In case you've missed the reports, Jericho took the Brazilian flag and kicked at it in the ring before the live crowd to a chorus of boos. Apparently, when police informed him of the legal implications of his actions (he faced charges), Jericho decided to take the microphone and apologize, half in-character, and the audience applauded, accepting his gesture.
Unfortunately for Jericho, that wasn't the end of it.
WWE has been keen to gain momentum in Brazil with the threat of major market dominance in the country from UFC—a company Vince McMahon claims are not competition (via Digital Journal), even while hastily announcing a proposed WWE Network amidst rumors of a similar channel from UFC, leading to much embarrassment as Titan Towers weren't anywhere near ready for such an undertaking (from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, per 24Wrestling.com).
With that in mind, WWE have announced they have suspended Jericho for his actions.
In response, retired wrestler John "Bradshaw" Layfield made a statement, suggesting times have changed and, sadly, WWE has to reinforce good taste.
"Compare that to Sgt Slaughter burning the flag or all the crazy stuff that has gone on. This is nothing. Except we are in a new era and now that isn’t acceptable," said JBL (from SEScoops.com)
Firstly, contrary to popular belief, the urban myth of Slaughter's anti-American heel turn leading to his burning Old Glory is just that: It never happened. In fact, even though it's been teased, an American flag-burning act has almost never occurred in all of American professional wrestling history.
The "new era" JBL almost patronizingly refers to isn't the issue here because nothing has changed in this respect. The only difference is, when Bradshaw goose-stepped around a German ring giving Nazi salutes while on tour with WWE in 2004, he wasn't admonished. Likely, this was because WWE has had a solid market base in Germany since the early 1990s.
Brazil is a different world altogether for them.
Now, I personally tend to agree with JBL on his personal perspective of such incidents:
"If done in an entertaining arena, it is considered as such. Like saying you can prosecute Anthony Hopkins for cannibalism because of his role in Silence of the Lambs."
Now, although his own behavior in Germany, no doubt, went an unnecessary step too far, despite somewhat laboring his analogy (he used the Silence of the Lambs comparison in 2004, too), Layfield does have a valid point here.
Jericho was being a great old-school heel, riling the fans. Even his apology was delivered with a faint sarcastic tone in his voice.
But it works both ways.
When then-agent Dave "Fit" Finlay booked a WWE house show to feature the American anthem being interrupted by entrance music for The Miz, he was fired because it was considered too touchy for the armed forces personnel in attendance.
When high-profile WWE superstar Randy Orton's experience of being in the Marines, and his acting ability, made him seemingly an ideal candidate to land the lead role in The Marine 3, the Marines themselves complained, calling it an offense to them since Orton was kicked out of the Marines when he was young, angry and foolish (from TMZ).
If the life of Hopkins has no bearing on his ability to understand and portray a monstrous cannibal character, then a person shouldn't be penalized for mistakes of the past—in fact, if anything, they should be awarded the opportunity to redeem themselves with a fine film portrayal, doing justice to the source material.
Layfield has raised an interesting point about the WWE product. And if he's right, then other national flags and armed forces must be treated with the same sensitivity towards their often-overzealous patriotism as those in the United States. There shouldn't be one rule for one, and another for others.
Or maybe everyone—American or otherwise—should just lighten up and enjoy the show, just like they did when they were threatening to kill Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express in the 1980s because they were such brilliant heels—and allowed to be.
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