It was announced last Friday that John Bradshaw Layfield--better known simply as JBL--would be voluntarily stepping away from his duties on the SmackDown commentary team to focus more on his charitable work with underprivileged youths. He will still be involved with major events such as Tribute to the Troops and WrestleMania.
There was immediate speculation among fans as to whether JBL had actually been forced out, perhaps as a delayed punishment for the perception (if not the reality) that he had been the ring leader in keeping the culture of bullying alive in WWE.
Now, according to a new report by Justin Barrasso in Sports Illustrated, it appears that JBL's exit from the SmackDown commentary desk was planned for almost a year, ever since his contract was last up, in October of 2016. He put in his notice long before the allegations started of him being the reason for Mauro Ranallo's quitting SmackDown.
Apparently, around the time that Ranallo left, when the long and ugly history of JBL's bullying proclivities was coming to light, the board of directors for WWE were up in arms that he was allowed to rise to such a prominent role in the company if these allegations were true. They wanted him removed, and so did many of the fans. "Fire JBL" chants and signs made their way to arenas all over the world, as there was a tour of Europe during this time.
But Vince McMahon being Vince McMahon, he stubbornly refused to remove JBL from the air, or indeed to publicly reprimand him in any way. Instead, Vince "correctly gambled that the story would simmer, which was greatly aided by Ranallo re-signing with the company to broadcast NXT."
In another interesting tidbit, it seems that the company wanted JBL to arrive in the city where SmackDown would be taking place on Sundays, but he was flying in on Tuesday, arriving at the arena mere hours before he was due to be on air. JBL was apparently burned out from the travel schedule and this partly led to his decision to leave the broadcast team.
Now it appears as though Corey Graves is replacing JBL on SmackDown going forward.