John Bradshaw Layfield has always been a contentious figure in wrestling.
The former WWE Champion spent decades in the WWE as a wrestler and a commentator. His time was filled with big moments and memorable matches, although behind the scenes was much different.
JBL was known by many as a bully backstage. Whether it’s “soaping up” the young wrestlers, his hatred of The Miz or his well-documented attack on Mauro Ranallo, he has never been one ton shy away from controversy.
However, inside the ring he was always a top heel. Nobody could get the crowd to hate them as much as JBL did, especially when he was the WWE Champion.
However, like his backstage antics, sometimes JBL could go too far.
JBL’s Nazi Salute In Germany
In 2004, WWE sent it’s roster to a tour of Europe. This included a stop in Germany, a country famously very sensitive for it’s… let’s say controversial history.
Most people are also very sensitive to the situation when they visit. Given the systematic destruction of 11 million human beings, including Jews, Gays and Gypsies, not glorifying the Nazi’s is sensibly a big deal there.
It’s not just a big deal – it’s actually illegal. A Nazi salute can be punishable by up to three years in prison, if done in public. Whilst this may seem a violation of free speech in some countries, it comes from an effort to learn from the mistakes of Germany’s destructive past.
However, nobody gave the loudmouth Texan the message. JBL at the time was a hated Heel in WWE, having recently turned on his partner Ron Simmons. His decision caused Simmons to be fired from WWE, and JBL became a top heel on the Smackdown brand.
He abandoned his previous personality of the fun, loudmouth, beer drinking Texan. JBL followed on from his real-life role as a financial analyst for CNBC and took on the role of a rich yet obnoxious wrestler.
While he quickly rose up the card, he did so by making the crowd hate him with every ounce of his being. He’s cheat in every match, despite his incredible size. His Clothesline From Hell was one of the most brutal finishers in WWE, yet felt cheap in the eyes of the fans.
JBL insulted the crowd, ragging on their sports teams and comparing their states unfavourably to his home in Texas. It was classic heel tactics straight out of the 1980s, yet it worked because he was the only one doing it in the WWE.
However, JBL went too far in Germany in 2004. During a tag team match on the Germany leg of their European Tour, JBL raised his arm in the Hitler salute and goose-stepped across the ring apron, shocking the crowd like never before.
The move was a total shock. He was immediately fired from CNBC, with one representative stating “We find his behavior to be offensive, inappropriate and not befitting anyone associated with our network,”.
However, JBL later claimed that it was no big deal. He claimed that other wrestlers had done the same thing earlier in the night and received no heat at all.
He also admitted that it helped make the JBL character an even bigger deal than it already was. He would win the WWE Championship later that year so his claim is not completely unfounded.
It’s been pointed out that I wasn’t even the only guy in the match that night who had done it. It got zero heat that night, wasn’t even worth doing. Again, right or wrong-everyone did it-and it’s time had passed and it was time to be smarter about getting heat just like flipping off the crowd’s time had passed as well.JBL on Facebook talking about the Nazi Salute
He also revealed that, while reports of his arrest and deportation rounded the internet, nothing happened. He was not in trouble in the country and no legal action came to him.
He was not fired by the WWE and the only fallout was him losing his job with CNBC.
However, this turned out to be not so bad a thing. He was immediately hired to Fox, where he continued the same role as a financial analyst. His WWE career also went from strength to strength. He won the WWE Championship later that year from Eddie Guerrero, and held the belt for nearly a year before losing it to John Cena at WrestleMania 21.