Covering Up the Bullying in the WWE

AS I SEE IT: Covering Up the Bullying
Bob Magee
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets
PWBTS.com

WWE has itself a major PR issue.

For any wrestling fan not under a rock, or at least any fan who has looked at their phone, tablet, PC, or other device over the last month…you know what it is. I don’t need to go over the basic details of what took place or when.

The facts are these: Mauro Ranallo was the victim of workplace bullying by John Layfield, either on his own, which would hardly be shocking, given the longtime track record of Layfield bullying WWE in-ring and out-of-ring talent….or he was asked to do so at the behest (directly or indirectly) of Vince McMahon. One would be bad enough. the other would be far worse.

Then, the fact that Justin Roberts’ book on his time in WWE came out (coincidentally) at this time and addressed Layfield bullying Roberts, including coercing John Hennigan and Joey Mercury to steal the passport of Justin Roberts as hazing…isn’t helping matters at all. The fact it isn’t taken seriously was shown indirectly on WWE TV in a skit where Brian Kendrick, as one of his storyline “lessons”, stole the passport of Akira Tozawa. Think it was a coincidence? A convenient one at best.

Meanwhile, what is WWE’s response to all this? At this point, the only response WWE will provide is: “Mauro Ranallo remains under contract with WWE until August 12, 2017.” The best way to figure this out would be one or more of these: Ranallo is being paid the remainder of his contract to keep him quiet, with WWE hoping the story will blow over; that some sort of settlement is being negotiated, or both.

But Ranallo has put some cryptic tweets out there, including this one:
“Three things cannot be hidden: The sun,the moon,and the truth.” -Buddha.

Then…there is the behavior of ESPN’s Jonathan Coachman when criticized by fans and Dave Meltzer…. via Twitter, throwing a childish tantrum claiming “he won’t cover WWE anymore”, and even making the ludicrous comment he “was covering WWE on his own time” (news flash: time on news and sports telecasts is plotted out in as real a manner of WWE television…if not more) , followed by ESPN’s company ombudsman backing Coachman up, and telling fans critical that they should not seek to have rumors reported, and still worse, in essence said that fans should know their place.

Oh? ESPN doesn’t cover rumors? What in the hell do they do with the NFL and the NBA (to name two)? Rumors regarding who will or won’t be a draft pick, who will or won’t be traded, are almost a full-time beat in and of itself on ESPN.

It’s pretty clear that Jonathan Coachman is trying to cover his ass and ESPN’s. He’s also personally friendly with John Layfield. It can’t be dismissed by simply saying “it’s just wrestling” either.

Along with fans tweeting Coachman, many fans have contacted ESPN itself. For those hoping for one small bit of actual journalism, it looks like the ESPN “Public Ed” spokesperson (ombudsman) representative is going carny as well, with comments that would have warmed the heart of a 1980’s era Bill Watts; when he tweeted about fans needing to know their place…and investigating “rumors”, (i.e. wrestlespeak for the Trump phase “fake news” for something he doesn’t like or agree with).

It’s no secret that ESPN gives privileged coverage to those that are business partners…not just WWE, but also the NFL. Monday Night Football airs on ESPN. As a result, ESPN stayed away from coverage of the NFL and the NFL’s questionable conduct vis-a-visa concussion study; as well as the class action lawsuit against the league for the longest time. Keith Olbermann actually quit ESPN on over it. Since this hypocrisy was brought out, ESPN has finally had to cover the issue.

Even worse is the claim by Coachman that no hazing went on while he worked for WWE, and Coachman going so far as to say that there is no bullying culture in WWE. How many stories…out of how many wrestlers books (a number of which name names…and Dynamite Kid even implicating himself in his own book) has the culture been outlined? Coachman kills his credibility by making such a comment….not just vis-a-vis WWE, but overall. Hell, in recent years, Mike Mizanin has made no secret whatever about the hazing he received in his early WWE days…rough hazing.

The only response to all this that WWE will make is at this point is Mauro Ranallo remains under contract with WWE until August 12, 2017.
This is a very different world for wrestling and WWE than the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. This isn’t the world of Mr. Fuji and others who ribbed…sometimes viciously…fellow wrestlers who were roughly on an equal physical and professional level to them.

This is the world of WWE as a public company…the world of WWE, capitalized at or over a billion dollars, as big business. With the growth of social media and the realization by the real world that WWE is big business, WWE can no longer sweep real world issues under the rug, and depend on “no comment” or pro forma answers to this situation. CBSSports.com, Forbes.com, Deadline are among many who cover wrestling and are reporting on this story…so it isn’t going away.

It’s interesting to see the number of people who have sent Ranallo messages of support with this situation. Hundreds, if not thousands, of fans sending them is not that surprising. Nor is it surprising to see that those dealing with depression and related mental health issues would. But it IS surprising to see some of those in wrestling (notably including those who worked in WWE) who are: Bubba Ray Dudley, Scott Hall, Scotty Riggs. Bobby Fulton.

I’m not naive enough to think that large numbers of people are going to turn off their TVs tonight or tomorrow in response to the treatment of Mauro Ranallo, particularly with the “ShakeUp” episodes or RAW and Smackdown airing the next two days. If it did somehow happen, it would be shocking.

But for those who’d like to do something, it might be interesting to ask the National Education Association Health Information Network, GLAAD, STOMP Out Bullying, The Ad Council and the United Federation of Teachers; the partners with WWE in the “Be A Star” anti-bullying campaign if they are OK with this kind of hypocrisy…to allow someone on one of their two flagship telecasts who has been shown repeatedly to have engaged in bullying. Ask these organizations if they, in good conscience, feel comfortable partnering with WWE, given what has happened.

For those who say that the Be A Star effort shouldn’t be interfered with because of this, because of the issue of bullying…. no decent person thinks bullying is OK. But if you’d rather have your commitment to the cause not tainted by hypocrisy and corporate PR…there is a group (easily found on Facebook) I’d like to suggest as an alternative, called Stand for the Silent. It deals with kids who are being bullied, and who have self-harmed, or outright are thinking of attempting suicide. They network with local schools and community groups. It is founded by a father whose child killed himself after school bullying. It isn’t tainted by corporate PR or hypocrisy.

For those who admire Mauro Ranallo’s talent, for those who hate bullying, and think a company that portrays itself as an entertainment company (emphasis on company)…you can take the time to at least do that much today.

Until next time…
Bob Magee