Sex Assault Claims Against Vince McMahon Shadow a W.W.E. Trying to Move Forward

Mr. McMahon, 78, is the most influential figure in the history of professional wrestling. He is not just the co-founder, with his wife, Linda, of the company that would become W.W.E., or a mere corporate officer. He is the person most responsible for transforming wrestling from a sleepy regional entertainment product into a globally televised spectacle.

He also appeared in the ring for decades, and is as well known as wrestlers like “The Rock” and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. In the 1990s, he adopted a swaggering, dictatorial in-ring alter ego who screamed at wrestlers, and he was the headliner at pay-per-view events. Well into this decade, Mr. McMahon retained control over W.W.E.’s creative direction.

For about as long, however, Mr. McMahon has faced accusations of sexual misconduct, which he has repeatedly publicly denied. In 1992, for instance, Rita Chatterton, who had been a wrestling referee, said on the “Geraldo” talk show that Mr. McMahon had raped her in 1986. (Mr. McMahon and Ms. Chatterton reached a settlement in 2022, according to The Wall Street Journal.)

W.W.E., meanwhile, made sexualized treatment of women a core part of its brand. In 2003, the company initiated the “W.W.E. Diva Search,” a competition to find female performers who sometimes wrestled. Physical appearance and low-cut tops were an explicit part of the appeal. Mr. McMahon also filmed fictional promotions with his real-life daughter, Stephanie McMahon, a wrestler and longtime W.W.E. executive, in which Ms. McMahon’s character made salacious accusations about her father’s character.

“Every time I went out to dinner with one of your business associates, I was 17 years old, you don’t think they told me what you promised them I’d do,” Ms. McMahon asked him in one of the promotions, which aired on television during matches.

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