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Hold Vince McMahon Accountable

Jul 9, 2022

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Vince McMahon paid $12 million to four different women "to suppress allegations of sexual misconduct and infidelity".
When I first saw that headline it barely registered as news. Vince McMahon and the company he runs are so reliably bad (both in terms of content and morality) that they merely meet expectations. When someone meets your expectations, especially if those expectations are low, their offense doesn't hit so hard. But that's not good. This news should register as significant, because it is significant. It should elicit strong emotional reactions. My initial reaction could be called dismissive, or the act of a mind shaped by "fake news", a dystopia wherein reality doesn't matter and "alternative facts" reign. Vince could easily squeak by unscathed because he's merely behaved as you always suspected he did. But shouldn't he be held accountable for his nefarious actions? Has he really earned a free pass, specifically from wrestling fans, because he's Mr. McMahon, the strutting King of Sports Entertainment? He didn't "just" have "affairs". He paid "$7.5 million to a former wrestler who alleged that McMahon coerced her into giving him oral sex and demoted her and ultimately declined to renew her contract after she resisted further sexual encounters".
This is not the story of a horny old man, a cheater, a liar, or even a bad person.
It's the story of abuse. The abuse of power. The abuse of women.
In those terms, the severity of McMahon's actions is more sobering, and we start to arrive at why he should be held accountable (if not how).
I suggest, for starters, that he resign from WWE.
Surely the "Disney of professional wrestling" agrees. How can the company proceed "putting smiles on faces" when it's headed by a man who coerced sexual favors and then attempted to hide such activity with hush money? WWE's options seem blatantly clear and yet I doubt they'll do what should come naturally - apply pressure on McMahon to resign immediately and totally from WWE.
I have no suggestions for what should happen to McMahon in his personal life. He and his family will have to reckon with his misdeeds in their own time. That's not for me to judge or speculate.
There is, however, a larger reckoning that needs to take place in professional wrestling.
The art needs to be better and safer than it has been. As those who dismiss this story are quick to point out, abuses of power are common in the entertainment world. The fact that abuse is common doesn't mean it's okay, and that doesn't mean things can't change.
This McMahon story is intimately connected to the Speaking Out movement, which is also connected to the Me Too movement. Time leaves gaps in people's consciousness, but these reckonings are not isolated incidents. They are interconnected threads that strengthen one another with each story told, each abuse revealed. McMahons outing should function as a springboard for others, and inspire another call to action for pro-wrestling to be safe for its employees and independent contractors. For too long promotions have been able to operate with impunity, thriving in a boy's club. It's past time the boy's club disbanded. It leads to nothing but misconduct and abuse, and this cannot be allowed to go on.
And that's where professional wrestling fans must bear some of the burden. We fund these companies, these performers. What exactly are we paying them for? Do we prefer to live in a world where we pay Vince McMahon $9.99 a month so we might turn a blind eye to his misconduct and watch Brock Lesnar slam someone through a table? Is that what being a pro-wrestling fan means? Up until now, that's exactly what it's meant. But we cannot go on turning a blind eye because it suits us. Identifying as a professional wrestling fan should carry with it certain responsibilities. To be honest, to be respectful of others, and to call out bad actors. We already bear the burden of explaining why we like it in the first place. Can you not see that those who commit sexual misconduct make it harder to be a pro-wrestling fan?
We've consumed McMahon's often seedy product as he operated behind the scenes in an even seedier fashion. We were raised on his television shows and the hundreds of electrifying catchphrases his superstars shouted into microphones. We did this secretly suspecting the likelihood of his real-world wrongdoing, but looking the other way, hypnotized by pyro and daring acrobatics. It behooves pro-wrestling fans to break that spell sooner rather than later. We have immense power, power that goes beyond our cheer and our boo. We can hold the whole of pro-wrestling accountable, especially when it has failed to police itself. That, now, is a part of what it means to be a pro-wrestling fan; refusing to turn a blind eye, help make wrestling safer for performers and fans, and stop allowing nostalgia to corrupt one's moral compass.
Where can wrestling fans start?
Continue writing articles, conducting interviews, and Tweeting threads that expose abuses of power in the medium. Tear down the misogynist, racist infrastructure of the professional wrestling business by calling it out, voting with your dollar, and shining a spotlight on oft-ignored voices. Police the pro-wrestling community online and at live events, not permitting destructive voices a space. People with more than terrible opinions feel safe when they're surrounded by other loud and angry people, even if those people share opposing views. So perhaps some of the work that needs to be done is subtle but steadfast.
Look within.
Ask yourself what it means, to you, to be a professional wrestling fan in 2022, and what it means to sing along to "No Chance In Hell" when Mr. McMahon saunters down the ramp. I contend that you are not necessarily culpable for his misdeeds when you cheer him, but you're not entirely removed from them either. And that idea should grab one's attention if recent headlines don't. What role do we inadvertently play by offering up our money and our voice to a system that breeds abuse?

If things are going to get better, pro-wrestling fans can't sit on the sidelines. They'll have to do something to ensure they're able to watch their chosen promotion with a clear conscious. Only then, when we know people are safe and wrongdoers are forced out, can we really enjoy this art.
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