LAS VEGAS - AUGUST 24: World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. Chairman Vince McMahon is introduced during the WWE Monday Night Raw show at the Thomas & Mack Center August 24, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
B.J. Bethel, Dayton Daily News
Pro wrestling fans and writers had questioned World Wrestling Entertainment for several weeks after the disappearance of one of its lead announcers from television, Mauro Ranallo, who was suffering from depression.
Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer said Ranallo may have been the victim of WWE’s bullying culture, particularly John Layfield, his color commentator who made disparaging remarks about Ranallo following his absence on TV and during an out-of-character segment on the company’s streaming network.
The allegations became more rampant after the release of “Best Seat in The House,” a book by former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts. Roberts alleged Layfield bullied him and others regularly, particularly announcers. This behavior and culture was not only tolerated but encouraged by WWE owner Vince McMahon.
ESPN started covering WWE regularly last year, launching its own pro wrestling section on its website, and with a weekly SportsCenter segment by ESPN anchor Jonathan Coachman, a former WWE announcer himself.
ESPN has been questioned for its involvement with WWE, especially its reluctance to cover negative news about the company, almost to the point of sticking to storyline-esque interviews on its programming. The questioning began heating up over the weekend when the story bullying story began to go viral. When asked in a tweet if ESPN would cover the controversy, wrestling journalist Meltzer replied expressing doubt in strong language.
Coachman wasn’t involved in the discussion, but entered the fray anyway with a shot at Meltzer.
2 things: we don't report on rumors for any sport or company. And you getting "heat" for anything is laughable. https://t.co/9s4VK0fqLd
In the middle of his argument, Coachman announced he was dropping the weekly WWE segment from SportsCenter. He deleted the Tweet later, then said he had been planning on dropping it for several weeks because of other projects, but his timing seemed suspect. He pointed fans toward ESPN’s vertical for pro wrestling and WWE coverage.
ESPN has drawn ire for its news coverage, often for its abundance of debate shows during the morning hours and conflict of interest of having TV deals with the companies it covers. The network dropped a planned fictional show based on a pro football team after criticism from the NFL, then later dropped support of a PBS Frontline documentary on accusations the NFL had covered up concussion issues.