The news of Bill Demott's resignation as WWE's Head Trainer yesterday was surprising, even though his position was becoming increasingly untenable, as more and more former WWE trainees came out to corroborate the claims of Austin Matelson that DeMott had created an unsafe and unprofessional working environment in NXT two years ago and dispute WWE's official response that they had conducted a full and thorough investigation when the complaints were first made.
Personally I didn't expect DeMott to step down so quickly, as on Thursday the rumour was that WWE was hoping the controversy would blow over and didn't plan to take any action on the matter, but clearly DeMott had lost the battle of public opinion and the longer people spoke out against him, the greater the risk was that the allegations would gain mainstream traction and further damage the reputation of the company he worked for.
It likely also didn't help that this rare round of bad PR for NXT fell on the week of their first events outside of Florida and also Triple H's induction into the 2015 International Sports Hall of Fame at the Arnold Classic today. What should have been two moments of personal triumph for Paul Levesque were blighted by the wrestling media focusing instead on the alleged excesses of his handpicked head coach. So DeMott fell on his sword for the greater good, as no-one is bigger than the health and wellbeing of the NXT brand itself.
Although Bill DeMott is fully responsible for his own actions, the internal handling of this scandal rests at the feet of WWE's Talent Relations department ran by Triple H. Thus, DeMott's resignation is a lesson that Hunter really needs to learn from, as this was a predictable and preventable debacle that should never have happened in the first place.
Firstly, Triple H's decision to rehire DeMott was a highly questionable one, given that WWE had to fire him as the head trainer of their developmental territory Deep South Wrestling (DSW) in January 2007 after a series of complaints from his trainees to management that his boot camp training techniques led to unnecessary injuries and taught them nothing about how to wrestle, whilst also attempting to mentally break the talent he didn't like with verbal hazing.
The fact that Triple H immediately replaced Dr. Tom Prichard as the head trainer of Florida Championship Wrestling with Bill DeMott as soon as he became WWE's Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events & Creative in June 2012 suggests Hunter wanted someone stern in charge who would be able to quickly weed out the wannabees who weren't tough enough to hack it on the main WWE roster. That desire was certainly understandable, but it was clearly a mistake to choose someone for that role who had seemed to overstep the mark in the past from being a tough but fair trainer into an oppressive bully.
That said, people do deserve a second chance if they learn from their past errors. But DeMott was unrepentant for the toxic environment he had helped cultivate in DSW claiming in his 2011 autobiography The Last Laugh that he "would do it all over again the same way". DeMott also viewed WWE calling him up again to be a trainer on Tough Enough that year as vindication that he had done absolutely nothing wrong in how he handled talent at DSW: "To know WWE wants the 'De Mott guy' back makes me feel good as a man, and proves just how wrong all the Internet and dirtsheets were when they painted me as a failure. I still may be the best out there at what I do."
Thus, it should have been predictable that DeMott would let his power go to his head again and create more headaches for WWE's Talent Relations department. That Triple H presumably didn't sit DeMott down when he hired him and made it clear to him the lines that he couldn't cross as the head trainer of a publicly traded company which preaches to be against bullying further calls into question Hunter's judgement. The homophobic, misogynistic and racist remarks DeMott has been accused of making towards some of his trainees clearly should not have been tolerated in 2013.
But even if we give Triple H a pass for naively rehiring DeMott and thinking that lightning wouldn't strike the same person twice, his Talent Relations team completely dropped the ball in how they handled the matter when an official complaint was made to them by Austin Matelson.
According to Matelson on the Vendetta Pro Radio podcast this Wednesday, Talent Relations immediately tipped off DeMott to the content of his memo as soon as he had documented all of his concerns to them. Two days later, he claims that he was "interrogated" about the rumour of a petition by DeMott in his office where he was known to keep a handgun in his desk (it should be noted that Norman Smiley was also present for this meeting). Naturally, under such circumstances Matelson was reticent about discussing his complaint with DeMott in person without more senior management there to witness what was said, but Talent Relations didn't see it that way:
The next thing you know Talent Relations said "Well if you're not going to tell Bill one-on-one, you're going to tell me a different story on email, well I don't know if we can really trust you." Then I have another email from them saying "You know the names that you just gave me that said they want to speak out, well you know they can call me. This is not what men do, men don't write emails, they'll call in if they have an issue with things."
About a month later, while he was away from NXT having surgery done, Matelson claims Canyon Ceman and Bill DeMott held a group meeting where they told the talent "if anyone has got a problem with Bill, stand up right now." Unsurprisingly, no-one wanted to kill their WWE career dead by doing that.
