By Mike Mooneyham
June 13, 2004
Few symbols represent evil and hatred more than those associated with Adolph Hitler and Nazism. Somebody should have reminded WWE performer John Bradshaw Layfield.
Last weekend during a Smackdown tour of Germany, at a time when many were commemorating the D-Day invasion that led to the fall of Hitler and Europe’s liberation, Layfield was goose-stepping his way around a Munich ring and raising his arm in a Nazi salute during a match with Eddie Guerrero. While it may have been an attempt to draw “cheap heat,” as it’s known in the wrestling business, Layfield’s actions reflect either total disrespect for the most basic social mores or just sheer stupidity.
Layfield – and WWE – can consider themselves lucky he wasn’t jailed by the authorities. Nazi symbols and gestures, including words and actions which can be interpreted as condoning Nazism, are illegal in Germany and are punishable by imprisonment.The incident sparked outrage among the estimated 4,500 fans in attendance as well as fans online. The public outcry prompted WWE to issue a statement on its Web site apologizing for Layfield’s faux pas.
“WWE and John Layfield deeply regret Mr. Layfield’s actions in the ring at our event in Munich, and apologize if it has offended or upset our fans. Mr. Layfield has been reprimanded for his actions.”
The statement, however, was removed later that day. Although officials have intimated that there will be repercussions for Layfield, no disciplinary measures were taken.
The response from CNBC, where Layfield worked as an on-air financial analyst, was more severe.
“CNBC has terminated its relationship with John ‘Bradshaw’ Layfield following his conduct this past weekend in a wrestling match,” the network announced Tuesday. “We find his behavior to be offensive, inappropriate and not befitting anyone associated with our network.”
Layfield, 36, whose current in-ring character portrays a Hispanic-taunting bigot, claims he isn’t really a racist or anti-Semite. Considered one of the company’s more patriotic performers, he has visited U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq on three celebrity tours. The 13-year veteran contends he was just doing what a heel is supposed to do, and that’s turn the fans against him.
“I’m a bad guy (in WWE). I’m supposed to incite the crowd,” Layfield told the Washington Post. “I’ve done (the Nazi gestures) for decades. I really didn’t think anything of it – I know how bad it is, I’ve lived (in Germany). I’ve been to Dachau, seen those places where they exterminated millions of Jews … I draw the line between me and my character. That’s like saying Anthony Hopkins really enjoys cannibalism.”
Layfield, who doubles as a Wall Street expert outside the ring and has published a “how to” book on personal finance, has appeared on a number of television news outlets including CNBC, MSNBC, CNN and Fox News Channel. Seemingly still not comprehending the gravity of his actions, Layfield said he couldn’t understand why he was abruptly terminated by CNBC, where he had been a regular, paid commentator on the cable financial network’s “Bullseye” show.
“They hung me out to dry,” Layfield told the Post. I was playing a character. It’s the same as Vin Diesel playing a Nazi.”
Unlike an actor following the script, however, Layfield reportedly exercised his bad judgment without prior approval of WWE officials at the show in Germany, part of a Smackdown tour titled Passport to Pain.
“I’m sure he went into business on his own,” said one WWE performer. “An agent would have never approved that.” Layfield said he thought the network understood that he played a heel role in the wrestling business.
“The only thing they asked me not to play was a stock market cheat or fraud. Other than that, they said they totally understood, that it was like Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a cyborg … I thought I had it covered. I thought they understood the character is a bad guy and is going to do bad things.”
The incident received more mainstream exposure when trash talk show host Howard Stern, displaying his ignorance on the subject, sided with Layfield because he claimed everything in wrestling was scripted and that Layfield was just an actor following the WWE’s script. The ill-informed Stern, who has featured a number of wrestlers on his show in the past but demonstrates little knowledge of the business, also mistakenly thought that Layfield and Eddie Guerrero were one and the same until being corrected later.
That Layfield chose Munich, the birthplace of the Nazi party, as the forum for his breach of taste made the offense that much worse. One angered fan had to be restrained by authorities and escorted out of the building after attempting to attack the former APA member, whose “JBL” gimmick is a spin-off on legendary Texas heels such as Stan Hansen and Black Jack Mulligan, or as Layfield puts it, “JR Ewing meets Pat Buchanan.”
Layfield also confided that it wasn’t the first time he’d done the Nazi gestures when performing in Germany both for WWE and for a German wrestling outfit. The Munich incident also wasn’t the first time Layfield has created controversy.
Layfield was involved in a dubious angle last month at a house show in El Paso, Texas, where he attacked the Guerrero clan during an in-ring celebration honoring Eddie’s family. As part of the angle, Layfield grabbed Guerrero’s 76-year-old mother, who collapsed onto the mat, was given oxygen and taken from the ring on a stretcher. It later was reported that she had suffered a mild heart attack, a company ploy designed to generate interest for Smackdown’s weekly UPN telecasts and a Smackdown brand pay-per-view.
