Re-visiting Vince McMahon's Playboy interview 24 years later

Looking back at Vince McMahon's infamous Playboy interview in light of SDNY's US Attorney's Office staying Janel Grant's sex trafficking lawsuit pending a non-public investigation.
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For the first time ever the walls appear to be closing on Vince McMahon's alleged misdeeds as the lawsuit filed against him in January for sex trafficking was stayed pending further investigation from the DOJ. The US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York officially got involved in proceedings last Thursday, the exact same office credited for the conviction of Ghislaine Maxwell.

Janel Grant alleged in her complaint that she had been hired by McMahon and described a pattern of abusive and coercive behavior alongside graphic messages alleged to have been sent from him to her. It was the latest in a litany of historic allegations to have been made against McMahon, and as one might expect he has vehemently denied Ms. Grant's version of events much in the same way he has previously.

"We remain confident the evidence will prove Ms. Grant's allegations are false and her complaint is nothing more than a fabricated, vindictive narrative from a disgruntled former girlfriend," Jessica Rosenberg, McMahon's counsel, told Wrestling Inc. when contacted for comment. The latest statement on the matter makes note of it is the narrative that is contested, as has been the case since the allegations emerged, with Vince McMahon accepting he had a sexual relationship with Ms. Grant but denying the way it has been portrayed.

Vince McMahon playing away from his wife, Linda McMahon, is not in itself an isolated incidence. But rather a pattern of behavior that he himself addressed during an interview with Playboy in February 2001. During that interview, he was also candid about the physical and sexual abuse he experienced growing up.

"Like I said, I grew up in a very volatile environment," McMahon said. "My view was that if I took a beating and lived, I won. I still have that view. It gives me a tremendous advantage, because I'm not afraid of failure. Don't get me wrong - I hate failing. But I'm not afraid to take chances and fall on my ass, because if I live through it I'll be better off, and I'll win."

McMahon elaborated on what it was he meant by volatile, "My parents got divorced and I went with my mom, Vickie [Victoria Hanner]... Lived with her and my real a**hole of a stepfather, a man who enjoyed kicking people around."

Vince McMahon's stepfather at the time was Leo Lupton. Lupton was born in 1917, dropping out of high school after his freshman year, after which he trained to become an electrician. McMahon alleged during the interview that Lupton had used tools of his trade, namely a pipe wrench, to physically abuse him.

"It's unfortunate that he died before I could kill him," McMahon said. According to the North Carolina Divorce Index, Lupton and Hanner divorced on June 3, 1963. Lupton died in Miami-Dade, Florida, on July 8 1988. McMahon said he was the only one of the kids who would feel Lupton's wrath, reasoning, "I was the only one of the kids who would speak up, and that's what provoked the attacks. You would think that after being on the receiving end of numerous attacks I would wise up, but I couldn't. I felt I should say something. Even though I knew what the result would be."

McMahon's greatest lesson from Leo Lupton, as he would describe, was how not to be as a man. By the time he was 14, he claimed that he was basically on his own and already a man. He was then quizzed as to whether the abuse was solely physical, and he refused to "embellish" the matter pertaining to sexual abuse.

Considering embellishment is defined as the addition of details to a story for additional excitement, his choice of words naturally casts doubt over his admissions and to what extent they are supposed to be true. Mr. McMahon is, for all intents and purposes, the character he was portraying at the time of the interview. So had his childhood stories been an expositional narrative? The fact of the matter is only one man holds that answer and he is the one under the microscope. It's not entirely fair to speculate over something so sensitive in nature, but it does raise questions over the man testifying his own innocence pertaining to abuse.

Even so, Vince McMahon admitted that he was subject to sexual abuse. Though it was heavily inferred that it was his mother that had done so. When asked if that was why he and her were estranged, he only nodded and said that was a close assumption.

However, speaking of embellished tales, there is a vein of McMahon's admissions which have been disputed. While addressing his years as a teenager, which saw him land in Fisburne Military School, he claimed that it was unruly behavior like stealing automobiles, running moonshine, and fighting US Marines that put him in that position.

