mick won the 2010 Hope Award for Leadership against Fighting Sexual Assault and its Victims. The only awards he has on display in his home are that one, and the three prizes he won at the International Fruitcake Eating Competition.

I asked him why he felt it was so important for men to be involved in helping out survivors of sexual crimes.  “Just the statistics bear out to everybody knows somebody who has been affected by rape or sexual assault, whether they like it or not, because so many survivors choose to suffer in silence due to the stigma associated with rape,” he told me. “Men should be playing a big part in changing the culture. [And] there wasn’t exactly a long line of men who were looking to volunteer for RAINN.”

Conversations about sexual assault, Mick said, are beneficial, a point that he made in an article encouraging parents to talk with their kids about assault before sending them off to college. “I really don’t think a lot of guys understand, for example, that have a relations with somebody who lacks the ability to make a decision, is incredibly wrong.” Foley, whose platform is higher and voice louder than most, aims to change that.

Partly, Mick hints, this basic ignorance owes to the culture we have been raised in. He mentioned the Christmas song “It’s Cold Outside” by way of example. “I was listening to Christmas Music two days ago,” he told me. This was in May, but as Mick is a self-proclaimed “huge Christmas fan,” it’s not weird -- or, anyway, less weird -- that he was listening to Christmas music shortly before Memorial Day. “I had to skip over that song,” he continued. “My 11-year-old son asked me why I don’t like it so I told him, ‘the girl tries 37 different ways to leave and he won’t take no for an answer.’”

Mick used to spread himself a bit thin when it came to charities. “I used to feel like I had to be sprinkling a little good will in so many places,” he says. “But, I didn’t see the money making a difference in any specific place, so I have now concentrated on five or six.” Charities related to sexual violence are still high on his list, and he has recently worked on raising awareness -- and money -- for autism. “On Twitter, throughout the day amongst the wrestling mentions and soft-core humor that people seem to enjoy, I try to also sneak in a message,” Foley says. “Last time it was autism. In a few days from now, it may be suicide prevention.”

I asked him why he became such a prolific advocate. “I said at a certain point, I need to show people that I care while they still care about me. I said that with the feeling that the window of opportunity was really narrow. Turns out it hasn’t been that narrow. Luckily WWE, through DVDs and action figures and networks, has continued to make me look like somebody to their universe. When I retired from wrestling in 2000, one of the greatest thing that I’ve done was to start calling up charitable organizations and asking them to volunteer.”

While Foley has been fortunate to see his late-arriving success as a wrestler last beyond the end of his active career, he understands that not everyone interested in helping is lucky enough to have as much time or money to give. “The best thing to do would be to volunteer online, on the phone, or in person at a local crisis center,” he says. “There’s all kinds of different ways to help raise money and help create awareness even if it’s just mentioning RAINN or whatever organization touches their heart.”

Right before we got off the phone, Foley spoke of his “points of pride” in life. “I’m still flattered that I was voted one of the top ten good men from the [website] Good Men Project.” It was an honor in a career that has included many, but it changed things for him in another enduring sense. Google Mick Foley’s names, and the first results that come up are Hardcore Legend, Hell in a Cell -- one of Foley’s most famous matches, in which he fell 16 feet -- and Feminist. “I am,” he said with palpable pride, “the only person in the world who can be Googled under those three phrases. I really appreciate that.”


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