After COVID testing began in response to a third instance of someone at their Orlando Performance Center contracting COVID-19, WWE finally implemented a policy that all “recruits” in the audience had to wear masks.
This was implemented at the July 3 taping, where last Monday and tonight’s Raw episodes were filmed. People who removed their face covering were reportedly subject to fines - $500 for the first offense, and $1000 after that.
Fightful posted a story last week behind their paywall which indicated a returning Superstar spoke to Vince McMahon at the last taping and “expressed his concerns about proper measures not being taken seriously enough, such as mask utilization and social distancing.” That conversation is what led to the mask policy being implemented.
Pat Laprade of the French-language podcast Les anti-pods de la Lutte has more (via Post Wrestling), including that the person who talked to McMahon was Kevin Owens.
KO - who sat out previous shows due to a death in the family caused by the coronavirus and in late June issued an impassioned plea on social media for the public to take the pandemic more seriously & follow public health guidelines like wearing masks - is said to have told Vince he was leaving the July 3 shoot because of his concerns. When the WWE Chairman asked Owens what he wanted him to do, Owens indicated the directive would have to come from McMahon in order to get people to take it seriously.
Vince is said to have suggested the fine system, and KO pointed out that after he was fined for swearing on SmackDown he never did it again. That argument worked for the boss, and the new policy resulted in more social distancing and face coverings, which convinced Owens to stay.
At first glance, KO doesn’t strike you as a Vince favorite. But aside from the lack of a chiseled physique, it makes sense that McMahon would respect Owens - a guy who’s stepped up to the plate & made the most of his opportunities, isn’t afraid to advocate for himself, and puts the business only behind his family on his list of priorities. We’ve seen a lot of interactions between them behind-the-scenes and on-camera, where Kevin’s been trusted in big spots with Vince and his son, Shane.
In this instance, it sounds like KO took a stand for something bigger than booking. Good for him, and good on McMahon for listening.
UPDATE: Owens has told the story himself, to Sports Illustrated’s Justin Barrasso:
“It’s been brought up—at first, the masks weren’t being taken seriously enough. Eventually, a fine system was implemented to make sure people took it seriously. That came from me. I thought that the masks weren’t being worn seriously enough, so I went and talked to the people in charge. They immediately did what they could to remedy the situation. I don’t blame anybody for the mask thing. It’s easy to forget how important those masks are. Some people just straight up believe that the masks don’t make a difference, and that’s their belief. But if we’re all going to work together and we’re all trying to keep each other safe, I think it matters. If you’ve had somebody in your family affected by this the way my family was, it’s a lot easier to remember that these masks make a huge difference. These masks do make a difference, and I felt it was important for people to take that seriously. I was pleased that the company felt the same way and made sure to get the message out to everybody that this is a big deal. That’s why, in the end, I decided to come back. I feel comfortable going back to work, and I feel as safe as I can be there.”