Vince McMahon reportedly paid $12 million in hush money to 4 women
On Friday 22nd July, Vince McMahon’s control of WWE, a company he has run since 1982 and turned into a global empire came to an end as he announced his retirement amid a series of alleged affairs which he kept quiet with hush money payments.
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that McMahon has paid $12 million to four women over the past 16 years to silence “allegations of sexual misconduct and infidelity.”
There was reportedly a nondisclosure agreement with a former wrestler who was coerced into sexual activity and subsequently demoted when she resisted further advances. This is not to mention the $3 million paid in hush money to a woman with whom McMahon had an affair, the first allegation to emerge and threaten his vast empire.
This was after another Wall Street Journal article from June that stated that McMahon had paid $3 million in hush money to an ex-female employee who worked as a paralegal and was involved in an alleged affair with the 76-year-old. This is in conjunction with a NY Magazine article which featured resurfaced quotes from former referee Rita Chatterton who accused McMahon of rape as well as the corroboration of the rape from former wrestler Leonard Inzitari.
There are now serious suggestions for the first time since the 1990s that McMahon could be forced into backing down from his role in WWE. McMahon has already voluntarily stepped down as CEO of WWE while the investigations are conducted against him, handing the interim role to his daughter Stephanie. That being said McMahon is still in creative control of WWE's television, meaning that everything that fans are still seeing, is from his mind, including some rather ill-advised public appearances after the first set of allegations were published.
\u201cVince McMahon\u2019s opening segment on SmackDown\n\nhttps://t.co/TM9lK6Qads\u201d
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of all this is just how unsurprising it is. In recent years, we have become accustomed to men in positions of authority abusing their power and assuming laws do not apply where they are concerned. There is also the thorny issue of WWE’s treatment of women generally under McMahon’s stewardship.
In the Attitude Era spanning from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, during which the WWE transitioned into something less PG than fans had been accustomed to, sports entertainment's popularity is generally considered to have scaled heights far beyond anything seen before or since.
Despite this, the women on the roster were generally hired to look good rather than for athletic prowess. As if to underline this inherent seediness, McMahon, the head of the company on screen and off, would regularly ensure he was worked into romantic storylines with female wrestlers. There is a kind of unregulated, Wild West-type aspect to the WWE that clearly allowed its chairman to believe he could behave exactly as he pleased without consequences.
In June 1999, female wrestler Sable quit the company and filed a $110 million lawsuit against them. Sable, real name Rena Marlette Lesnar, cited allegations of sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions. She alleged the WWE instructed her to expose her breasts and that male wrestlers punched holes into the walls between the men’s and women’s dressing rooms to view female wrestlers. The case was eventually settled out of court and Sable returned to the fold a few years later but with hindsight, it just points to a pattern where McMahon is concerned.
Fast forward to 2001 and viewers were treated to fictional on-screen affair involving McMahon and Trish Stratus that resulted in one of the most controversial moments in WWE history. A segment involving Stratus, real name Patricia Stratigias, saw her being verbally lambasted by McMahon in the ring before being forced to strip down to her underwear and 'bark like a dog.' The segment was deemed to be so tasteless that it was banned from being broadcast by Sky Sports in the UK.
It was so notorious that is was even brought up when McMahon's wife, Linda ran for the U.S. Senator of Connecticut. During a Republican debate one of her opponents said: "I think when you force a woman to take off all her clothes in an arena, and get down on the ground and bark like a dog, I think that’s assault on women."
Stratus recently recalled the moment the segment was pitched to her, which all came from the mind of McMahon. Speaking at the 'For The Love Of Wrestling' convention in May she said: "Vince pitched the angle to me like this — ‘so we’re going to have this angle where you are barking like a dog and get really humiliated, and basically hit rock bottom.’ And I was like, ‘amazing!’"
She added that she was happy to go through with it as her character would get her revenge a few weeks later (a mere on-screen slap at Wrestlemania 17). "I get questioned about that a lot, and most people go, ‘oh you remember you had to bark like a dog, and you had to do that thing which was so degrading, right?’, she said"
“For the character, it was, yeah, because that was what the character had to go through. We don’t talk to Halle Berry when she had to get abused by so and so, you know, it’s a character. That, for me, was integral for the character to be at rock bottom, to have the foresight to say, ‘I can break free from this, I won’t let this happen to me and let’s move on.’ And you know what? 22 years, we’re still talking about it!”
Although the dog segment is perhaps remembered as one of the WWE's most controversial moments, a moment involving Stephanie McMahon has to be considered as one of its most outrageous.
During a scripted backstage argument between the father and daughter in 2003, McMahon worked in a storyline about Stephanie being trafficked to his business associates when she was just seventeen years old. Knowing the pair are father and daughter, in reality, makes it uncomfortable enough but given everything else we know about the situation the footage seems truly abhorrent.
\u201cWriting a storyline about how you trafficked your actual daughter sexually when she was underage, a decade after there was a federal investigation to determine if you were guilty of child sex trafficking? That\u2019s a uniquely Vince McMahon brand of very cool & very normal behavior.\u201d
The very involvement of McMahon's daughter seems to inevitably signal something troubling mindset in the collective ego of McMahon family overall and their willingness to defend their patriarch even in the most inappropriate moments.
In September 2001, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that rocked the United States of America, Stephanie addressed wrestling fans in a piece delivered direct to camera:
"A few years ago, some people tried to destroy my family. They attacked my father's reputation, they attacked my mother's reputation, and they attacked the World Wrestling Federation [WWE's former name]. They tried to rip us apart, but all they did was make my family stronger. And that's exactly how America feels right now, because on Tuesday, America was attacked.”
McMahon was making reference a high-profile court case against her father, relating to the distribution of steroids against her father that was brought to trial in 1994. Eleven wrestlers, including the iconic Hulk Hogan, testified against McMahon but he was found not guilty by the court.
There is such a strange blurring of fact and fiction when it comes to the McMahon family and their involvement with professional wrestling that it sometimes feels as though we are witnessing what must surely be a storyline when it is in fact the reality of the situation. Vince McMahon has exploited this confusion to portray an unhinged misogynist on screen but it appears this was just the tip of the iceberg and the man behind the scenes is, and was, an even more despicable individual.
In a statement put out to WWE performers after his retirement, McMahon said: "As I approach 77 years old, I feel it’s time for me to retire as Chairman and CEO of WWE. Throughout the years, it’s been a privilege to help WWE bring you joy, inspire you, thrill you, surprise you, and always entertain you. I would like to thank my family for mightily contributing to our success, and I would also like to thank all of our past and present Superstars and employees for their dedication and passion for our brand. Most importantly, I would like to thank our fans for allowing us into your homes every week and being your choice of entertainment. I hold the deepest appreciation and admiration for our generations of fans all over the world who have liked, currently like, and sometimes even love our form of Sports Entertainment.
“Our global audience can take comfort in knowing WWE will continue to entertain you with the same fervour, dedication, and passion as always. I am extremely confident in the continued success of WWE, and I leave our company in the capable hands of an extraordinary group of Superstars, employees, and executives – in particular, both Chairwoman and Co-CEO Stephanie McMahon and Co-CEO Nick Khan. As the majority shareholder, I will continue to support WWE in any way I can. My personal thanks to our community and business partners, shareholders, and Board of Directors for their guidance and support through the years. Then. Now. Forever. Together.”
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