Grayson Joslin is a sophomore journalism and political science major and writes “Soapbox” for The Ball State Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the paper.
I have often called Vince McMahon the most interesting man in professional wrestling.
McMahon, the patriarch of the family that owns World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the biggest wrestling company in the world, has earned a reputation as a kooky individual, both on and off-screen. He has uttered some of the most unexpected phrases in the history of live American television, and while portraying the personified greed and tyranny of corporate America, he helped WWE become a household name in the late 1990s after its first boom period in the mid-late 1980s.
The self-proclaimed “Evil Genius” has been WWE's figurehead since his father, Vincent J. McMahon, gave him the company in 1982, with the younger McMahon always having the biggest voice in terms of creative decisions. Some of his biggest success stories – Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, John Cena and WrestleMania itself– have been firmly etched in America’s cultural DNA.
The strangeness of McMahon could be best exemplified on the June 17, 2022, episode of Friday Night SmackDown, when McMahon, after sexual misconduct allegations towards him were revealed, came out to introduce the show and neglected to mention the allegations. All while this was happening, McMahon was cheered on by the Minneapolis, Minnesota, crowd.
Earlier that day, McMahon announced that he would step aside as CEO and Chairman of the WWE Board of Directors, with his daughter, Stephanie, being announced as the interim CEO and Chairwoman of the billion-dollar company. Despite this, he still holds his creative positions, having far-reaching control over what the company puts out.
The situation perfectly described McMahon, the cult of personality that he has over a certain subsection of wrestling fans, the intense creative control that he has over WWE, and the fact that he is making a public relations nightmare exponentially worse.
The catalyst for this chain of events began on June 15, when the Wall Street Journal published an article stating that there were multiple nondisclosure agreements (NDA) with female WWE employees, claiming misconduct by both McMahon and the WWE Head of Talent Relations, John Laurinaitis. The sum total of all of the NDA’s is believed to be millions of dollars.
WWE also noted that the largest NDA, which is totaled at $3 million, was signed with a paralegal that had her salary doubled after McMahon began a sexual relationship with her, according to emails released that were sent to the company’s board of directors.
Watching the episode of SmackDown live, I was immediately dismayed to see the positive reception that the former chairman got. This man should not be treated by fans as the most important man in the wrestling business anymore; he should be treated as persona non grata.
His alleged actions are inexcusable, and this is not the first time McMahon has been accused of misconduct. In 1992, the first woman referee hired by McMahon, Rita Chattertton, claimed that McMahon raped her six years earlier. The $5 million settlement that Chattertton was fighting for was met by a countersuit by the McMahon family for slander, however, it was never determined if the claims made were legitimate, partially due to other legal matters happening in McMahon’s life.
In 1994, the United States government brought Vince McMahon to trial. The government suspected that McMahon was giving steroids to his professional wrestlers. McMahon was found not guilty by a jury, however, the trial led to decreasing viewership and event attendance for the company.
Beyond the misconduct allegations and the federal trial, the list of controversial things that McMahon is jaw-dropping, including, among other things; saying a racial slur on a major pay-per-view, making one of his most popular female talents get down on her knees and bark like a dog on live television, putting many racist and offensive gimmicks on wrestlers, continuing a live event after a planned stunt went wrong, tragically killing a wrestler and doing business with Saudi Arabia, a country with many human rights violations and expanding the country’s propaganda worldwide.
What Vince McMahon did on SmackDown was tone-deaf and inexcusable. His actions were egotistical, as if he was saying, “I don’t care what happens, I am still in control here. I am the only reason why you are watching this right now.” The fact that he still has creative control in his company is astounding and dismaying.
McMahon should have no influence on the product until the internal investigation is concluded and the findings released.
McMahon’s appearance, unfortunately, could not be an isolated incident. As long as he has creative control of WWE shows, he has the opportunity to open up every show and gaslight the audience to believe that he did not do anything wrong.
The fallout from this scandal is already manifesting itself on the stock market; WWE’s stock price dropped $6.27 - almost a tenth of the price of one share - between June 15 and 17. It could get even worse; with McMahon in charge throughout the investigation, there could be a mass walkout of wrestlers and a backlash from major corporate sponsors.
In the past, WWE has been a company that does not follow up its words with actions and does not give the best ethical reasons for its actions either. In December 2007, when asked during a congressional hearing why WWE started a rehabilitation incentive for its wrestlers, McMahon responded, “Two words: public relations… I do not feel any sense of responsibility for anyone of whatever their age is.” This cold and callous remark showcases McMahon’s true feelings and showed he felt the company had to do it in order to keep a friendly facade.
Right now, WWE is facing their biggest controversy since 2007, when popular wrestler Chris Benoit murdered his wife and son, before killing himself. 15 years later, the person considered to be the reason why wrestling has grown so popular in recent decades, is facing intense scrutiny due to his handling of these misconduct claims.
WWE must make progress in order to reestablish its reputation following this scandal, and the only way that this can happen is if Vince McMahon relinquishes his creative control. Only then will WWE be able to build back its image.