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Report: Vince McMahon wants to return to WWE, even as sexual assault claims persist

Vince McMahon

Vice’s documentary about Vince McMahon premieres tonight (Dec. 13), but we didn’t have to wait until The Nine Lives of Vince McMahon hits the airwaves for news about the former Chairman & CEO of WWE.

The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Palazzo & Ted Mann are back with an update on the sexual misconduct/hush money story they broke earlier this year, which revealed the WWE Board’s investigation of McMahon to the public. That investigation ultimately led to Vince’s retirement/resignation over improperly recorded payments made to women in exchange for their silence on their relationships with, or allegations of harassment by McMahon.

Palazzo & Mann have discovered two legal claims being made against the 77 year old McMahon for allegations of past sexual assault:

  • A lawyer representing former WWE (then WWF) referee Rita Chatterton sent a demand letter to Vince’s longtime attorney, Jerry McDevitt, asking for $11.75 million in damages for her decades-old allegation (which resurfaced after WSJ’s initial report — this time along with corroboration from a former wrestler) that in 1986 McMahon raped her in the back of a limousine. Vince has always denied the allegations.
  • “In a separate November email to Mr. McMahon’s attorney, a lawyer for a former spa manager said that Mr. McMahon assaulted his client in 2011 at a California resort, an incident previously unreported in the media.”

Despite the persistence of allegations, the Journal reporters hear McMahon believes he has one more comeback in him:

The 77-year-old Mr. McMahon also has told people that he intends to make a comeback at WWE, according to the people familiar with his comments. He has said that he received bad advice from people close to him to step down and that he now believes the allegations and investigations would have blown over had he stayed, these people said.

While attempting to return to his former position of power within WWE (as the majority owner of the company’s stock, he remains powerful as he has final say over major issues like a potential sale) is in character based on what we’ve always heard about Vince, it seems unlikely in light of the outstanding legal liability.

Chatterton’s demand letter in particular, which includes that she’s passed a polygraph test, and a new confirmation that she told others about the alleged rape attempt around the time she says it happened (this one from John Wisniski, aka Greg Valentine, who adds that he never believed the now 65 year old Chatterton because “he didn’t think she was attractive enough for Mr. McMahon”) seems like it would be particularly damaging to Vince’s public image.

But outside of the internet wrestling bubble, it’s debatable how much public opinion of McMahon changed. He was still receiving standing ovations before he resigned, and the story of the investigation never got much traction in the mainstream media. It’s probably enough to fuel Vince’s dreams of a return.

McMahon wasn’t done in by the general public, though. He was forced out because he tried to keep his financial arrangements with women as quiet as his affairs. The SEC had an issue with that, because the non-disclosure agreements benefited the company and should have been reported along with other financial information. And if Vince has to settle with Chatterton or this new accuser, “WWE’s auditor, Deloitte & Touche LLP, has advised the company that resolutions of the claims, even if confidential, would possibly have to be disclosed by the company publicly, said a person familiar with the matter.”

That’s probably more than the Board would be willing to shoulder, even if Vince otherwise could make a compelling case for reinstating him as Chairman, CEO, or even Head of Creative. It would also risk the relative goodwill he maintains with the audience. Settling with someone who’s accused you of rape will play a lot worse than getting in trouble for not reporting money you paid for someone to stay quiet about a consensual affair.

We’ll see how the story develops from here. But it seems clear that something many thought was settled business is anything but.

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