Q&A: WWE’s Kevin Owens Stresses the Importance of Wearing a Mask

Unhappy with WWE’s mask policy, Kevin Owens got the company to take safety more seriously.
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Kevin Owens is back on Monday Night Raw. And that is great news for fans of WWE’s weekly flagship show.

Owens has been adamant about WWE enforcing stricter conditions to maintain a safe environment at the Performance Center, and his decision to return this past week was a clear sign that he is confident in the safety measures the company is taking to protect its staff.

This week’s Raw features Owens back in the ring against long-standing rival Seth Rollins. The two have been frequently paired against one another, including a program that culminated at April’s WrestleMania.

Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Owens explained his decision to return to Raw, his feelings on extending his story with Rollins, and his future goals in WWE.

Justin Barrasso: What made last week the right time for you to return to Raw?

Kevin Owens: I hurt my ankle at WrestleMania so I needed time off, and then I came back—and then I went away again. I just felt like it was the right move for my family and I to sit out a few of the tapings of Raw and assess the COVID outbreak. We live in Orlando, so it’s not just going to the Performance Center. It’s everywhere. We thought it was the right time to quarantine and practice safe guidelines. Last week, I saw the measures that the company was taking, from the testing to the splitting up the crews to make sure Raw and SmackDown wouldn’t be there the same day, and sending out very clear very indications that masks were required unless we were in the ring.

A big part of this is my wife lost her grandfather to COVID. We make these decisions together. I don’t want anything I do to make my wife uncomfortable when I get back home. I want to make sure that she feels safe and that my children are safe. Every decision I make, I make with her. She saw the efforts the company made, as well, and she said maybe it was time for me to go back to work because it’s what I love to do. The company depends on me and there are a lot of fans that look forward to seeing me on TV every week, so we’re just trying to juggle everything. The family being safe, of course, but I also want to contribute to the shows. With her blessing, I went back. And what I observed gave me hope and gave me a sense of security.

It’s been brought up—at first, the masks weren’t being taken seriously enough. Eventually, a fine system was implemented to make sure people took it seriously. That came from me. I thought that the masks weren’t being worn seriously enough, so I went and talked to the people in charge. They immediately did what they could to remedy the situation. I don’t blame anybody for the mask thing. It’s easy to forget how important those masks are. Some people just straight up believe that the masks don’t make a difference, and that’s their belief. But if we’re all going to work together and we’re all trying to keep each other safe, I think it matters. If you’ve had somebody in your family affected by this the way my family was, it’s a lot easier to remember that these masks make a huge difference. These masks do make a difference, and I felt it was important for people to take that seriously. I was pleased that the company felt the same way and made sure to get the message out to everybody that this is a big deal. That’s why, in the end, I decided to come back. I feel comfortable going back to work, and I feel as safe as I can be there.

JB: I really admire the way you share a piece of yourself on social media. The video you posted on Twitter about the importance of wearing a mask was heartfelt, and it generated over two million views. But you are so open and honest, even sharing your feelings on the talented wrestling journalist Larry Csonka that recently passed away. Is being so vulnerable a risk, or is it worth it to share a piece of yourself with so many who care?

KO: To me, I don’t see it as a risk. And I don’t even think about it as being vulnerable. You know, I created a Twitter account many years ago because Colt Cabana told me, ‘You really need to start a Twitter.’ This is when it was just starting up, and he said, ‘It’s a really great tool to promote the shows you’re on, to promote your merchandise,’ so I opened it but I didn’t use it as a wrestler would beyond tweeting the links to my t-shirts or whatever at a time when I was on the independents. I just tweeted about things around my house, my wife, at the time I only had one kid so I’d tweet about my son, my family, my cats. I had a couple thousand followers, and then obviously my follower-base grew as I started getting more prominent on the independents and then in WWE. But I never changed the way I used the social media.

Whether I’m vulnerable or not, I’m just me. I’m obviously a lot more aware that my scope is a lot broader now. I’ve had encounters on social media that were very unpleasant, I’ve had times where I left Twitter for a couple months and didn’t even look back. For some reason or another, something will bring me back, whether it’s a situation socially or something like that. Or my cat makes me laugh and I decide I want to share it. That’s just me.

Talking about Larry’s passing, or Lyle [Williams] the photographer from CZW that passed away, I bring these things up because these people touched me personally. If I can try to bring a little bit of a tribute to them, that’s what I like to do. It probably goes way over the head of a lot of people who just follow me because of WWE, but I was on the independent scene for so long. So that’s a part of me, and that never changed. I don’t see it as vulnerability, I just do it.

JB: Focusing on Raw, you’ll be in the ring again with Seth Rollins. You two had a story that built to WrestleMania, where you had a noteworthy moment jumping off the ’Mania set and crashing onto Rollins atop the commentary table. As a performer, knowing how much pride you put into your work, when you have worked with someone as often as you have with Rollins, how do make the next match as fresh as possible? Seth is obviously one of the best talents in the world, but how do you create something different with him on Raw?

KO: It’s funny you say that. And I don’t know if I’m going to ruffle some feathers by saying this, but whatever. There is a part of me, and Seth too, I’m sure, when you wrestle somebody so many times and then you hear you’re wrestling them again—like when they told me I was wrestling Seth on Monday—I had that exact reaction, which was, ‘Again?’ You know? I thought we did our business at WrestleMania and over the last six months [laughs].

