Vince McMahon steps down as WWE CEO as board investigates hush-money allegations


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Vince McMahon is stepping down as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment while the pro wrestling company’s board investigates claims that he made hush-money payments to a former employee over an alleged affair, the company announced Friday.

The company said in a news release that it was investigating alleged misconduct by McMahon and John Laurinaitis, the head of talent relations, after the Wall Street Journal reported that McMahon paid a secret $3 million to the former employee who was involved in an affair. The separation agreement signed in January prevented the unidentified employee “from discussing her relationship with Mr. McMahon or disparaging him,” according to the Journal.

“Effective immediately, McMahon has voluntarily stepped back from his responsibilities as CEO and Chairman of the Board until the conclusion of the investigation,” the company said in a news release.

The company did not specifically mention the allegations, and added it would not add further comment until the investigation is completed. It also did not mention whether Laurinaitis would step away from his role during the investigation.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Friday.

WWE noted that McMahon would “retain his role and responsibilities related to WWE’s creative content during this period,” meaning he would still be involved in USA’s “Monday Night Raw” and Fox’s “Friday Night SmackDown.”

“I have pledged my complete cooperation to the investigation by the Special Committee, and I will do everything possible to support the investigation. I have also pledged to accept the findings and outcome of the investigation, whatever they are,” McMahon, 76, said in a statement.

Stephanie McMahon, his daughter, will serve as the interim CEO and chairwoman, according to the company. She had recently taken a leave of absence from her role as chief brand officer to “focus on family.”

“I love this company and am committed to working with the Independent Directors to strengthen our culture and our Company; it is extremely important to me that we have a safe and collaborative workplace,” she said in a news release Friday. “I have committed to doing everything in my power to help the Special Committee complete its work, including marshaling the cooperation of the entire company to assist in the completion of the investigation and to implement its findings.”

She is on the company board, as is her husband, Paul Levesque, known by wrestling fans as Triple H. Vince McMahon still controls the majority of the voting power.

The Journal reported that the WWE’s board received an email on March 30 that alleged McMahon had hired the 41-year-old employee as a paralegal at “a salary of $100,000 but increased it to $200,000 after beginning a sexual relationship with her.” The email to the board accused McMahon of giving her like “a toy” to Laurinaitis, according to the Journal. Additional misconduct claims were made against Laurinaitis.

Since the investigation began in April, the probe had “unearthed other, older nondisclosure agreements involving claims by former female WWE employees of misconduct by Mr. McMahon.” The company has maintained that the relationship between McMahon and the female employee was consensual.

McMahon is married to Linda McMahon, who was the head of the Small Business Administration during the Trump administration.

Vince McMahon bought the then-World Wrestling Federation from his father in 1982. He has since morphed WWE into a pro wrestling juggernaut in business and pop culture, helping create stars such as Hulk Hogan, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock and John Cena. The publicly traded company’s shares have increased more than 30 percent since last year, according to CNN.

AEW is WWE’s first real fight in decades. It may change the face of pro wrestling in the U.S.

WWE, which has been run by the McMahon family for decades, came to terms with Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming platform, on an exclusive rights deal for the WWE Network in January reportedly valued at more than $1 billion, according to the Journal. Its multiyear television deals with Fox Sports and USA Networks are at close to $470 million annually, more than triple the amount of the previous TV agreement.

Though WWE’s TV ratings are nowhere near where they were in the late 1990s and early 2000s when millions tuned in each week, the company has managed to make more money while being not as popular in traditional media, in large part because of its worldwide TV and media deals. The public company has also tried to improve its image after accusations of sexism in the portrayal of female wrestlers and shifted its programming from a TV-14 rating to TV-PG.

But some have been turned off by the company’s mistakes, including the mass firing of dozens of popular wrestlers during the pandemic; streaming issues on Peacock; and the company’s lucrative and long-term business relationship with Saudi Arabia continuing after the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post. Its most recent event in Saudi Arabia — “Elimination Chamber” — was in February, and the company will be back for another event in November.

Despite the announcement that he’s stepping aside as CEO, WWE tweeted that McMahon would be appearing on “SmackDown” on Friday night.


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