WWE: Is Hazing Encouraged?


Backstage rumors have persisted for years that WWE veterans routinely bully younger wrestlers without fear of reprisal or punishment.

As is often the case within organizations that overflow with testosterone, unnecessary hazing often disguises itself as a rite of passage required for membership. Many of these rituals are harmless, are done with the best of intentions, and can actually strengthen the bond between members. But sometimes, lines are crossed and the results are so severe and traumatizing that the participants stop feeling safe and begin to feel threatened.

Hazing has long been a problem in all branches of the military, both in boot camp and beyond. Between 2012 and 2015, the United States Marine Corps investigated more than 377 suspected hazing incidents. Earlier this year, a 19-year-old fraternity pledge at Penn State University died after a night of “excessive alcohol consumption and fraternity hazing activity.” The student fell down a set of stairs and police estimated that roughly 12 hours passed before an ambulance was called to the scene. In 2003, a 23-year-old new employee of the Republic Energy Drilling Company was killed after suffering blunt force trauma as the result of a hazing incident involving a cable belt and cat line which are normally used to hoist heavy pieces of pipe or the small parts of a rig.

Hazing has been a reported part of backstage professional wrestling culture for decades. Many of the stories told by former employees involve rookie wrestlers being “forced” to perform innocuous tasks like carrying a veteran’s luggage or eating last at company events. Failure to comply with these simple yet annoying endeavors was often met with contempt or shame from the other competitors since these were seen as traditions passed down from generation to generation within the industry. But recent reports indicate that not all of these activities were done in good fun and some may have crossed the line into harassment.

Justin Roberts was a WWE ring announcer from 2002 to 2014 and in his new book, Best Seat in the House, he alleges that JBL was a relentless bully who “terrorized” not only himself but also younger wrestlers. Roberts is hardly the first WWE employee to call out JBL by name for his antics as Edge also talked about their backstage run-ins in his memoir. In his book, Roberts mentions a specific incident where his passport was stolen during an overseas trip which forced him to take several detours and pay a significant fee to obtain a replacement. While he doesn’t specifically accuse JBL of stealing the passport, former WWE star John Morrison (now known as Johnny Mundo in Lucha Underground) told Deadspin that JBL asked him and Joey Mercury to pull off the deed but they refused.

While the passport story isn’t meant to be incriminating, Roberts’ larger point is that there were no repercussions for the incident and he even mentions Vince McMahon laughing about it in a production meeting several days later. One of the most dangerous aspects of hazing is when allegations are either ignored or encouraged and that is the environment Roberts says represents the current state of the WWE hierarchy:

"“They like humiliating people. They like laughing at people. The way wrestling is entertainment to us wrestling fans, humiliating people was just entertainment to the bosses.”"

After the story broke last week, JBL took to social media and denied personally taking Roberts’ passport and also followed up his statement by saying that Roberts was hated by everyone and that he was an “idiot”. It is well known in wrestling circles that JBL enjoys a special place in Vince’s kingdom and as one of the few men left over from the Attitude Era, it is unlikely that anything will come of this. However, if this story grows legs and more stars come out against JBL, the company may be forced to take action. Multiple hazing allegations involving a current employee would directly conflict with the WWE “Be a STAR” campaign which specifically addresses the problem of bullying with a mission to “encourage young people to treat each other with respect.”

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The only way hazing/bullying can be addressed in any organization is if it is confronted by the upper echelons of leadership. The USMC has been engaged in a vigorous battle against hazing, imposing strict reporting requirements and mandatory training sessions to educate Marines of all ages and ranks. Colleges across the country have attempted to crack down on hazing by removing alcohol from on-campus functions and some have threatened to revoke the charters of fraternities or sororities that include alcohol in their pledge activities. While the WWE is happy to address bullying/hazing for its younger fans there seems to be little concern about how this issue affects the performers.