WWE isn’t known for its sensitivity, and at times is quite proud of that, and that was clearly evident on Sunday night during the company’s “Elimination Chamber” pay-per-view event. Matt Riddle won the United States Championship, and to say the timing is odd would be scaling a mountain of a euphemism.
To refresh the memory, Riddle was one of a plethora of wrestlers who were accused of sexual assault during the #SpeakingOut movement in the summer. Candy Cartwright, real name Samantha Tavel, alleged that Riddle forced her to perform oral sex on him in a van after an EVOLVE show, the company the two worked for at the time. Riddle has consistently denied the accusation.
Riddle claimed that he and Cartwright had an extramarital affair for years, which he then ended when his wife found out. He has said the accusation is part of her retaliation for ending the relationship, and also claimed that Cartwright was something of a stalker and he had changed his phone number several times because of it. Riddle attempted to file a restraining order against Cartwright but canceled the petition a few days before a judge was to hear it under some curious circumstances.
Cartwright filed a lawsuit against Riddle, WWE, and EVOLVE in Illinois over the incident. WWE was successful in having itself removed from the suit, as it did not employ Riddle at the time of the alleged assault. Riddle has filed to dismiss the lawsuit as well, but that’s still pending.
With all of that going on, Riddle has gotten a push from the company, topped off with claiming Monday Night Raw’s mid-card title. Vince McMahon is reportedly a huge fan of Riddle, so this push looks like it will continue for a while, until Vince’s next mood swing that is.
What Vince knows about the accusations against Riddle is impossible to know, or what he knows or feels about the lawsuit that was filed against the company. It would be hard to think that he wasn’t at least aware of the latter. It would also not be a huge leap to guess that McMahon is dismissive at best about the whole affair, if not outright derisive.
The treatment of Riddle differs from how the company has handled Velveteen Dream, aka Patrick Clark. He also has some abhorrent accusations against him springing from the #SpeakingOut movement. While Clark did reappear on NXT TV after the accusations, he has barely been on television since and hasn’t appeared at all in weeks. While WWE’s “investigation” of the accusations against Clark were somewhere around the level of a joke, Clark’s omission from TV for the past couple of months would suggest that at least NXT is aware of the optics of having him around. The backlash from Clark appearing on TV certainly was noticeable.
But NXT is run by Triple H, aka Paul Levesque, and WWE is run by McMahon. Levesque isn’t some saint, but he’s at least aware of the reaction of all of the WWE universe, not just what he wants to hear (in the case of McMahon, that’s just generally the voice in his own head with the occasional sprinkling of shareholders). While Levesque has never admitted to keeping Clark off of TV because of the accusations against him, it’s pretty easy to do the math on that one. Clark is still part of the company and will almost certainly be back on TV at some point. He was one of the company’s fastest rising stars. But, for now, he’s nowhere to be seen.
Putting a title on Riddle in the middle of a PPV certainly is a middle finger to anyone even concerned about the accusations against him, much less any sexual assault survivor, whether it’s intentional or not. It would not have killed WWE to leave Riddle in the background until at least the lawsuit was resolved. But that’s probably an indication of how it feels that will play out. Vince is going to do what Vince wants and nothing generally gets in the way of that.
If only the WWE was as hard on wrestlers accused of sexual assault as it is on those who have tweeted without clearance.