Layfield also recently lashed out at critics who have questioned his elevation to main-event status, calling them “fat, out-of-shape Internet wannabes who have never done anything more athletic than play checkers.”
Layfield went on a diatribe in a May 11 column on the WWE Web site. “How long has it been since you guys that spend all your time reporting on us have been with a woman other than your mother? After all, when I see you in airports hanging out, you are always with guys. You guys don’t have a questionable sexual orientation, do you?”
The column was written just six days after CNBC announced that it had signed the wrestler.
“John brings a fresh perspective to the stock market, politics and finance,” CNBC said in its announcement. “We are excited that he is part of our team and look forward to his engaging, entertaining insights.”
The Texas native has been a longtime favorite of management and in recent months was moved to the top heel spot on the Smackdown roster for a feud with Guerrero. Layfield, who arrived in the company in 1996 as Justin Hawk Bradshaw, has been one of the most outspoken performers in the company and has curried favor with management over the years despite having a reputation as a locker-room bully who intimidates new talent.
Guerrero also snapped at Sunday night’s show in Oberhausen, Germany, when a small, albeit vocal, group of heckling fans mocked the WWE Smackdown champion during his match with Layfield. Although normally a babyface, a visibly upset Guerrero turned himself heel during the match when he grabbed the ringside mic and insulted the fans over the public-address system before flipping off the entire crowd. Guerrero reportedly commented backstage that he wasn’t working the crowd as a heel, but was extremely angry at the fans’ reaction to him throughout the bout.
– The JBL furor ironically occurred on the weekend of the passing of “Nazi” heel Kurt Von Brauner. Von Brauner, whose real name was Jimmy Brawner, was the original Kurt Von Brauner and one half of one of the top tag teams of the ’60s. Along with “brother” Karl (Doug Donovan) and manager Solomon “Saul” Weingeroff, the trio played on Americans’ hatred for Nazis and stirred riots in a number of towns in which they appeared. Many nights the team would have to get a police escort out of the building and into a waiting squad car that would whisk the German “twins” and their cane-wielding manager to safety.
Willi Rutkowsky became the new Kurt Brauner in the mid-’60s after Brawner retired in 1966. Rutkowsky also had been well-versed in the art of portraying a Nazi heel, appearing as Kurt Von Stroheim and teaming with “brother” Karl “Skull” Von Stroheim (Walter Nurnberg) as the villainous Von Stroheims during the ’60s. Donovan’s brother, Red Donovan, appeared briefly as a Von Brauner brother named Eric.
Rutkowsky died in 1993 at the age of 69. Weingeroff, who was really of Jewish descent, died in 1988 at the age of 72, living out his final years as a deputy sheriff and sign painter in the Nashville area.
– The lineup for Saturday night’s Raw show at the North Charleston Coliseum: Kane vs. Chris Benoit for the WWE Raw title; Shelton Benjamin vs. Randy Orton for the Intercontinental title; Edge and Chris Jericho vs. Ric Flair and Batista; Matt Hardy and Lita vs. Tyson Tomko and Trish in a mixed tag-team match; Victoria vs. Molly vs. Jazz in a three-way match for the WWE women’s title; Eugene vs. Garrison Cade; Tajiri vs. Test; Hurricane and Rosey vs. La Resistance for the WWE Raw tag-team title; and Rhyno vs. Chuck Palumbo.
– George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the Bad Blood pay-per-view tonight beginning at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $5.
– Matthews S[ports Bar and Grill, 613 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., will host a Bad Blood pay-per-view party beginning at 6 p.m. Admission is $5. For more information, call 532-9924.
– Old-school wrestling fans will be in for a treat with a couple of back-to-back church events June 25 at Family Fun Night at Miles Road Baptist Church in Summerville and June 26 at the first-ever Community Outreach Event at the Refuge Temple parking lot in St. Stephen. The shows will feature such names as Greg Valentine, Terry Taylor, Ricky Morton, Burrhead Jones and George South, as well as surprise main events.
– Former pro wrestling star Richard “Dirty Dick” Van Slater was sentenced to a year of house arrest followed by two years probation for the stabbing of his former girlfriend.
Slater, 52, was sentenced Tuesday in Florida’s Pinellas Circuit Court after pleading no contest to one count of aggravated battery in the December stabbing. Besides the house arrest and probation, Slater was ordered to stay away from the victim and pay restitution, fines, and investigative and court costs of more than $1,800.
Slater, who retired from wrestling in 1996, was arrested Dec. 27 after he stabbed Theresa Marie Halbert with an eight-inch butcher knife and “watched her bleed” in her home, according to the arrest warrant.
– Christian (Jay Reso) is currently injured with back problems he suffered during a recent cage match with Chris Jericho. Tyson Tomko has replaced Christian at live events.
– Paul Heyman’s girlfriend recently gave birth to their second child.