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Standing Tall in the Press: Bradshaw Saddles up against A Critic
By: Keith Elliot Greenburg

The article in the Athens(Texas) Daily Review was like thousands of untold stories celebrating a hometown kid who made it big. It was the tale of John Layfield, the son of a Banker who moved his family to the cozy little Texas community in 1986. Since then the young man had played football at the college and pro levels, switched his focus, changed his name and became known to the fans of the WWF as Bradshaw.

If Bradshaw had kept his original gimmick, a rugged Texas cowboy who patterned himself after the Blackjacks, the Black hatted desperadoes who dominated the WWF tag team ranks in the 1970's, its unlikely that the future would have  garnered the little controversy. But over the past few years, the publics tastes have changed. Trying to sell an audience partial to Rage against the Machine and Limp Bizkit a cowboy icon was a dumb idea, and the character bombed. So, Bradshaw was paired with Faarooq as a Member of the Acolytes and affiliated with the Ministry of Darkness. Under the Undertakers sway, the wrestler had done a number of evil things, among them was , kidnapping Stephanie McMahon, shoving Mideon and Ken Shamrock into the back of their cars and taking off and attempting to lynch Gangrel. In the article Layfield made no secret about the theatrical nature of his antics.

"People take their kids to see movies that are much worse, " Bradshaw told the Daily Review. "When we did the scene of invading a house and kidnapping, people have to remember, there are cameras there as well. It's all a show, but its a great show. We provide entertainment."

He also mentioned that with fame comes Responsibility.
Still, at least one reader didn't get it. Within days, a letter was fired off to the newspaper. Like other critics, the writer perceived the WWF as a corrupting influence on society, and further predicted that the behavior of suggestible young viewers might be horribly altered.

"The WWF is doing things that involve a tremendous amount of excessive and gratuitous violence, " the critic wrote. "Women bare the brunt of the obscenity and disrespect. Wrestlers have been buried alive, crucified, gang beaten, wrapped in straight jackets, bludgeoned and soaked in blood.... years from now when a man degrades a woman or bystanders turn a blind eye and people are desensitized to public brutality, maybe someone should point a finger at the Undertaker, Stone cold Steve Austin or someone else who should have taken their responsibility seriously.

In an effort to gain some understanding of the irate writers concerns, RAW Magazine made several attempts, but were unable to, contact the party in Athens. Not the case with Layfield, who considers himself a productive member of the community. Both his wife and his father teach bible classes at Eastern Hills Church of Christ, and he himself has coached football at Trinity Valley Community College. The notion of one of his neighbors unleashing, what he perceived as a torrent of venom in his direction appeared to bewilder, and possibly hurt him.

"In all my time in Athens, I've never had a negative reaction," he says, speaking on a cell phone from his hotel room the night after a RAW taping. "People thought it was neat seeing a local guy on TV. I was really shocked that someone from my hometown would take me to task for fictional story lines."
After some internal debate, Layfield decided to write a letter of his own. But rather than mimic the righteous tone of his detractor, the wrestler chose to be a bit playful. "That was my point," he notes. "This is entertainment"

Layfield admitted responsibility for various inscrutable actions. " not only have I beaten people up," He wrote "Twice I have kidnapped people, stuck them in the back of their own cars and stolen the cars. I have not only degraded women, one time I kidnapped the owner of the company's daughter and held her in a basement for a week. Another tome on live TV, I brought a noose to the ring to hang another wrestler, Unfortunately, the good guys showed up to ruin my evil plans, They do that alot, you know."

"Now I know that alot of people believe that the moon landing was faked and wrestling is real, but in reality I have never ever stolen a car or kidnapped anyone. I portray an evil character on a prime-time soap opera. Evil people do bad things, and most people are wise enough to know the difference between fiction and reality."

A particular sore point with Layfield was the accusation that the WWF would somehow induce antisocial behavior in young people.

"If Arnold Schwarznegger carries a gun into a building and shoots everyone in a movie, is it OK to do the same in real life and blame it on him?" The wrestler wrote " or, somewhere, do parents take the responsibility for themselves and quit blaming others for their own inadequacies of not raising their kids properly?"
Far too often, he insists, parents look to popular culture to set a moral tone for their offspring.

"What you find morally acceptable is a very subjective thing," he says. " The WWF isn't designed to do that for you. If you're looking for a show to chart out morals , watch a Barney video."

And the entertainer known as Bradshaw is speaking as a man who has seen the ravages of poor parenting. Since entering the WWF he has spoken to at-risk youths in schools and detention facilities about the destructive impact of drugs and gang involvement. In face, Layfield claims that his villainous character has helped him reach some of the more difficult kids.

"Kids admire anti-heroes who buck the system," he says.
Layfield ended his reply by listing the virtues of his community.
"I like Athens. My family is here. My friends are here. My church and home are here. I take an active role in supporting the community. I don't need some local busybody trying to get her five minutes of fame off of me. If you don't like the show....please just don't watch it. I have a yard to mow."

" Nearly everywhere I went in town, people told me the letter was well done and well deserved, " Layfield says" it was nice to feel accepted in that way, to feel that my neighbors were my friends. But even if people had been negative, I would do the same thing again. Life's too short to try to correct other people, I look and see a wonderful wife, my parents and a job I absolutely love. There's nothing to criticize there."

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