For many years, the essentially Trumpian phenomenon of professional wrestling has either been either unworthy of respectable commentators or too big to fail (I can’t remember which). Today comes a chilling series of revelations about former WWE boss Vince McMahon in the Wall Street Journalreference newspaper of the financial class.
Stepping on the heels of Magazine report 2022 After McMahon and his publicly traded company had paid nearly $15 million to keep quiet former employees who alleged a long-standing pattern of sexual harassment and abuse, he momentarily resigned. Then, because he still retained majority control through ownership of the preferred voting class of stock, McMahon staged a comeback. Last year he sold WWE to Endeavor Group Holdings, the Hollywood powerhouse run by former super-agent Ari Emanuel. Endeavor combined WWE and mixed martial arts company UFC into a new entity, TKO Group.
Either Emanuel and his Tinseltown money men didn’t do their due diligence or they ignored it. Now, one of McMahon’s numerous abuse accusers, Janel Grant, who says she was robbed of two-thirds of her promised $3 million payout, has filed a civil lawsuit in federal court that ups the ante with grotesque details. TKO Group bounced McMahon, this time surely for good. (A major WWE sponsor, Slim Jims, dropped out and was lured back. There’s also a need to protect a new $5 billion streaming deal with Netflix for WWE’s flagship show, “Raw.”)
To make matters worse, the Journal reports that the federal government has been investigating McMahon for sex trafficking since last summer, and that agents have receipts from a raid that blocked text messages and other data from his phone. McMahon now looks set to join the annals of all-time corporate sex demons. In fact, by an objective comparison of scope and scale, movie casting mogul Harvey Weinstein might simply be a curious onlooker in a nudist colony.
For the few who have actually been paying attention, the evidence about McMahon has been available for decades. He was even sublimated into vulgar sketches during WWE’s so-called Attitude Era, starting from the scripts in which Heel Deluxe “Mr. McMahon” bragged about his “genetic jackhammer” until the moment he forced blonde wrestling star Trish Status to strip naked, get on all fours, and bark like a dog.
In real life, as I wrote in Salon two years ago, McMahon raped his first female referee, Rita Chatterton, in a limousine in the 1980s, shortly after he consolidated wrestling’s regional territories into a global brand. Most significant was the missed opportunity of his botched federal prosecution in the 1990s. Sean O’Shea, then U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, made the disastrous decision to arrest McMahon for steroid trafficking, when the real heinous crime was harboring two subordinates, Mel Phillips and Terry Garvin, who sexually abused “ring.” child gophers, many of them minors. Meanwhile, McMahon’s right-hand man, former wrestler Pat Patterson, sexually harassed the male talent, in what office culture dismissed as a horny prank or routine excess necessary to keep secret to protect the business.
With McMahon’s downfall, Endeavor and TKO are expected to attempt to take down the biggest promoter in wrestling history who, like his sidekick Donald Trump, was a true revolutionary in American entertainment and culture. This could be a chore. McMahon himself had to erase one of his top stars, Chris Benoit, from marketing shelves and fans’ memory banks after Benoit murdered his wife and 7-year-old son before taking his own life in one summer weekend in 2007.
On the theory that murder scenarios have explanatory undertones, I researched and wrote a book about it, “Chris and Nancy: The True Story of Benoit’s Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Death Cocktail.” The cocktail in question was a combination of drugs (not just steroids but, crucially, painkillers and antidepressants) and traumatic brain injuries from ring acrobatics. Benoit’s murder-suicide was only the most melodramatic episode among the dozens of deaths of young wrestlers during the so-called renaissance of this sports entertainment.
If murder can be deconstructed, so could the scourge of sexual abuse, which infects all areas of life. The “fake” world of wrestling is like everything else, only more so.
In the classic film “Citizen Kane,” star and director Orson Welles plumbed the psychological mysteries of his character, Charles Foster Kane, closely modeled on newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. In the end, it seemed, Kane’s longing for power or comfort—or was it the comfort of power? -had its roots in “Rosebud”, his childhood sled brand, which represented Kane’s lifelong love for his mother.
Did the chaotic, violent, wildly American life of Vincent Kennedy McMahon have its own “Rosebud” moment? He may have been revealed in his 2000 interview with Playboy magazine.
Did the chaotic, violent, wildly American life of Vincent Kennedy McMahon have its own Rosebud moment? If so, he may have been revealed in his 2000 interview with Playboy magazine. At the time, McMahon was fresh off the success of the initial public stock offering of what was then called the WWF (later renamed WWE). He was promoting his new winter and spring professional football league, the XFL, which would become an all-time epic television flop.
The original XFL aired for only one season on Saturday nights, ultimately achieving near-zero television ratings. It was the brainchild of McMahon and NBC executive Dick Ebersol, after the latter’s network lost a reorganization of NFL broadcast rights. McMahon relaunched the XFL 20 years later, but ran into the COVID pandemic and also lasted only one season before declaring bankruptcy. It will now have a third life after being purchased by movie star and former WWE champion Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and merged with the USFL, another NFL that he also runs.
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In that 2000 interview, McMahon talked about his early life. She had little to no contact with her biological father, second-generation wrestling promoter Vincent James McMahon, until later in life and lived much of her life in a trailer in North Carolina with her mother and her second husband, Leo Lupton. Vince recalled that Lupton hit her mother and also hit Vince himself when he intervened to protect her from her.
McMahon also told the Playboy interviewer that she had suffered sexual abuse in that gothic backwater, but not by Lupton, her stepfather. The abuser “was not the male parent,” he claimed. It is impossible to determine from this distance whether this story was true. The underlying events are deep in the past, towards the beginning of a life full of corruption and lies, and to put it mildly, Vince McMahon is not a reliable narrator of his own story or anything else. But he seems to have offered this story, in public, as a kind of explanation of who and what he later became.
by Irvin Muchnick on the dark side of sports