There’s no way around it—JBL has to go.
WWE’s bullying culture has been known for decades, but some unfortunate timing and sympathetic victims have launched the issue into the mainstream. Much of the judgment has swirled around John “Bradshaw” Layfield, a former cowboy-themed / occult-bodyguard themed / J.R. Ewing-themed wrestler-turned-Fox Business analyst-turned color commentator.
JBL’s penchant for bullying has been well documented, but a confluence of two victims’ stories has recently focused a spotlight on his behavior. Play-by-play announcer Mauro Ranallo is likely done with WWE as a result of how JBL’s bullying preyed on Ranallo’s battle with bipolar disorder. Former ring announcer Justin Roberts recently published Best Seat in the House, in which he speaks frankly about his experience on the receiving end of WWE’s bullying culture.
WWE is hardly the first company—or organization—to have a history of bullying, but locker-room justice is a blunt object that’s hard to align with an organization’s values.
Veterans coming to JBL’s defense have been pointing out that this is a thread running back to the history of the business. Whether it’s sports, fraternities or the military, hazing and bullying have long been leveraged to build bonds between participants who need to trust their colleagues, and to preemptively weed out those who can’t handle the pressure before the eventual caving can cause damage. And in a business like professional wrestling, trust and reliability are essential to the safety of the talent.
Culture has power; a 2016 DeLoitte survey showed 82 percent of global respondents believe culture is a competitive advantage. Companies are increasingly learning about the importance of clearly defining and taking ownership of their culture, cultivating it with care and harnessing its potential to drive their business.
And that’s why WWE needs to part ways with JBL sooner rather than later. For WWE to fully reap the benefits of its bullying culture, they need someone who truly excels at preying on the less powerful on all fronts; JBL is not that man.
Credibility is central to the effectiveness of bullying culture. If no one fears the bully, the threats are empty. And JBL is simply not a credible threat.
One need look no further than the 2003 incident when diminutive announcer Joey Styles toppled JBL with one punch. Granted, witness accounts are varied—some say Styles knocked JBL out with one punch, whereas others say he simply knocked JBL to the ground with one punch. However, all accounts agree that wrestlers held the 5’7” Joey Styles back, the 6’6” JBL charged at him, one punch was delivered, and JBL ended up on the floor.
2. Accuracy and Alignment with Objectives
JBL is largely believed to be the muscle behind Vince McMahon’s desires to have the locker room policed. But for this to be effective, the enforcer’s efforts need to be aligned to business needs. JBL’s antics have historically been somewhat scattershot and unpredictable (mostly unpredictable; see point 3 for possible insight), leading to waste and misalignment of resources.
A recent example of this is JBL’s twitter-based attempt to salvage his character, when he pointed out that nobody in the locker room liked the “idiot” Justin Roberts. Not only have independent reporters demonstrated this to be untrue, Roberts’ own book has a foreword written by a former WWE wrestler whose tenure overlapped with both Roberts and JBL.
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
JBL’s track record of talent assessment is highly questionable, and that is a major risk factor when trying to manage a successful bullying culture.
3. Ulterior Motives
For the bullying culture to truly serve the company’s business needs, the bully needs to be serving the company’s values and strategy. If the energy and tactical deployment are serving the bully’s selfish interests, this is no different than any other kind of corporate resource theft. As a publicly traded company, WWE needs to be extra vigilant in resource management.
And tying in with points 1 and 2, if the potential victims suspect the bully lacks credibility and alignment, the impact of the bullying strategy is negated. Perception is just as important as reality, and unfortunately for JBL, his behavior aligns with a tragic archetype.
A quick google search for “closeted gay bully” will turn up countless results of closeted gay men who have channeled their inability to embrace their true selves into aggressive, bullying behaviors. And anyone who has been on a playground as a child is familiar with the practice of teasing a crush, often to an inappropriate degree.
Look at some of JBL’s most notorious victims, and suddenly this perception becomes even more damaging to his credibility: John Morrison. Rene Dupree. Jeff Hardy. The Miz. Roberts. And then think back to the strange story of how JBL joined Edge in the shower and began the unsolicited process of soaping up Edge’s buttocks. There’s no denying the picture that JBL’s behavior has painted, regardless of whether or not it’s accurate.
None of us can know what is in JBL’s heart, but to the casual observer, the perception is that JBL’s refusal to accept his true self is manifesting as violent behavior, betrayed by the beautiful objects of his aggression. If these actions are serving his own pleasures and not the corporate objectives of WWE, this is a serious process breach.
WWE’s commitment to bullying is a strategic practice driven by the philosophy of its undeniably successful founding family; for that bullying to thrive and deliver results, it needs to be carried out by bullies of integrity who are willing to align their abuse and predatory behaviors to deliver results.
If WWE’s leadership is serious about its culture, it’s time to clean house. JBL has got to go.