Vince McMahon, the longtime chairman and former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment, resigned from the board of W.W.E.’s parent company on Friday, one day after a former employee accused him of sexual assault and sex trafficking in a lawsuit. McMahon, 78, was the executive chairman of TKO Group, the parent company of W.W.E., where he no longer held a formal position. The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, accuses the entertainment mogul of trafficking the employee, Janel Grant, as well as physically and emotionally torturing her for his sadistic pleasure.
The graphic complaint, which also named John Laurinaitis, a former W.W.E. executive, and the company itself as defendants, says that both men had once taken turns raping Ms. Grant, among numerous other allegations. McMahon eventually pressured the victim to sign a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for $3 million, according to the complaint but paid her only $1 million. The lawsuit also alleges that several high-ranking W.W.E. employees and board members not named in the complaint were aware of McMahon’s behavior.
In a statement released after his resignation, McMahon called Ms. Grant’s lawsuit a “vindictive distortion of the truth” and said he looked forward to clearing his name. He said he resigned “out of respect” for TKO, W.W.E. and their employees. McMahon and his wife, Linda, founded the company that would become W.W.E. in 1980 and expanded it from a regional business into a national and eventually an international one. The company shot several wrestlers into stardom, such as Hulk Hogan and The Rock, some of them transitioning to Hollywood and further advancing in the cult. Repeated accusations of sexual misconduct against McMahon have clouded the company’s fortunes.
In 2022, a special committee of W.W.E.’s board investigated McMahon’s conduct and found that over 16 years, he had spent $14.6 million in payments to women who had accused him of sexual misconduct. One was a former wrestler who said McMahon had coerced her into giving him oral sex and then later decided not to renew her contract. A further company investigation found that he had made an additional $5 million in payments to two other women. The mogul temporarily resigned during the investigation, but he remained the company’s largest shareholder.
In early 2023, after the W.W.E. board completed its investigation of his behavior, Mr. McMahon used his voting shares to replace three board members with two allies and himself as chair. His daughter, Stephanie McMahon, who had served as chair and co-chief executive officer, resigned from the company. Soon after his return, Mr. McMahon initiated a sale process that resulted in the sports and entertainment conglomerate Endeavor’s buying W.W.E. They then combined W.W.E. and another one of its holdings, Ultimate Fighting Championship, a mixed martial arts promotional company, into a new public company, TKO Group.
Since then, W.W.E. has signed long-term media rights contracts that position it well for the future. In September, NBCUniversal paid a reported $1.4 billion to buy the rights to show “Friday Night SmackDown” for five years, starting later in 2024. On Tuesday, TKO Group announced that it had sold the rights to W.W.E.’s flagship weekly show, “Raw,” to Netflix in a deal worth $5 billion over 10 years. This is by far Netflix’s biggest foray into live programming, as it seeks to attract more revenue through advertising, which in media is primarily spent on live entertainment.
The company is clearly involved with secret societies, and many in their roster have used occult symbolism during their events and promos, plus abhorrent behavior inside and outside the ring with several scandals. The rumors of McMahon’s deviancy have been making the rounds since the 1980s, and in 1992, Phil Donahue arranged for the mogul to appear on his show without his lawyers. He publicly defended his company against sexual harassment and drug abuse accusations. The talk show host stated that the WWF in 1990 had generated $1.7 billion in revenue. At the time, this was more than the NFL. He also stressed that a couple of these sexual harassment charges involved underage young boys not older than 14 years old.