"I was always in fights, too. They'd pull up and there we were, me and my group of guys, going at it with the Marines... Havelock is right outside the Marine base at Cherry Point. There was a place called the Jet Drive-In... On Friday and Saturday nights, it was time to get it on with the Marines. It was a challenge. Most of them were in great condition, but they didn't know how to fight. I'm not saying they were easy pickings. They got their testosterone going and they were all liquored up. Some of them were really tough. But me and my guys were street fighters. I mean, maybe you've been through basic training and you know how to operate a bayonet. That's different from sticking your finger in somebody's eye or hitting a guy in the throat, which comes naturally to a street fighter. And they can't believe "you're not fighting fair." Suddenly they can't breathe and/or see, and they realize: "Oh my God, am I in for an a**-kicking."

However, as chronicled in "Ringmaster" by Abraham Josephine Riesman, while there were indeed scuffles involving the Marines, McMahon and his friends were not a part of them. Havelock native Doug Franks is quoted as saying, "He was too young for that... Vince was not a part of it. But he grouped up with a bunch of wannabes and we just considered him a little punk at the time. That's the best way I know to describe him."

Riesman also asked if Vince and his group had ever gotten into fights or if they were just hanging around, "They were hanging around in their own group, trying to be tough guys," said Franks. "The only time I ever knew he got into anything was when he broke his hand or his wrist in a fight with a boy named Harvey Helms.... It was his claim to fame."

Nevertheless, McMahon did attend Fisburne Military School and graduated in 1964. But it seems he also couldn't resist distorting the truth as he recalled his time there.

"I was the first cadet in school history to be court-martialed... For no particular infraction. Again, I was lucky and a little crafty - I wasn't caught for some stuff that would have meant immediate dismissal, like stealing the commandant's car. Colonel Zinnecker had an old, green, beat-up Buick, and he always left the keys in it. He also had a dog he was nuts about. I love animals, but one day I couldn't resist giving that dog a laxative. I put the laxative in some hamburger and the dog did his business all over the commandant's apartment, which thrilled me greatly."

Putting aside the flagrant boasting of animal cruelty, McMahon's story doesn't appear to add up. For one, extensive research and peering through Fishburne yearbooks released throughout the 1960s doesn't prove the existence of anyone named "Colonel Zinnecker." Neither are there any records of McMahon receiving a court martial at all throughout his time there. Fishburne's alumni section also omits any mention of a court martial when describing McMahon:

"Vincent Kennedy McMahon is an American professional wrestling promoter, executive and media proprietor, currently serving as the chairman and CEO of WWE, the largest professional wrestling promotion in the world. A familiar face to wrestling fans since the 1970s—his public-facing career is divided into two distinct periods. Prior 1997, he was a jovial announcer. After, he adapted his real-life persona to create the gimmick of Mr. McMahon; a wildly swagger walking, suit-wearing, irascible tyrant obsessed with maintaining tight, agenda-driven control of his company at any cost, with the catch phrase "You’rrre firrred!!!""

Reisman told Wrestling Inc. the following when it comes to the way Vince McMahon describes himself:

"Let me put it this way. For the majority of Vince's life, especially since he entered wrestling, he has not talked about himself. He has not talked about his childhood certainly. Even when he talks about himself, it tends to be in sort of these vague notions... As far as I can tell, that was kayfabe. That was Vince trying to bolster the Mr. McMahon character in the public eye... It's not just kayfabe. It's neokayfabe... It was him using other channels of media, other than his own programming, to advance a narrative for that programming... Even if his home life was rough and his economic circumstances were rough, he himself was not that rough of a guy, or a kid, I should say... He's a showman more than he is a badass... Every stage of his life, if I was interviewing somebody who knew him, it was even odds they'd say the word showman. And one of the greatest shows he's ever producesd is the tale of his life, which is not exactly accurate."

The pattern that's emerging is that Vince McMahon isn't very honest when it comes to talking about himself and the way he's lived. And considering the interview conducted contained some very sensitive subjects, that disregard for the truth sticks out ever more. McMahon, alleged several times to have conducted sexual misconduct, continued in the interview to make some more graphic claims about his carnal side in a way that leaves questions in any case.

