Sexual assault allegations against Vince McMahon cast a shadow over WWE trying to move forward

Mr. McMahon, 78, is the most influential figure in professional wrestling history. He is not only co-founder, with his wife, Linda, of the company that will become WWE, or even a simple corporate officer. He is the person most responsible for transforming wrestling from a sleepy regional entertainment product into a global television spectacle.

He has 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 yelled at wrestlers, and he headlined pay-per-view events. During this decade, Mr. McMahon retained control of the creative direction of WWE.

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

WWE, meanwhile, has made the sexualized treatment of women a core part of its brand. In 2003, the company launched the “WWE Diva Search”, a competition to find female performers who sometimes wrestled. The physical appearance and high necklines were a explicit part of the call. Mr. McMahon also filmed fictional promos with his real-life daughter, longtime WWE wrestler and executive Stephanie McMahon, 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 associates, I was 17, you don’t think they told me what you promised them you would do,” Ms. McMahon asked him. in one of the promotionsbroadcast on television during the matches.