Although Matelson may have exaggerated how frightened he was about being confronted by DeMott, Rob Naylor on Wrestling Observer Live confirmed yesterday that: "Bill was the one pulling guys into the room talking to them about this. So Bill was given the letter and then did the investigation on the people in the letter. So the person being investigated was investigating the talent and I just don't think that flies."
I agree 100% with Naylor that such a scenario doesn't fly in the corporate world WWE lives in. No competent organisation would ever allow the alleged wrongdoer to conduct the investigation himself. Clearly, it would have been much wiser to have quietly suspended DeMott from his duties while an independent investigation was carried out. At least then WWE would have had a solid defence if the story ever got out publicly.
Instead, when Matelson decided to publish his Judas letter on Wreddit and WWE was forced to respond, there was plenty of ex NXT trainees willing to come out of the woodwork to publicly contradict WWE's claim that they "took the accusations made two years ago by Austin Matelson very seriously, conducted a full investigation and was unable to validate the claims."
Firstly, Ryan Nemeth claimed that he wasn't questioned once about the alleged incident where Coach Demott kicked him in his medical boot whilst he was recovering from a broken leg that Matelson mentioned in his memo.
Then, The Sports Courier published a letter that NXT wrestler Brandon Traven (real name: Ryan Collins) had allegedly sent to Canyon Ceman two weeks after Matelson's initial complaint corroborating Matelson's claims that Coach DeMott had slapped him on the top of the head while he was being examined by a doctor for a suspected head injury, that DeMott often alluded to him being gay and joked that he was "half a sissy" and "a faggot", and that DeMott had him doing "countless unproductive or straight up dangerous drills". Collins was fired just seven weeks later.
Past bad behaviour was also being documented, as female wrestler Terra Calaway also claimed on Twitter that she had seen DeMott racially abuse a Middle Eastern trainee at an independent wrestling training seminar several years ago:
"At a training seminar, where students paid $100 a person to be in the ring and learn, I witnessed DeMott call a Middle Eastern trainee "Aladdin", "terrorist", and "fat fuck" multiple times. During a bump drill that was nowhere near safe for a green trainee to be doing, he just embarrassed and humiliated him. When anyone else did the drill correctly, he'd turn to this guy and just bash him. When I did the drill, he said "Look even the girl can bump better than the terrorist!". This continued to the end of the session where he told everyone good job, except this guy, and told him to "fucking quit and go back to building bombs." It was completely uncalled for and made everyone uncomfortable. This guy spent his hard earned money to learn from someone, to get better only to be told to quit and have all these names and insults thrown at him."
Although this didn't happen in a WWE ring, it's another story that paints a picture of an offensive bully.
However, arguably the most damning criticism came shortly before DeMott resigned when an anonymous former female NXT wrestler alleged on Reddit that he had covered up sexual harassment during her time in the developmental league:
"To be honest, I’m not really sure where to start. In developmental, Bill scared us so much that it made us ashamed and scared to speak up about anything. The abusive environment was so hard to operate within, but that fear is very hard to leave behind. The few people who have come forward have alluded to some of what I want to talk about, but understand that this is a harder story to tell.
The former divas who have spoken out against the instances of sexual harassment have been punished, up to and including being fired in a demonstration of the power Bill has. When our only female advocate in talent relations tried to speak up, she was removed from the position and sent to work in the office. Now that the conversation has been restarted, it’s been made known that she is no longer with the company. At any level, women who speak up for themselves are disposable. When rumors about their departures make it out, they’re immediately buried and become yesterday’s news, but believe me - it’s true.
One such instance that has been mentioned by Judas Devlin (Austin Matelson) is the complaint of harassment against Matt Wichlinkski, the current Strength and Conditioning coach. I have attached screencaps of one such photo that he posted alongside his WWE contract. When he was caught filming/taking photos of talent’s backsides, it was brought to their attention. Some of the male talent attempted to stick up for the developmental divas and help catch him in the act (again, the fear instilled into us made it very hard to say anything), but when it was presented to Bill it was made very clear that he was not going anywhere, and any further complaints would result in dismissal because there [are] a million girls ready to step in and take our place. In all instances of complaining about sexual harassment (including those outside of this incident), women have been forced out of the company. After one of the talents’ dismissal, when we couldn’t figure out where she went, we were told "if you go over my head, ask HER how well that works."
