By Jason Powell
By now, you have probably heard the story about Justin Roberts having his passport stolen by a mystery colleague during one of WWE’s overseas tours. Or maybe you read the former WWE ring announcer’s blog in which he set the record straight about how his friendship with young Connor Michalek sparked the company’s relationship with the young spinal cancer victim and his family. And surely you’ve read or listened to an interview with a former WWE performer being tormented by John Bradshaw Layfield to the point of nearly quitting the business (or actually following through with it in one case).
Yes, I’m late to the party when it comes to Justin Roberts’ Best Seat In The House: Your Backstage Pass Through My WWE Journey. The autobiography turned out to be very timely in that it received a lot of attention when rumors swirled that JBL may have played some part in the premature departure of Maura Ranallo from the Smackdown broadcast team. And just as I maintain that it’s not fair to rush to judgement with the JBL and Ranallo situation until we actually know the full story, I can assure you that you don’t know the full story of the Roberts’ autobiography if you’ve only listened to interviews or read some excerpts.
This is not a hatchet job or a tell-all. There’s no dirt or tales of wrestler debauchery, and surely a guy who spent 12 years on the road with the company easily could have gone down that road. Instead, Roberts simply tells his story and in doing so some of his former employers come off poorly. Of course, JBL, Kevin Dunn, Vince McMahon, Paul Levesque, and others have their own versions of the events that Roberts detailed, but Roberts never comes across like a guy with an ax to grind. Rather, he seems like someone who is simply telling his story and perhaps finding some therapeutic value in the process.
Was Roberts frustrated by the layers of bureaucracy, the bullying culture, the chaos created by countless script rewrites during live television broadcasts, the lack communication, the absence of appreciation for a job well done, and other issues? Absolutely.
The fatal flaw with Roberts that shines through is that he cared. And in order to endure the insane travel schedule of life in WWE, you need to care in order to perform the job that Roberts did for as long as he did. Roberts cared enough that he wanted to use his unique perspective at the house show events to create a better experience. This type of concern was appreciated by some, yet there were far too many times when his superiors simply wanted him to deliver the ring announcements and stay out of the way. Roberts never discloses how much he was paid by WWE, but considering the way the company seems to view the ring announcer position as the low spot on the totem pole, it seems safe to assume that money wasn’t the reason Roberts stayed as long as he did.
Rather, it was the passion he had for the company and the pro wrestling industry. Any company would be lucky to have an employee (well, technically Roberts was an independent contractor) who cares as much as Roberts did about his job. This type of passion would be applauded and rewarded in most professions. The pro wrestling industry is filled with people who grew up dreaming of making it to the top of the industry, and sadly there are far are too many stories of that passion being taken for granted or downright exploited by those in power.
Roberts is one of those dreamers. And for as much as the focus has been on the negatives of his journey, this a positive story of how a young fan went above and beyond to chase his dream. The tales of young Roberts and his fandom and all the work he put in to learn about the business and eventually become a part of it are fun, quirky, and inspiring.
Any pro wrestling fan is sure to relate to Roberts’ fandom and passion for the business. It will be an eye opening experience for younger readers or newer fans when it comes to how what they may assume is one of the funnest jobs in the world isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. For others, it’s a detailed reminder that the bullying culture within the company starts at the top. A highly recommended read.
Justin Roberts is scheduled to join me on Thursday’s Dot Net Weekly audio show. The first 15-20 minutes of the show will be available as the All Access Daily Podcast.