On its website, WWE’s Be a STAR program (which stands for Show Tolerance And Respect), boasts 150,000 anti-bullying rallies and a reach of more than a half-million kids, globally. The site claims the program is “an effort to give students the tools they need to drive effective learning, decision-making, creativity, relationships and mental health. By developing each child’s emotional intelligence, children can become happier, healthier and more compassionate, leading to a drastic increase in the ability to manage conflict and reduce the amount of bullying instances.”
When it comes to bullying and harassment closer to home, though, WWE appears to turn a blind eye.
Last week, after a two-month absence, wrestler Velveteen Dream returned to the ring, much to the consternation of fans and, apparently, at least one co-worker.
Back in April, Velveteen Dream (whose real name is Patrick Clark), 24, was accused by an anonymous Reddit user, who claimed to be 17, of sending nude pics to other underage friends, who the Reddit user said were 15 and 16 at the time.
In that same Reddit thread, the poster went on to include a body shot of someone whose body looked a lot like a professional wrestler’s, though no face was visible. The photo appeared to come via direct message from Velveteen Dream’s verified Instagram account. The poster seemed legitimately distraught and asked for advice, asking other Redditors, “I’m really worried about this. Does anyone have legal advice or whatnot? I’m thinking of deleting all of this and getting the police.” The poster also asked how to contact WWE, and went on to say that VD blocked him when he wouldn’t send a nude pic back.
Even after the allegations became public, VD continued to play a major role in NXT shows until he lost to Adam Cole at NXT TakeOver: In Your House in June. At that point, VD went MIA, leading many fans to believe he was being intentionally pulled from the show while WWE investigated the allegations against him.
Although WWE never commented officially on the matter, that belief persisted because in June, as part of the Speaking Out movement, in which mainly female pro wrestlers went public with allegations of sexual assault and harassment, another alleged VD victim popped up. Wrestler Josh Fuller shared his own experiences with VD, claiming the older man had begun “grooming” him when Fuller was just 16 and VD was 19.
While Fuller makes clear that VD was never “sexual” with him, he does recount stories of VD asking him to show off his body to him via video chat, including asking to see his “lower body,” which made Fuller uncomfortable, so he refused. Fuller also verified that the phone number given to the Reddit poster was indeed VD’s number. Fuller went on to say he “1000%” believed the Reddit users, whom he had reached out to. In response to Fuller’s claims, at least one other purportedly underage fan posted screenshots on Twitter (via a now-deleted account that Deadspin has chosen not to publish for privacy purposes), in which someone purporting to be VD says, “Ur kinda grown 2 be 15.”
Fast forward to last Wednesday, when Velveteen Dream showed up out of nowhere on NXT, as if nothing had ever happened, to take part in a triple-threat match to qualify for an upcoming ladder match at NXT TakeOver 30. WWE has not provided any kind of statement on VD’s return, but Paul “Triple H” Levesque spoke briefly about the matter with CBS Sports, saying:
“You know, in this day today, accusations are made and you take them all very seriously. You look into them the best you can, and you find out what is there and what isn’t. In this situation, [Clark] was also involved in a car accident. That’s what took him off TV. In the moment, all this other stuff happens and you look into it and you find that there is a situation that people bring to everyone’s attention, you look into it and find that it is what it is and there’s nothing there.
“Everything that we have done, we are comfortable with him continuing to do what he does and everything else. But he had a car accident. It stemmed down to people thought we removed him from TV for different reasons. We didn’t. He was in a car accident.
“Once he was medically cleared to be able to return to the ring from his car accident, we continued forward the way we did. We looked into what was there and we didn’t find anything.”
To sum up, according to the WWE, VD was not pulled from the air while he was investigated for sexual misconduct, he was pulled because of a car accident. In this day “today,” you take allegations seriously, implying that the company didn’t really take them all that seriously before, and the real kicker, WWE investigated the allegations and found “nothing there.”
That last part is especially interesting, because in a recent Twitter thread, Fuller said no one ever reached out to him or the Reddit user involved (whom Fuller has contact with) to ask about the allegations. Which begs the question: Exactly what kind of investigation did WWE do?
It’s possible, of course, that VD could have been hacked. He certainly wouldn’t be the first WWE talent to have had nudes posted on social media without consent. But the fact that multiple accusers have now come forward with similar experiences, seems awfully suspicious. Fuller’s story alone amounts to more than “nothing there.”
Rarely do those trying to make it in an industry, as Fuller is with pro wrestling, come forward and put their name on an allegation as he has done with VD. At the very least, WWE owes Fuller a phone call and to consider his story, especially as he claims to be in touch with others who say they’ve been harassed by VD, as well. And WWE owes it to its fans to be able to say it has looked thoroughly into allegations that one of its performers has a history of soliciting nude pics from kids online. As opposed to looking at what are purported to be actual screenshots of the conversation and saying there’s “nothing there.”
The “nothing’s there” comment is an insult to every single person who put their name on the line during the Speaking Out movement and the fans who supported them. WWE needs to release a full statement on who investigated the matter, what steps those investigators took, and, most of all, give an explanation as to why the individuals making allegations were never contacted.
And at least one member of the company, Nia Jax, also seems to take issue with the investigation, posting a string of clown emojis in response to a report that WWE found no evidence of wrongdoing on VD’s part.
Perhaps we expect too much from the WWE. After all, Levesque continued to pal around with Floyd Mayweather long after Mayweather’s extensive history of domestic violence became common knowledge, and even involved him in WWE events. And evidence of their friendship still appears on WWE.com.
Like the sport of pro wrestling itself, it seems that WWE’s zero-tolerance sexual assault and sexual harassment policy is for show. While the company won’t hesitate to cut ties with lesser stars — they dropped Adam Rose immediately upon his arrest on domestic violence charges — the bigger names appear to get much more leeway. In 2018, popular wrestler Enzo Amore (real name Eric Arndt) was fired not because he was under investigation for sexual assault, but for lying about the investigation to management. VD, whose character is a play off of Prince,” is nowhere near as popular as Amore was at his height, but seems to be valuable enough for the company to risk the goodwill of fans.
Deadspin reached out to WWE for comment, and received the following statement in response: “WWE has zero tolerance for matters involving domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault. Upon arrest for such misconduct, a WWE talent will be immediately suspended. Upon conviction for such misconduct, a WWE talent will be immediately terminated.”
Short of an arrest, it appears WWE has no intention of doing anything to discipline their talent. Unfortunately, a lot of sexual misconduct takes place outside the realm of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
For his part, VD has denied the allegations against him, issuing a statement on social media back in April that read: “ ‘Be assured I did not communicate inappropriately with anyone. “A private photo of mine was shared without my consent or knowledge and I am working with a third party to look into this matter.”
Pro wrestling is finally having its #MeToo moment, and it’s hard to see the wrestling community at large being satisfied with things being done as usual. The more WWE trots VD out (he beat Finn Balor last night) the louder the actual protests will become. On the most recent NXT, WWE piped in boos during VD’s entrance, seemingly taking advantage of the legitimate heat he’s getting from fans online. Not only has VD returned to the ring, he appears to be getting a real push from the powers that be.
Meanwhile, the hashtag #FireVelveteenDream trended on Twitter last night during NXT’s airing and afterwards.
The next time WWE promotes its “Be a STAR” program, with its slickly-packaged video montage showing WWE personalities (and, most prominently, Stephanie McMahon) speaking to kids about bullying and harassment, fans are going to remember that it’s only certain kids that WWE is truly concerned about.
The kids that interfere with what’s best for business?
They’re on their own.