Based on some of the storylines Vince McMahon has created over the years, many fans have come to believe the WWE Universe and sports entertainment, in general, are obsessed with the idea of controversy. It was Vince’s greatest rival, Eric Bischoff, who publically argued the concept created cash, a fact both men confirmed time and again during their highly heated Monday Night Wars. Since Vince won that war, it would track that he was the better of the two when it came to getting attention, yet even the madman sitting atop the WWE empire knows that not all press is good press.
It’s hard to imagine an idea to be considered too sensationalist to happen inside the wrestling ring, yet when certain borderline illegal or shady activities happen in real life, Vince McMahon has been quick to play damage control to protect his assets. Sure, the wrestlers can attempt to murder one another live on Raw every week, but get caught with drugs outside of Tulsa, and that could seriously hurt a person’s reputation. Depending on how important Vince thinks a given employee is at the time, he may even go so far as to cover up a murder, and believe it or not, this example isn’t an exaggeration in the slightest.
The thing about a personality as famous as Vince McMahon trying to hide something in his past is that he can only get away with it for so long. Inevitably, reporters looking for a headline will find out the truth, and sometimes, they’ve managed to do so pretty much right away, making McMahon look rather foolish in the process. For all the details, keep reading, and learn about 15 shocking scandals Vince McMahon tried covering up.
15. His Own Ruthless Aggression
Vince wasted absolutely no time committing one of the most controversial acts in wrestling history, doing so literally days after inheriting the WWE Universe from his father. Almost immediately upon purchasing the company in 1982, Vince, Jr. made a concerted effort to expand WWE from a regional New York territory into the biggest wrestling company on the planet. The catch was that, in order to do this, Vince needed to break dozens of handshake agreements his father had made with other promoters. It’s not like the company simply stopped playing nice; to many companies, WWE went from an ally to an enemy overnight, stealing talent, buying out time slots, and intentionally driving smaller promotions out of business. In retrospect, WWE has framed this as business naturally expanding, but the truth is, Vince was ruthlessly ruining decades of tradition to expand his own bank account. It just so happens that most WWE fans don’t really seem to mind.
14. The Plane Ride From Hell
Constantly traveling from arena to arena, the superstars of WWE spend an enormous amount of time on airplanes. Despite what some fans may want to believe, somewhere around 99.99% of the time, there’s nothing interesting or noteworthy about a flight containing a bunch of wrestlers. That other .01% of the time, however, these flights earn nicknames like “the Plane Ride From Hell.” Evocative though that title is, it doesn’t explain much, so here’s a recap for anyone who missed it. On May 5, 2002, WWE was touring Europe, and apparently, alcohol was flowing too freely on some of their stops. This caused Dustin Rhodes to repeatedly serenade his ex-wife Terri, something she didn’t much appreciate. WWE writer Michael Hayes also got into a fistfight with Bradshaw, and Curt Hennig made a highly imperfect choice in challenging Brock Lesnar to a flight 40,000 feet in the sky. Ultimately, only Hennig was fired for what happened, but the larger issue was how little press the insane story got. The Internet knew, but there was almost no mainstream media coverage, probably because Vince didn’t want the wrestlers ever talking about it.
13. JBL’s Backstage Bullying
Considering how often WWE implores its fans to Be A Star and rise above bullying, this next entry is particularly damaging to the company’s reputation. Dating back to when he was first hired in 1995, the man now known as “John Bradshaw Layfield” has been accused of bullying by countless coworkers. To name just a few, Mark Henry, The Miz, Matt Hardy, Daivari, René Duprée, Justin Roberts, Palmer Cannon, The Blue Meanie, and many others have all detailed stories about just how JBL terrorized them backstage throughout their careers. The whole time, WWE was well aware of how Bradshaw was making life hell for his coworkers, only to turn a blind eye and consider it a normal part of the wrestling business. It wasn’t until the 2017 departure of Mauro Ranallo, which many fans believed to be related to that same bullying, that the media actually started talking about Bradshaw’s near 20 years of abuse. Even then, the wrestling industry normalized the behavior to the extent people barely cared.
