Professional wrestling has already had an exciting 2024. Fans have seen several great matches and fantastic events, and free agency is creating an atmosphere where top stars can show up in any organization. However, troubling news is boiling in professional wrestling as well. The allegations around Vince McMahon, John Laurinaitis, and the entire WWE continue to swell, with new information coming out nearly every day. This is a vital moment in the industry and it’s time that the “old boys” network is held accountable and banishes the bad actors once and for all.
Owen Hart once said, “Enough is enough, and it's time for a change.” Few could have guessed that his catchphrase would be so apropos for the industry decades later.
January ended with McMahon facing allegations from a former employee that included sex trafficking, rape, and much more. He immediately took a defiant stance, but before the end of the week, he resigned from his position within TKO Group Holdings. But that resignation isn’t enough. It’s far from that.
As more information comes out, it’s clear that this situation is reflective of the culture at WWE, where several individuals reportedly knew about his actions. The speculation around who knew what would continue until all is revealed – if all is ever revealed. But do not be surprised if more individuals are removed from their positions of power as more information comes out.
However, regardless of what some of the worst aspects of the IWC posts, this “cleaning house” isn’t just about the WWE. This is about the entire industry taking the real steps to let bad actors know that their actions will not be tolerated and they will not keep their positions of prestige as the industry moves on without them.
Look back to Speaking Out in 2020. The social movement initially shook the wrestling industry, as several names were accused of varying forms of mental, physical, and sexual abuse. Running alongside the #MeToo movement, #SpeakingOut opened the door for many individuals to share painful stories from their past, shining a light on the abuse that was talked about, but never addressed throughout the industry. Dark Side of the Ring also featured several episodes where wrestlers told their stories, leading to some repercussions, but nothing that lasted exceptionally long. Take Ric Flair for example.
Top names that fans will immediately recognize were named as abusers. Darby Allin, Michael Elgin, Matt Riddle, Dave Lagana, Marty Scrull, Jay Lethal, and several others were called out for their actions. There was immediate outcry of support for the victims, and hope that wrestling organizations would take substantial action against the accused. Unfortunately, that did not happen as many of these men continued to see themselves elevated within the organizations where they performed. Some faced forms of accountability, but that was rare at the very best.
Fast forward to what is going on in 2024, and it’s clear that this is a systemic problem across all professional wrestling. Many performers throughout the years have opened about the racism, sexism, and abuse that run rampant in this industry. Now is the time to hold these organizations accountable, and it will take a constant and coordinated effort to do so.
As the McMahon allegations came out, the question of whether the WWE would respond was asked. As seen with McMahon in the past, his access to wealth and power made him seemingly immune to any punishment any time he faced any type of allegation. Endeavor didn’t take any initial actions against him. At least until WWE Royal Rumble sponsor, Slim Jim, pulled their support – hitting the organization right in the bank account. That is the number one way that major organizations will “listen” when situations like these pop up. Collectively targeting the sponsors that publicly support these organizations is the way to get attention when the company refuses to or hesitates to act against transgressors.
That includes fans working together to boycott shows. If a promotion elects to work with someone who has committed horrible acts, fan backlash can quickly change that. Look at how AEW reacted when fans spoke up about Brian Kendrick’s planned match with the company. There is movement in collective outcry.
The other portion of the equation comes from the professional wrestling media. This is more of a challenge as the media landscape as a whole has changed. The foundational purpose of journalism has been devalued and media literacy is at an all-time low. Frequently major promotion leaders like Tony Khan, Dana White, or Triple H are able to avoid answering tough questions. Sometimes even responding with animus towards those who asked. But the work of uncovering and properly reporting on these issues must continue, as that is one way that the truth behind these individuals will fully come out.
The entertainment industry has a problem with powerful people using their power to control and treat others in horrible ways. Professional wrestling has long had stories in the shadows, but those stories are slowly coming to light. What happens next is telling. Not only for those in the companies that put on the action but for those who sit in the stands and watch from their couches. Now is the time to do more to get the bad actors out.