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Sex Abuse Allegations End the McMahon Dynasty

By A.J. Firstman | Last updated on

A recent sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against the WWE, a WWE executive named John Laurinaitis, and Vince McMahon, the (now former) CEO and chairman of WWE and TKO Group Holdings. It was filed in late January, 2024, and Vince McMahon resigned from TKO Group just a few days later. This is the second time McMahon has resigned due to allegations of sexual misconduct.

The allegations listed within the 67-page complaint from Janel Grant filed paint a picture of depravity, sexual coercion, and even sex trafficking, all orchestrated and perpetrated by McMahon. Grant claims McMahon required her to maintain a sexual relationship with him at work, forcing her to participate in sex acts with him and others, trading explicit images of her with employees and clients, and a laundry list of other heinous activities that ultimately caused Grant to experience panic attacks and other health problems.

Grant’s allegations are nightmarish. It makes sense that McMahon was forced to resign from TKO, but the speed with which the board forced him out is unusual, to say the least. This is the executive chairman we’re talking about. The man who bought WWE from his father and grew it from a regional curiosity to a national interest. It would have taken near unanimity to oust him with such speed.

So the question is: Why did the board act so quickly and conclusively?

Do they know something we don’t?

All Signs Point to Yes

Vince McMahon had his first brush with allegations of sexual misconduct back in 1992, when the World Wrestling Federation’s (WWF’s) first female referee recounted a harrowing story to Geraldo Rivera on his show Now It Can Be Told. It was 1986, just a few years after McMahon bought the WWF from his father. They were in his limousine, she said. She refused his advances. He didn’t care.

The victim’s allegations resurfaced decades later, joining the voices of several other women who also alleged sexual misconduct against McMahon. She filed a sexual abuse suit against McMahon in December 2022. McMahon agreed to a multimillion-dollar settlement later that same month.

The next (publicized) incident came in 2006, when McMahon was accused of sexual harassment by an employee of a tanning bar in Boca Raton, Florida. The employee accused McMahon of showing her nude photos of himself without her consent, groping her, and attempting to kiss her. Another employee of a tanning spa in California alleged that McMahon sexually assaulted her in 2011.

There were no charges filed against McMahon for his alleged conduct in 2006. The alleged victim from 2011 filed a lawsuit against McMahon in December 2022.

And it doesn’t stop there.

An internal investigation by the WWE board uncovered a $3 million hush-money settlement McMahon paid to a former employee over an alleged affair in April 2022. Further investigation uncovered a series of payments to settle claims of sexual misconduct by McMahon and John Laurinaitis totaling at least $19.6 million between 2006 and 2022.

McMahon resigned from his position as CEO and chairman of WWE in June 2022 as a result of the probe. He returned to power just six months later.

In addition to the allegations about his own sexual misconduct, McMahon’s career had been marked with accusations of immoral and often criminal activity. There was the steroid scandal in which McMahon was accused of forcing his wrestlers to do steroids and even supplying the drugs to them personally. There were allegations that he helped cover up the murder of WWE star "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka’s girlfriend Nancy Argentino. There were accusations that he personally acted to cover up a widespread culture of abuse, grooming, drug use, and sexual coercion of underage boys in the WWE’s Ring Boy program.

Female employees at every level of the WWE have alleged that McMahon has refused to act against – if not enabled – abusive practices and widespread sexism within the organization. Wrestlers have accused him of exploiting them by forcing them to sign exclusivity contracts but refusing to hire them as full employees, thereby denying them healthcare coverage and the ability to unionize while still monopolizing their labor. McMahon has been accused of using strongarm tactics like bullying and intimidating alleged victims of his and other WWE wrestlers’ crimes, alleged witness tampering, and using his on-screen role as a villainous version of himself to muddy the waters.

All this has been going on for decades, but none of it stuck until Janel Grant filed her lawsuit.

What’s Changed?

This resignation seems different than the last one. McMahon and his family no longer have sufficient control over WWE or TKO Group Holdings to simply reinstate him after the heat dies down. If he’s gone now, there’s a very good chance that he and the rest of the McMahon family will never regain control over the weird, sweaty kingdom they’ve ruled for the past four decades.

So what makes this time different? One word: Money.

The latest lawsuit landed on McMahon’s desk just days after TKO announced a monumental $5 billion deal with Netflix. The 10-year deal will give Netflix the rights to air WWE Raw live in the US, as well as the right to air other WWE shows and specials outside the US, thereby expanding the WWE’s audience to include most or all of Netflix’s 260 million subscribers.

That’s the kind of deal that TKO and WWE can’t afford to lose. Getting rid of McMahon was likely the easiest way to prevent him and his legal issues from (further) tainting the brand, as well as a strong signal that this is not your problematic grandpa’s WWE.

The ultimate fate of McMahon and the lawsuits against him are uncertain, but one thing’s for sure: The world of professional wrestling will keep turning without him.

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