Once you get past that initial reaction, you focus back on the fact that Seth is one of the best and we have great matches together, matches that I think are great. Some other people might disagree, but I really enjoy them. And then it goes back to, ‘How can we make this one stand out? How can we make this one good? How can we make sure people enjoy it?’ But there is that feeling, like, there’s 100 guys on the roster, but for one reason or another, me and Seth tend to find our way back to each other quite a bit.

It’s the same with me and Sami Zayn. This has been the longest I’ve been away from Sami in our careers, and it’s because we’re on separate shows. I’m sure if we were on the same show, we’d end up right back toward each other in one way, shape, or another. There are some people throughout your career where that happens—look at Cena and Randy Orton. They wrestled each other so many times throughout the years. Sometimes they’d be away from each other for two years, and then they’d just find their way back to each other.

It’s just something that happens a lot in the wrestling business, and it’s not just WWE. I think it’s in any wrestling promotion, some people just end up wrestling each other a lot. Most of the time, it’s the people that have really good matches against each other. So in a way, I take it as a compliment. And it’s a challenge as well, like you said, to make everything feel different. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m looking forward to people watching the match and hopefully enjoying it as much as I will performing in it.

JB: Someone you have spent very little on-screen time with in WWE is Rey Mysterio. You had the chance to team with Rey on last week’s Raw, playing a role in his current program with Seth Rollins. That served as yet another reminder of how many different generations of performers Rey has worked with throughout his legendary career. I know you don’t book this, but will there be an Owens-Rey feud one day?

KO: You know, I actually asked a couple times to wrestle Rey a couple times on various tours and live events. For one reason or another, it just couldn’t work out. I would love to get in the ring with him and wrestle him. I’ve gotten to team with him a few times, and the first time we teamed with each other was a six-man tag. I believe it was in Europe, and it was me, Rey and Braun Strowman against, I think, AJ [Styles], [Luke] Gallows and [Karl] Anderson. I don’t even remember. The one thing I do remember is getting to team with Rey. The Europe tours can wear you down. The travel is lengthy, but I just remember when I saw my name next to Rey’s on the card, I was so pumped. I remember being dead tired getting to the arena, then seeing that, and being tired didn’t matter anymore.

Being such a fan of Rey for so long, and I’m not going to pretend we’re close, we’re not, but he’s a great guy. I’d heard good things about him for so long before I met him, and those things are obviously true. He’s the type of wrestling veteran I respect so much. There’s a lot of wrestling veterans who will look at the performers of my era and look down on them and talk down about wrestlers of my generation. Then there are other wrestlers that embrace change and have an open mind, and that’s Rey.

Rey never makes somebody that doesn’t have as much experience as him feel silly or feel bad, he’ll be more than happy to embrace a new idea. There are a few guys like that—William Regal and Mark Henry are two more. When I take a step back from the ring and my role is to help the younger generation, they’re examples of how I’d like to be and how I’d like to help. They’re trying to make things better for everybody, instead of telling you that you’re doing everything wrong.

Rey is still an incredible performer. He’s just as fast and quick and graceful as he’s always been, which is amazing considering how long he’s been doing this. Hopefully we get a match together at some point, but if we don’t, I’ll always look back at having the chance to be in the same locker room as him as a highlight in my career.

JB: For the Kevin Owens character, is the goal finding your way to the WWE Championship? You have a history of heating up about this time of year, as something about the stunner and summer go hand-in-hand. Is becoming WWE champ the goal for you?

KO: Of course. I’ve never been WWE Champion, I was Universal Champion. I’d love to add the WWE title to the résumé. Drew McIntyre has never beaten me. We’ve had two matches together, and they were both pretty good. I think I won the first one and the second one ended when the NXT guys came and stuck their nose in our business. But I know this: Drew McIntyre is the champion, and Drew McIntyre has never beat me. So it would only seem logical at some point that I get one of those title shots he keeps handing out to other people. So we’ll see.

JB: We’re still battling through a pandemic. Is there a message of hope you’d like to share with people?

KO: Honestly, I don’t even know if it’s about hope or inspiration, but there is one thing I think people should remember. Political views and opinions are something that get thrown around a lot on either side of the fence. The one thing, as far as masks go, there is a whole lot of data and medical professionals that say those masks make a difference.

I think they’re important. It’s like I said in my video, if you feel they’re not and you decide not to wear them, that’s your choice. Just don’t make people feel bad or belittle them for deciding to wear them. I’ve been in public and been called a sheep for wearing a mask. That’s just so ridiculous. All it comes down to is being kind to each other. Whatever your beliefs are, all you’re doing is picking one source of information against another. And the person that disagrees with you, they’re just picking a different source of information.

Just be kind and be respectful. Some places force people to wear masks if they want to enter, and I know that causes a big stir. But if you don’t want to wear a mask, then just don’t go there. It’s not that hard. Be kind and use common sense. That’s a good way to live, and that’s what I encourage more than anything. Let’s be kind and not ridicule each other for not having the same belief.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.