"I remember, probably in the first grade, being invited to a matinee film with my stepbrother and his girlfriends, and I remember them playing with me. Playing with my penis, and giggling," he recalled. "That was my initiation into sex. At that age you don't necessarily achieve an erection, but it was cool. At around the same time there was a girl my age who was, in essence, my cousin... I remember the two of us being so curious about each other's bodies but not knowing what the hell to do. We would go into the woods and get naked together... And for some reason I wanted to put crushed leaves into her."

He later described his adult sex life, "I am a giver... I get off on the number of orgasms a woman has... A women's body is so complex and so beautiful, and it's not just her body. It's her mind. To be responsible for a woman absolutely without inhibition, surrendering that way - that's about the coolest thing in the world."

For the sake of comparison, the following is an alleged text from Vince McMahon to Janel Grant (Exhibit 138 of initial complaint):

"I LOVE it. That's U Janel. U just can't get enough can U? In the future it's going to B so bad that you'll demand to B f***ed twice a day and not just with [redacted] in a three way. Why not let others see the beautiful voluptuous body and watch U shake uncontrollably when U C*m. They'll go out of their minds. Then I'll find more friends and we'll tie U up so Ur helpless. I'll direct them to have their way any way they want! Who can make U [scream] the loudest!!! Maybe I'll just line them up and have [them] squirt in Ur mouth, Ur p***y all over your t**s and a** all at the same time. You'll B covered in c*m and we'll make U eat it all and taste everybody's c*m. The next morning you'll B a little sore but Ur still going to want more..."

In either version of events being contested in the lawsuit, Vince McMahon and Janel Grant's affair had been the latest of his infidelity in marriage. The interview itself took place decades before McMahon had even met Grant, but he still had to confront the fact he had been unfaithful by that stage.

"[I've not been] necessarily faithful. I probably lied to myself, think she knew who I was when we got married. The wild guy. But I never, ever threw anything in her face. I was discreet. And Linda never suffered from a lack of attention, physical or emotional. But one day she asked me, point-blank. "Are you having an affair with so-and-so?" And I've never lied to her. "Yes." It crushed her. Then she asked, "What about such and such?" "Yes." It went on. More names, I said, "Yes, yes and yes.""

"[They were] different times. Some were concurrent, but I didn't think she had to know that... I have been not only loyal but faithful for about six years. Linda and I have a great marriage, and I don't want to screw it up. I'm not saying I don't look. I'm not saying I won't fall off the wagon one day. I hope not, because of all the complications and because I would have to tell her if she asked me. But other than for the innate id, I don't have a desire to go outside our relationship. And if I'm on the road for more than three days, you know I'm flying afterward to where Linda is."

"Ringmaster" author Reisman addressed McMahon's candidness on his deviance, "Part of that is a very deliberate strategy in that if you admit that you're an unfaithful horn dog, people are going to be a little less surprised, shocked, or outraged when it turns out that you may or may not have committed sexual misconduct."

That is a trend that can be observed within the WWE fandom, with many flocking to social media and forums to express disbelief over what has been alleged against Vince McMahon. That isn't exclusive to the case pertaining to Janel Grant, either. During my time covering the lawsuit developments, there have been a number to raise the argument that it was a consensual relationship that soured, stepping to the same beat of Vince McMahon and his legal team's defense. Within the wider world of celebrities, there have been a number to admit to a sex addiction while also being accused of sexual misconduct, including but not limited to Russell Brand and James Franco.

Vince McMahon's Playboy interview does offer rare insight into the otherwise secretive former Executive Chairman of WWE. Even if one has to look further than what has been said, verbatim. On one hand, it tells the story of a uniquely troubled and disturbed boy forced to grow up and learn about himself in an adult way from an early age. On the other, McMahon appears to exhibit creative flair with his re-tellings. In literary terms, the argument can be made that Vince McMahon is an unreliable narrator, and the issue comes when it can't be determined what, when, and where he is telling the truth or embellishing the story to better display himself.

According to multiple outlets, including Wrestlenomics, Janel Grant's lawsuit is due to be on pause for six months. Stay tuned for updates on the lawsuit as and when they emerge.