World Wrestling Entertainment is the largest professional wrestling company in the world.
It has TV deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars with FOX and USA and a 10-year agreement with the government of Saudi Arabia to run two shows a year in the country for $100 million a year.
Vincent Kennedy McMahon, the face most associated with American professional wrestling and who was until recently the CEO and Chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), agreed to pay more than $12 million over 16 years to four different women who worked for or were contracted by WWE in an attempt to quiet allegations of sexual misconduct and infidelity.
That number includes the $3 million McMahon is said to have paid a former paralegal in late 2021 following a sexual relationship between the two. That incident led the WWE Board of Directors to investigate McMahon, who then stepped aside from his position as CEO and Chairman of the Board while his daughter, Stephanie McMahon, took over as interim CEO.
That investigation was first reported on by the Wall Street Journal on June 17.
These new allegations, also revealed by the Wall Street Journal, include a former wrestler who alleged that Vince McMahon coerced her into giving him oral sex. After she refused further advances, she alleged that she was put in a less prominent position on the show and WWE then declined to renew her contract when it came up in 2005. In 2018, the wrestler and her lawyer approached McMahon and reached a $7.5 million settlement in exchange for her silence.
In the mid-2000s, McMahon was, as he is now, the head of creative in WWE and had the final say on how much TV and in-ring time wrestlers would receive. He would have also decided when she won or lost matches, essentially being in control of her career trajectory.
In another case, a WWE contractor had nude photos of McMahon that she alleged were sent unsolicited to her by the billionaire wrestling promoter. She also alleged, per people familiar with the situation, that he sexually harassed her on the job. According to the Journal, McMahon paid her $1 million to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
There is also a 2006 non-disclosure agreement with a $1 million payout to a former manager. She worked at the company for over a decade before McMahon initiated a sexual relationship, according to people familiar with the deal who spoke to the Journal.
It was previously reported that the WWE Board of Directors was investigating the case with the paralegal. Now, the Journal reports the case with the former wrestler is also being investigated by the board, along with allegations that former head of talent relations John Laurinaitis had a sexual relationship with the same paralegal McMahon did. It is not known if the other NDAs are being investigated.
The board is also reportedly investigating a 2012 $1.5 million nondisclosure agreement with Laurinaitis and an employee with whom he allegedly had a sexual relationship. The employee alleged she was demoted after ending the relationship.
Laurinaitis was the WWE head of talent relations until he was forced to step down in 2012, around the same time the 2012 NDA was made with the former employee. Laurinaitis was reinstated to that role in 2021 but was placed on administrative leave after the paralegal investigation came to light.
The initial report cited an anonymous email sent to the WWE board of directors that revealed the NDA between McMahon and the paralegal. It also alleged that McMahon asked the board to give her a raise after they began a sexual relationship. Later, she was transferred from the legal department to a role in talent relations under Laurinaitis, who she also allegedly had a sexual relationship with. The email claimed that McMahon gave the paralegal to Laurinaitis “like a toy.”
In a press release after the investigation first became public knowledge, McMahon said that he would “do everything possible to support” the investigation and stressed that no money from WWE went to pay for the NDA.
While the allegations are undoubtedly a bombshell, it may be difficult for the board of directors to remove McMahon if he does not step down voluntarily. Vince McMahon owns the vast majority of Class A shares, with the remaining Class A shares belonging to his family members or trusts in his family members’ names. Class A shares have ten times the voting power of the Class B shares given to investors not related to the McMahon family, so the vast majority of the voting power rests with McMahon himself.
The billionaire wrestling promoter has remained defiant in the face of the allegations. While he stepped down from his CEO and Chairman of the Board roles “temporarily,” he has remained in control of WWE’s creative direction. Additionally, just hours after the first Wall Street Journal report came out, WWE announced that McMahon would be appearing on that night’s Smackdown on Fox. He did not address the investigation and instead welcomed the crowd to the show. Critics and even some of WWE’s talent called it a brazen attempt to boost ratings off of the news of the scandal. Smackdown’s ratings for that episode jumped 19.6% from the week before.
Fightful Select has reported that talent backstage at that show heard McMahon say “F*** ‘em” after his appearance, apparently in defiance of the allegations.
This is not the first time McMahon has faced sexual misconduct allegations. In 2006, a tanning salon employee told police that McMahon groped her, showed her nude images of himself, and tried to kiss her unsolicited. Police declined to press charges at the time, citing a lack of independent evidence.
While WWE has not yet publicly responded to the latest Wall Street Journal report, PWInsider has obtained a copy of an internal memo sent to employees of WWE.
“The Wall Street Journal has published a second story with expanded details on its initial WWE report last month. We want to reiterate that we and our Board of Directors take these allegations seriously.
We’ve been cooperating fully with the investigation led by our Board of Directors and will continue to do so until its conclusion. Please note that upon its conclusion, WWE leadership will make itself available to answer any questions you may have.
Reporting by Ian De Martino