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Wrestling world awaits reform after decades of alleged sexual misconduct in WWE

After Vince McMahon’s exit amid disturbing lawsuit revelations, WWE faces a reckoning, confronting a scandal-laden legacy spanning decades.

The wrestling world is breathing a sigh of relief following Vince McMahon’s resignation from his roles at TKO Group Holdings, including WWE. The announcement made by McMahon comes in the wake of disturbing allegations made by former WWE employee Janel Grant, who filed a lawsuit accusing McMahon of sexually abusing her and trafficking her to other men in the company.

The downfall of pro wrestling’s most successful promoter comes after years of alleged gross misconduct, which includes rape allegations by Rita Chatterton, a former WWE referee, who said that McMahon assaulted her in the back of a limousine in the mid-1980s. As WWE moves beyond McMahon’s unsettling influence, many are wondering what comes next.

Former wrestler Lance Storm, who worked for the company from 2001-2005, recently called for sweeping action in light of the charges brought against McMahon, saying, “I think there needs to be a legitimate cleaning house of anyone who covered anything up, who knew about this.”

One could contend — and probably will — that individuals within McMahon’s close-knit circle who continue to be associated with the company were either ignorant of the former chairman’s deeds or lacked the power to stop him. However, it is worth noting that for over four decades, sexual impropriety was ingrained in the culture of WWE as much as the wrestling performances themselves.

In the early 1990s, several individuals came forward with sexual misconduct claims against many longtime employees. Among them were former wrestlers turned executives Terry Garvin and Pat Patterson, who were generally accused of having a “casting couch” for male wrestlers & other employees, and ring announcer/ring crew chief Mel Phillips, who was often suspected of inappropriate or abusive behavior with underage “ring boys” hired for his crew.

As a result, Garvin, Patterson, and Phillips each resigned, though Patterson was later brought back. However, in the 1980s, the behavior of Garvin and Patterson was seemingly a joke in WWE. In one instance, announcers Gorilla Monsoon and Lord Alfred Hayes quipped how one of the performers in a match was a graduate from Garvin’s “school of self-defense.”

“I think that Garvin probably looks upon this man with a lot of satisfaction,” said Hayes.

Monsoon replied, “I understand that Pat Patterson also spent a number of hours with this youngster.”

There was also WWE’s longstanding relationship with the Fabulous Moolah, who allegedly exploited and trafficked female wrestlers. Despite such allegations, the promotion planned to honor Moolah in 2018 with a women’s WrestleMania battle royal named after her until backlash and the threat of losing its sponsor, Snickers, forced WWE to make a change.

Then, in 2019, following the death of former WWE star Ashley Massaro, stories resurfaced about Massaro’s claim that she was raped during a WWE tour to a U.S. Army base in Kuwait in 2006. According to court documents filed in 2016, McMahon and then-company executives Kevin Dunn and John Laurinaitis were made aware of Massaro’s claim but allegedly counseled her to keep quiet. WWE later released a statement that said in part:

At no time was Vince McMahon or the management of WWE ever informed by Ashley Massaro or anybody else that she had been sexually assaulted, drugged, raped or sodomized by a military doctor with a nurse standing guard while on a goodwill tour in 2007 to U.S. military bases in Kuwait. In fact, if she ever articulated such a claim to WWE, we would have reported it immediately to the Base Commander.

These are just a handful of incidents and allegations that took place under McMahon’s regime during the past 40 years. While no criminal charges came about, the events in question do not paint a kind picture. It also makes it difficult to believe how several high-ranking, longtime executives and performers within the company today are unaware of the brand’s sordid history, much less McMahon’s alleged behavior in recent years.

Proving who had knowledge of certain information but deliberately chose to overlook it might be challenging. Nonetheless, there is optimism that such individuals will eventually face the appropriate consequences following McMahon’s resignation, as WWE, under its parent company TKO Group Holdings, should do all it can to reform a work environment that seems to have been toxic for far too long.

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