The latest development on the John Bradshaw Layfield (JBL) bullying allegations suggests that the embattled SmackDown Live announcer and former World Heavyweight Champion has another high-profile defender among his WWE colleagues — WWE Hall of Famer Booker T. And inasmuch as I’ve been a fan of Booker since his days in the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling, I couldn’t disagree with him anymore.
As we often do, let’s bring you up to speed on what’s happened so far. Following the apparent departure of SmackDown announcer Mauro Ranallo and the release of ring announcer Justin Roberts’ autobiography earlier this month, JBL has been besieged with bullying accusations coming from friends and fans of the former, and the pages of the latter’s book. Some wrestlers, such as former WWE talent John Morrison, had backed up these stories, with Morrison telling Deadspin that JBL asked him and then-tag team partner Joey Mercury to steal Roberts’ passport, only for them to refuse.
There have also been some troubling reports, courtesy of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, that WWE has placed Ranallo on a gag order until his contract expires on August 12, prohibiting him from speaking about JBL’s alleged bullying or to cut any “unauthorized interviews” about the company. Citing information from the Observer, Sportskeeda wrote that WWE may be trying to avoid a similar situation to the time when CM Punk cut a scathing shoot interview on the company in November 2014, 10 months after he had walked away from WWE on acrimonious terms.
Now we’re back to the present, and it looks like JBL’s old buddy Booker T has spoken extensively in his defense, having done so in Sunday’s edition of his podcast Heated Conversations.
While Booker T acknowledged that Mauro Ranallo had unfollowed him on Twitter, he said that he still likes the veteran Canadian announcer as a person. He did, however, stick up for JBL and the supposed bullying that drove Ranallo away from WWE, agreeing that he was indeed playing a villainous character when he called Mauro out on the WWE Network show Bring It to the Table.
“Mauro obviously had a problem with JBL in the way they did their work. Now JBL was called a heel commentator. That’s just something we do.”
Booker also commented that bullying no longer applies once one has graduated from high school, as adults are expected to stand up for themselves, either physically or verbally, if confronted by someone who wants to push them around.
“Let’s take that bullying term and put it back in preschool and junior high schools and our high schools. But when you get out of high school, I think the bullying rule stops. I think the bullying rule pretty much goes away when you’re a grown man, and you’re able to take up for yourself and throw hands, or go and talk to someone and say, ‘hey, I don’t feel like I’m being treated right with this commentator.'”
Allow me to stop you right there, Booker. I was, on many occasions, a victim of bullying, not only in school, but also as an adult who had dealt with a very JBL-esque bully at work — he was smart, athletic, well-dressed, popular with peers and with management, but also disliked by a fair number of co-workers. And he didn’t like me from day one, making it clear that he felt I was a milquetoast who a) wouldn’t last long on the job and b) would always strike out with the girls. Sounds very juvenile, doesn’t it? But at that time, he was 22 and I was 24, both young adults at the time, but adults nonetheless.
To say that bullying stops once you’re 18-years-old and done with high school is an extremely myopic statement, in my opinion. And contrary to popular belief, some schoolyard bullies don’t change much when they reach adulthood. Standing up for yourself or reporting the situation to authorities may work, but it’s contingent on the bully learning his or her lesson or the company they work for taking drastic actions against them, like firing them.
Unfortunately for those chanting “fire Bradshaw” on SmackDown Live, it doesn’t seem likely that WWE will get rid of JBL over bullying allegations, many of which date back more than a decade. And while there have been cases of John Bradshaw Layfield leaving his supposed victims alone after they stood up for themselves (another former announcer, Joey Styles, comes to mind immediately), Justin Roberts’ book Best Seat in the House, as well as this Reddit AMA, both suggest that he was a regular victim of JBL’s bullying.
The reality of any working world we live in, may it be a corporate office like mine from more than a decade ago or the WWE’s wild and wooly locker room, is this: not everyone has the courage to confront a bully and tell them you don’t appreciate what they’re doing. That may have been my mistake, as my old workplace bully had caused me great distress when I left the company we worked for. With me out of the picture, he made sure to smear me as someone who was still a loser, yet somehow got lucky when he got promoted.
That may have been Roberts’ mistake too, as Booker T suggested in his podcast. But at the end of the day, it’s a very common and understandable mistake; once again, we can’t all be bigger in stature or more confident than the average person in a workplace where adult bullies abound. As such, Booker T’s comments about Mauro Ranallo and Justin Roberts are tantamount to victim-blaming.
In relation to that, Booker T made one final mistake in his defense of JBL and the bullying allegations made against him — by gloating that he never was bullied in his 26-year wrestling career. At six-foot-two and about 250 pounds, he was definitely not a small guy in the locker room, not like Justin Roberts and Joey Styles, two non-wrestlers who only weighed about 170 to 180 pounds. He was obviously confident enough to hold his own in a tough locker room. But that still doesn’t make it right for him to gloat that he was “never bullied,” and that he would have “beaten the hell” out of anyone who tried pranking him backstage.
As a fan of Booker T who happened to have suffered through bullying in school and at work, I must say that I am very disappointed with his defense of JBL. Bullying does happen even when you’re several years removed from high school graduation, and it shouldn’t be seen as the victim’s fault. And just as I said in a previous opinion piece, WWE should investigate, deal out any punishments deemed necessary, and not try to sweep things under the rug by silencing Mauro Ranallo and any other alleged victims.
[Featured Image by WWE]