Vince McMahon’s road back to his seat as World Wrestling Entertainment’s chairman and CEO just got a lot more treacherous thanks to more allegations of hush payments, ballooning the total doled out to more than $12 million over the last two decades. Those large alleged transactions were to cover alleged infidelity and sexual misconduct.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, four women, all of whom used to work for WWE, and therefore the McMahon family, allegedly signed agreements with McMahon that “prohibit them from discussing potential legal claims against, or their relationships” with him. The original WSJ report on McMahon and fellow WWE executive John Laurinaitis paying hush money for past alleged relationships came out June 15 and forced McMahon to step down from his corporate responsibilities, not his head of creative role, where he gives the final say on storylines and matches.
According to PWInsider.com, after the WSJ report, WWE issued a memo to its employees, which reads:
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.
The 76-year-old’s largest alleged settlement is a $7.5 million payment to a former wrestler who claims McMahon coerced her into performing oral sex on him before a subsequent demotion. According to this former wrestler, McMahon demoted her and then later declined to renew her contract with WWE in 2005 after resisting further sexual encounters. The unnamed wrestler and her attorney allegedly went to McMahon in 2018 to negotiate the payment for silence.
Also released as part of Friday’s report was an alleged 2008 non-disclosure agreement from a former company contractor, who presented WWE with unsolicited nude photos of McMahon she allegedly received from him. She allegedly told people within the company to not only have received the photos from McMahon, but that he allegedly sexually harassed her on the job. McMahon allegedly paid her around $1 million to remain quiet.
A 2006 agreement was also allegedly made with a former manager, who worked for WWE for a decade before McMahon initiated a sexual relationship with her. She was also allegedly paid $1 million for her silence. The original hush payment to become public was a $3 million pact made this January between McMahon and a former company paralegal for a consensual sexual relationship.
The WWE Board of Directors is investigating McMahon’s agreement with the paralegal and the 2018 deal with the wrestler, per WSJ. According to the Journal, the board is also investigating an alleged sexual relationship between Laurinaitis’ and the same former company paralegal, and allegations of a $1.5 million NDA paid to another WWE employee in 2012.
Laurinaitis, better known as Johnny Ace, was WWE’s head of talent relations for several years before stepping down in 2012, taking a lesser role in the company. That’s the same year as the alleged NDA. McMahon had re-promoted him to the role last year, but Laurinaitis, who was also an occasional on-screen performer, is currently on administrative leave from the company, per WSJ.
McMahon has yet to comment publicly on the inquiry into him or Laurinaitis, but WWE has stated it is cooperating with the board’s inquiry
The investigation into McMahon and Laurinaitis has given second thought to the motives behind the leave of absence from the company by Stephanie McMahon, Vince’s daughter and fellow WWE executive. She briefly departed WWE in May in what was described as 100 percent her own decision, but returned to the family business as the company’s interim CEO and chairwoman.
The nepotism signals Vince previously had no intentions to permanently leave or sell WWE. According to a report from Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Vince’s family isn’t implicated in the investigation. Stephanie’s former position on WWE’s Board of Directors did mean she would’ve had information about the investigation before her hiatus began.
McMahon booked himself to appear on WWE television several times after the first allegations were made public in a tone-deaf move to get a positive reaction from the crowd — the audience usually pops for his “No Chance in Hell” theme song and his ridiculous strut to the ring — despite his embattled status with the company. Multiple online reports also indicated a company-wide backstage meeting before WWE’s latest pay-per-view event, Money in the Bank, led by Stephanie, to discuss the future of the company. Both McMahons, as well as Triple H, Stephanie’s husband and a 14-time WWE world champion, were seen ringside at a UFC pay-per-view later that evening.
Any further WWE succession plans will also likely involve president Nick Khan, who has no relation to All Elite Wrestling CEO Tony Khan. WWE’s Khan took over most of Stephanie’s responsibilities after her interim leave of absence. He’s been an influential figure behind the scenes for WWE since his hiring in August 2020.