This isn’t to specifically go after Wichlinski, but rather to make sure that people understand that Bill DeMott is a problem, and everything else trickles down from there. It’s been made very clear, from the removal [of] Rob McIntyre and to the firing of at least two divas (I won’t name names as theirs is their own story to tell, but if you’ve paid attention to rumors it’s very easy to put two and two together) to numerous male talents, some of whom will not come forward, that if you use your voice against Bill you will be removed. The day after Rob told all of us in a group setting that if we had any concerns about Bill we should call the office, he was fired.
The fact is that anyone who has spoken out, including myself, are only exposing what is the tip of the iceberg. Bill has been guilty of gay-shaming, physical, mental, and racial abuse for far too long, and something needs to come to light. The stories coming out are heartbreaking, but what’s worse is that we all knew about them. Bill would openly mock Judas during training sessions for writing and going above his head, and would encourage other "chosen" talent to do so as well. His patterns of abuse are well established, and I can only hope that more can come forward so people see that this isn’t just a vendetta from "bitter" wrestlers. Bill DeMott is a monster, and we need to start asking why he’s being protected when the evidence has been piling up against him for so long."
I believe the female advocate in talent relations spoken of would be Jane Geddes, who quietly left WWE several weeks ago for unknown reasons. The charges against Matt Wichlinski of taking lewd pictures of the NXT Divas and behaving like a "sexual predator" were also brought up by former NXT wrestlers Chase Donovan and Chad Baxter in 2013, as well as Ryan Nemeth who made the following biting tweets that were later deleted around the same time period:
"Nothing "Hugh Morris" about enabling/protecting a sexual predator, or threatening jobs of women who complain about him"
"At post-show meeting will someone please say "Hey bosses after you're done patting selves on the back- our strength coach is a huge pervert"
"Is it true that the longer a guy gets away with sexual harassing and victimizing women at work, the better he is at designing workouts?"
When asked why he deleted the tweets in a Reddit AMA ten months ago Nemeth claimed that he did so at the behest of his female friends in NXT who had faced victimisation for the story going public:
"I take this very seriously, and I would not invent stories to harm anyone's reputation willy-nilly. WWE is a strange company where certain people get away with things that would land them in court and jail anywhere else on earth. Here is my vague answer that will probably now be misquoted, misspelled, taken out of context, and make me look like a dick:
My female friends who were being mistreated on a daily basis begged me to say something because I was now was in a position to do so.
Once I did, they were very happy and said thank you.
Then Triple H announced to the current locker room that I was a bitter liar who was making up stories. And the girls' jobs and reputations were threatened. And so my friends begged me to take it down. So I took it down."
What a horrible week for bad publicity for the NXT brand, which could have easily been prevented if Triple H had taken the allegations more seriously at the time. Instead of doubling down and protecting Bill DeMott, he could have nipped the problem in the bud by punishing him two years ago.
It's not like Hunter was vindicated by DeMott's output in his role as head WWE trainer. After almost three years in the position, DeMott had trained very few wrestlers from scratch that were ready for NXT television, yet alone ready for the main roster, as the best talent in NXT are predominantly those hired with an independent wrestling background already, who came into the system as polished performers who only needed to be taught WWE's in-ring style. From the available evidence DeMott seems a slightly more abusive and less successful coach than WCW's DeWayne Bruce. One would hope that Triple H had greater aspirations for the WWE Performance Centre than running a high-rent WCW Power Plant training facility.
Equally, we should hope that Triple H learns the lesson that it's not good for morale to have a head trainer who cultivates an environment of fear and loathing in the workplace. According to "Chronicle" screenwriter Max Landis on Twitter it wasn't just former NXT wrestlers that were celebrating the death of the wicked witch last night:
The texts I'm getting from my friends from NXT right now are basically along the lines of "We got Bin Laden" levels of emotional release— Max Landis (@Uptomyknees) March 6, 2015
Very surprised that in an industry full of giant unstable bruisers with informal martial arts training, no one ever just beat DeMott's ass.— Max Landis (@Uptomyknees) March 6, 2015
As of this writing, WWE hasn't defended themselves against the allegations that they poorly handled the original complaint against Bill DeMott or any of the new charges that have been brought up since their response to the publication of that complaint. They have however killed a rumour that DeMott had been moved to an office job within WWE, insisting to PWInsider.com that he is completely gone from the company, not just their developmental system, and told The Washington Post simply "We accepted Bill DeMott’s resignation."
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Thankfully, this sorry series of events should be very hard for Paul Levesque to ever forget.