This last week has been huge for WWE, with arguably the biggest Wrestlemania ever being broadcast to record numbers. Share prices are way up and the company’s Network Subscription numbers are flying high. It should be a time of great celebration; yet increasingly a shadow is being cast over the behaviour of some of its roster of talent. A culture of bullying and passive acceptance is seemingly at play – and it’s threatening to tear apart the company’s carefully constructed public image.
Internet speculation has increasingly pointed to WWE’s Smackdown Commentator John Bradshaw Layfield as a source of issue backstage. Hazing other Superstars and on-air talent, the scope of his misdemeanours is reportedly high enough that a number of ex-talent (Including former on-air announcer Justin Roberts in his new book Best Seat in the House, John Morrison and more) have been talking openly about this problem. It goes back many years and points to a very bleak culture that exists within the WWE Locker room.
At the time of writing, WWE has done nothing to address the issues publicly. JBL himself has paid lip-service to it via a series of Tweets, but ultimately ignored the issue on the grounds that “he plays a heel on TV”. He then rather awkwardly downplayed Roberts as an “idiot” via the Tweets, not seemingly understanding the gravity of the problems facing him;
No Joe, and I won't-I shouldn't commenting on Internet stuff. I play a heel. I sincerely wish Mauro nothing but the absolute best.
— John Layfield (@JCLayfield) April 7, 2017
I won't answer Net rumors-but I didn't take Justin Roberts passport. Could have been anyone/he was hated by the whole crew. He's an idiot.
— John Layfield (@JCLayfield) April 7, 2017
The biggest concern about all this though is WWE’s slow response. Here’s a situation where a member of WWE’s staff, with noted past episodes of depression caused by his bipolar disorder, has reportedly been forced from his work due to this culture of hazing. In any other line of work, JBL would have been removed from his position pending investigation. Yet WWE have allowed him to not only pick up a cheque on the biggest PPV of the year (Something Mauro wasn’t allowed to do) but he’s still on the weekly shows. It’s laughable.
The fact the company won’t address the issues speaks volumes, showcasing the problem on WWE’s doorstep. Punishing JBL opens the floodgates to this problem – meaning WWE will have to address the wider issue. Not punishing JBL only make the company massive hypocrites – in particular when you glance at their heavy involvement in the “Be A Star” campaign. The same company that actively tells its younger fans to “stand up to bullying” is looking the other way when it comes to bullying culture within the company – actively contradicting itself in the process.
We shouldn’t be surprised. When the company released Bill Demott back in 2015, they only did so after the wider media grabbed on to the story of his hazing. For years prior, Demott’s backstage antics were well noted among wrestlers and hardcore fans. His hazing of younger talent was described as out of control when he was eventually removed, but had been tolerated by the company until it hurt their public image. WWE are loyal to a fault when it comes to their long-tenured Superstars; pointing to a locker room culture in drastic need of re-think.
Interestingly Dave Meltzer notes on this weeks Wrestling News Observer that;
“everyone knows how tight Layfield is with Vince McMahon…. the belief across-the-board is Layfield’s weeding out those who can’t take it comes from above.”
It provides an answer as to why this is allowed to occur for such a long period, and why such a culture exists despite it making no logical sense. It also aligns with many of the story’s we’ve heard over the years about JBL’s backstage antics.
The longer WWE fail to address this incident, the more damage they cause. It’s been four weeks since Mauro Ranello was removed from his position on Smackdown Live’s commentary team. The reported issues between him and JBL are all the more shocking given Ranello’s previous bouts with his mental health.
WWE in recent years have preached a message of tolerance and anti-bullying to younger fans, yet here they are actively sat atop a culture of bullying. They need to act now and cut out the weeds, before their inaction leads to a much stronger fallout. If they can’t practice what they preach, their words are worthless.
We’re watching, WWE. But not in the way you want us to.