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WWE’s History of Bullying (and silence) Rears Its Ugly Head

With recent news of Mauro Ranallo leaving the WWE and allegations of JBL’s harassment, there needs to be a discussion on mental health, harassment and bullying in pro wrestling. Yet seemingly nobody in a position of power wants to talk about it

By Charles ManiegoPublished 7 years ago 5 min read
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Amidst the post-Wrestlemania glow, the WWE saw several major storylines. Yes, the Undertaker likely wrestled his final match. This is now Roman Reigns’ “Yard.” Kurt Angle is now Raw General Manager! Shinsuke Nakamura is on Smackdown Live! But those storylines may not be the most important news in sports entertainment’s (ugh) biggest traveling show.

Recently, WWE commentator Mauro Ranallo removed all his mentions of WWE on social media. The WWE, in turn, removed all mentions of Ranallo on their website. That ultimately was a nail in the coffin for Ranallo’s career with the WWE. CBS Sports reported that Ranallo is not expected to return for the remainder of his contract. He had spent a little over a year with the company, serving as the lead announcer for the rebranded Smackdown Live.

For Ranallo, it was the culmination of an announcing career that had many stops along the way. In Ranallo’s first WWE broadcast, he uttered, “the Boyhood Dream has come true,” referencing another famous pro wrestling moment. Working with the WWE was Ranallo’s dream job, and he was slated to have a consistent role with the company going forward.

Prior to the public breakup of Ranallo and WWE, Ranallo was uncharacteristically silent on social media. Ranallo, usually very active with fans, did not tweet for several days. He missed several Smackdown Live airings. His first absence was explained as “travel troubles” due to a snowstorm. But Ranallo did not return for subsequent weeks. Ranallo finally broke his silence on March 24th, explaining that his doctor advised him to stay off social media. He missed Wrestlemania, which raised even more eyebrows. By then, the announcer’s absence seemed permanent.

Ranallo’s struggles with bipolar disorder are well documented. He has openly addressed his struggles, and seems comfortable discussing BPD in a light-hearted manner. He speaks at length about his mental health struggles with Ariel Helwani, calling himself “The Bipolar Rock and Roller” at one point.

So Ranallo’s absence and subsequent departure from WWE TV has been widely speculated as stemming from his bipolar disorder. That’s not even half of the story.

A History of Bullying

Professional wrestling has long-been rooted in machismo and a “boys club” mentality. Tales of wrestlers’ road escapades and wild nights are as legendary as the wrestlers themselves. Watch any interview with an older wrestler. They will likely talk about “paying dues,” “respecting veterans,” and “making towns” in order to find success.

Jokes, or “ribs,” in wrestling speak — have been around as long as the genre itself. There have been tales of wrestlers shaving eyebrows, and lots of potty humor themed ribs. Some ribs may come across as silly jokes. Some escalate to hazing of the newest wrestlers. However, others escalate to straight up bullying and harassment. Ironically, WWE has a partnership with Be a Star, with several WWE wrestlers advocating anti-bullying. Yet backstage, bullying and verbal abuse seems to still be an issue.

Enter John Layfield, known on WWE TV as JBL.

Layfield worked as an active wrestler for WWE from 1995 to 2009. Layfield had a history of “ribbing” in his time as an active WWE wrestler. Several former WWE contracted talents have commented about Layfield’s aggressive nature, and his bullying, masked as “ribbing” of young talent. Layfield’s peer torment has been the subject of rumor and speculation for years. Search “JBL” and “bullying” on YouTube. His backstage issues with several former WWE talents have been well documented. Some incidents happened over a decade ago, yet Layfield remained with the company throughout. Layfield is still with the WWE to this day, working as a commentator since 2012.

You would think that the 50-year old Layfield, no longer an in-ring performer, would have mellowed out by now, right? He hasn’t. Layfield has been implicated as the catalyst for Ranallo’s departure. The Wrestling Observer’sDave Meltzer was first in reporting issues between Ranallo and Layfield. The two were broadcast partners on Smackdown Live.

Meltzer referenced a rant in which Layfield mocked and belittled Ranallo for acknowledging winning the Wrestling Observer’s “Best Announcer” award. This rant was seen on Bring It to the Table, a WWE Network show that featured Layfield and Peter Rosenberg in a Pardon the Interruption-style talk show. That may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back — Ranallo’s frustration with Layfield allegedly had been building for months. Subsequent reports by Meltzer further elucidated Ranallo’s growing issues with Layfield’s bullying. Several other people involved with the WWE have spoken with Meltzer privately on the situation as well, confirming Layfield’s behavior.

A Social Media Storm

The backlash to Layfield has only escalated in recent days. Along with Ranallo’s removal of his WWE affiliations, former ring announcer Justin Roberts recently released his autobiography, Best Seat in the House. Although mostly a positive career outlook, the autobiography received attention for its description on Layfield’s constant antagonizing of Roberts. The most troubling accusation was of Layfield instigating the theft of Roberts’ passport during an overseas tour. Roberts never had the passport returned, and went through a difficult process to obtain a new one — and make it to Arizona from London in time for a taping.

David Bixenspan expanded on the story for Deadspin, providing further details. Former WWE performer John Hennigan (known in WWE as John Morrison/Johnny Nitro) gave his account. Layfield asked Hennigan and his tag-team partner, Joey Mercury, to steal the passport on a flight while Roberts was sleeping. Layfield was harrasing them as well, and saw the stealing of the passport as an opportunity to end their own torment. Ultimately, they did not listen to Layfield’s request. It was a fascinating account into the scope of Layfield’s bullying and harassment of so many WWE employees.

Layfield has not commented on the Ranallo situation. Regarding the Roberts accusation, Layfield said the following…

View on Twitter

That isn’t doing him any favors.

So far, this story has been discussed ad nauseam throughout the pro wrestling side of the Internet. On Reddit’s SquaredCircle, several posts on Layfield’s history of bullying are featured on the front page. Yet, several major outlets have not addressed the Layfield bullying rumors. The WWE itself has not issued the allegations at all, and have never addressed Layfield’s bullying incidents. Meltzer, regarded as the most trusted pro wrestling news source, said the following…

View on Twitter

ESPN, Bleacher Report and numerous other news sources have remained silent on the situation. Several wrestling-centric news websites have not addressed the situation either, and may likely have connections to the WWE. ESPN’s Jonathan Coachman, a former WWE employee himself, stated that ESPN “does not report on any rumors for any sport or company” in a reply to Meltzer. Here are links to ESPN’s MLB, NFL and NBA Rumor Central.

Ironically, Coachman later confirmed that he would no longer be covering professional wrestling for ESPN.

There has been a rising sentiment for Layfield to be fired due to his years of bullying, especially with this most recent incident. In 2015, WWE Performance Center head trainer Bill DeMott was fired due to similar claims of bullying and abuse.

Even if Layfield remains with the company, there should at least be some explanation and public statement made by the WWE. Sometimes, the backstage stories of pro wrestling are more interesting than what’s presented on screen. This is different. This is the accumulation of years of one’s alleged bullying– and the lack of response to it.

A man with a serious mental health condition lost his dream job due to one person’s persistent harassment and bullying. The instigator still has a job. Bullying, harassment, and mental health all need to be discussed in greater detail, especially in the wild world of pro wrestling.

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About the Creator

Charles Maniego

Basketball, Society, Science & Medicine. Unbalanced.🍦🔬🏀🤼 ✈🤷🤙🏽

[@ignisyon]

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