WWE loves mainstream attention, but this isn’t what they usually have in mind.
Things started with a HuffPost story on popular right-wing Twitter account @AmyMek. An investigation by reporter Luke O’Brien unveiled the identity of the person behind the account, which posts frequently on far-right propaganda with a particular focus on anti-Muslim topics and is followed by famous political and cultural figures like Sean Hannity, Roseanne Barr and the personal account of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
@AmyMek is Amy Mekelburg, who is married to Salvatore Siino. Until this story broke, Siino was employed by WWE as a Senior Vice-President responsible for global content distribution and business development. That could have involved him in projects involving the Muslim world like the company’s recently begun partnership with The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. According to HuffPost, WWE itself said Siino was negotiating television contracts in another Islamic state, the United Arab Emirates.
When O’Brien first reached out to WWE on Thurs., May 24 regarding claims by a former friend of Mekelburg that the company knew Siino was married to the person behind @AmyMek and asked him to keep it “quiet”, a representative denied they’d ever heard of Amy Mekelburg. A day later, he made a second inquiry asking if WWE knew about the account before hiring Siino and was told:
“No. Now that it has come to our attention, Sal Siino is no longer an employee.”
Having that one story come out concerning the company’s business with Arab nations would be noteworthy on its own, but The Independent has posted another. This one covers a recently issued warning from a Yemen-based branch of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda to a Saudi crown prince. It calls out Greatest Royal Rumble and the Kingdom’s partnership with WWE specifically among “sinful projects” and “absurdities” which have “opened the door wide for corruption and moral degradation”:
“[Foreign] disbelieving wrestlers exposed their privates and on most of them was the sign of the cross, in front of a mixed gathering of young Muslim men and women.”
Saudi authorities did apologize for a video played at the stadium in Jeddah during the event on April 27 (at which women were prohibited from performing) which showed female wrestlers in their normal ring gear. There had been no mention in coverage of Greatest Royal Rumble about WWE talent with Christian iconography tattooed on their bodies or worn as jewelry prior to The Independent’s story on the Al-Qaeda warning.
There’s a lot of money to be made around the globe, but managing the efforts to compete in all those markets bring some interesting challenges. Today’s news has no doubt reminded WWE of that.