This past Thursday night, Chris Jericho found a Brazilian flag ringside at a live event in Brazil during his match against CM Punk. Jericho picked up the flag, showed it to the audience, threw it down on the ground and kicked it out of the ring.
The local police, present at the event, stopped the match and demanded that Jericho give an apology or face incarceration. He did so, and the match resumed. Afterwards, it was announced on WWE.com that WWE suspended Jericho indefinitely for the incident, which later became 30 days. This means that Jericho will miss the No Way Out pay-per-view and what was leading toward a match at the event with Randy Orton.
The suspension reminded me of suspensions given in the NHL. More often than not during a hit that is in question, players are suspended for the injury caused by the hit, not necessarily the hit itself. Several hits or infractions on the ice that would warrant a suspension are left alone because the victim wasn't hurt (an example from this year's playoffs is Shea Weber's pro-wrestling style face smash of Henrik Zetterberg), while other hits that could certainly be argued to err on the side of legal get punished due to the victim being injured.
This looks to be the case here with Jericho. It's not the physical act of Jericho stepping on a nation's flag to get heat that has caused the suspension; it's the fact that the authorities got upset about it and voiced their concern. The “injury” was what was suspended, not the “hit.” In today's WWE, image has become, more than ever, WWE's top priority. With several positive WWE initiatives such as BA Star, and WWE's constant push to be considered part of mainstream pop culture, incidents like this that generate public attention can't go unaccounted.
I have no doubt Jericho was spontaneously thinking of a way to generate heat with the crowd. If the local authorities didn't make a fuss about it, this wouldn't have been such a hot topic and he wouldn't have been suspended. Similarly, if the Marine Corps didn't make a fuss over Randy Orton originally being selected to star in The Marine 3 due to his checkered military past, Orton would probably still be in that lead role. In March 2011, if there had been no formal complaint from the U.S. National Guard to WWE over the interruption of the national anthem at a live event by The Miz (which has been used in the past countless times as a method to generate heat with the crowd), Finlay (who was the point man at that live event) may not have been let go by WWE. During the Attitude Era, Shawn Michaels once humped the Canadian flag and stuck it up his nose, to no consequence (to be fair, as a Canadian I know we're a very apologetic country and the response by most was probably, 'Oh, someone should tell him that's not a very nice thing to do!'). JBL recently wrote how the Jericho incident reminded him of his own similar incident at a live event in Germany.
With those examples, many factors also came into play – who complained, what impact they had on WWE and who performed the infraction. In the case of The Miz and Finlay, because the U.S. National Guard has a deep and ongoing relationship with WWE, there might have needed to be a bigger consequence than a complaint from local authorities like in the case with Jericho, which seems to be more of a one-time PR cleanup. What if it was a lower-level superstar that did what Jericho did at that live event? Would they have also received a 30-day suspension or would they have received worse? These are all questions we can all assume answers to but may certainly be decided on a case-by-case basis as opposed to a standard issuance of punishment, like with the WWE's Wellness Policy.
As with most pro wrestling-related stories, many cynics claim this is all an elaborate scheme to get Jericho off television while he travels the UK with Fozzy on an upcoming tour. While I understand why many think this way, I would argue that due to the circumstances, as well as the disruption of the flow of the live event, and how it impacts his current rivalry with Randy Orton, the timing is coincidental. It's not like the fact that Jericho is going away for a few weeks from WWE television warrants an elaborate “worked shoot” of this magnitude just for an excuse to explain Jericho's absence.
This incident is not the first time an entertainment entity has felt backlash from the country of Brazil due to what they perceive as desecration. In a 2002 episode of The Simpsons, the family travelled to Brazil. The episode even drew the ire of Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who claimed the episode “brought a distorted vision of Brazilian reality.” In January 2002, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro threatened to sue a local weather forecaster who incorrectly announced that there would be storms onNew Year's Eve, which caused a sharp decline in attendance for one of the city's biggest festivals of the year.
In the WWE Universe, some acts are banned for different reasons. The standard piledriver, for example, hasn't been seen in a WWE ring in years due to it's dangerous nature. Perhaps now, due to the precedent set by this incident, we may never see a superstar kick a nation's flag in a WWE ring again because of the consequences that may arise from it. I personally won't miss the spot a whole lot, as I'm sure most of you won't either. It's safe to say nobody goes to a WWE live event thinking, “Man, I really hope they do the thing where the bad guy holds up the flag then throws it down and we all boo him!” At the end of the day, Chris Jericho will serve his suspension and then be welcomed back to WWE with open arms as if nothing happened, and this will be swept under the carpet where it belongs.