12. WWE’s Longstanding Race Problem
In all fairness, this entry isn’t so much of a scandal as it is a quietly bubbling problem WWE has had for decades. The weird thing is how little attention media gives it, which can only be explained by how well Vince McMahon has covered up any stories where wrestlers discussed it. Backing up a bit, we’re talking about the race problem WWE has experienced basically since the company was created. While there have been a good number of black stars in WWE history, there’s only been one black WWE Champion, and the statistics are similarly low for most other titles in the promotion. That’s not even mentioning the fact that most wrestlers with dark skin who passed through the company were given extremely racist gimmicks, like Kamala or Saba Simba, just to name two. Quite frankly, this problem has been way too prevalent for us to even get into it here, but the point is, no matter how much a select few have mentioned WWE’s race problem, Vince makes sure no one actively working for him ever does.
11. Firing Jim Ross And Pretending He Retired
In all fairness to WWE, like any company in the world, they’re allowed to fire people for pretty much whatever reason they feel like (within reason). If an employee is somehow underperforming at their job, Vince McMahon can wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors, plain and simple. Even so, when WWE fired legendary announcer Jim Ross in 2013, fans were highly suspicious from the start. This is because they didn’t admit they had fired JR, instead randomly announcing the Hall of Famer had “retired,” which came as a huge shock to Ross himself. Proving he still had plenty of years left in his career, Ross soon started working for New Japan Pro Wrestling and eventually returned to WWE without any explanation about the whole retirement thing. The scandal here is that WWE fully believed they could control JR’s life even after firing him, trying to control his fate without giving him any say in the matter.
10. Wrestlers Bad-Mouthing The Company After Leaving
With all due respect to the many people who’ve left WWE and rightfully complained about their dismissal, let’s face it: most of the time, when a person gets fired from a high-profile job, there’s a completely valid reason for the dismissal. This is usually the case with the vast majority of wrestlers who’ve been let go by WWE, yet this in no way diminishes the sting to the company’s reputation when they speak out about poor working conditions after being freed from their contracts. Recently, names like Ryback, Cody Rhodes, and CM Punk have all been highly critical of their time in WWE, and these men are just the most recent examples of the trend. In the past, high profile stars like Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, and Bret Hart all spoke out at length about their problems with Vince McMahon as an employer. Yet, it’s also worth noting two out of three eventually forgave him for whatever problems they had. The more important part of the story is that Vince never says a word about the people who badmouth him after they leave his company, instead choosing to turn a blind eye and expecting the problem to go away. Oddly enough, it always does.
9. Firing Dawn Marie While She Was Pregnant
WWE has done its fair share of questionable things over the years, but few of the items on this list actually border on outright illegal. This next one definitely does, though, which makes it all the more surprising Vince McMahon successfully swept it under the rug from the word go. In 2005, Dawn Marie became pregnant with her first child, and citing the fact her appearance was dramatically changing, WWE fired her for it. Now, there’s actually logic to WWE including a contractual clause demanding superstars stay in wrestling shape, but enforcing it upon pregnant women is absolutely ridiculous. Either way, it’s illegal to fire a woman simply because she’s pregnant, no matter what part of the pregnancy it is that offends the employers. Understandably, Dawn sued WWE over the situation and walked away with an undisclosed out-of-court settlement. We have to imagine part of the deal was that she can’t talk about it all that much, or else the media would’ve given this scandalous story the slightest bit of attention.
8. Countless Drug Problems That Got Out Of Control
Practice makes perfect, and a good part of how Vince McMahon has gotten so good at covering up scandals over the years relates to the fact he’s been doing it for a really long time. Back in the 1980s, rumor had it that practically everyone in the WWE Universe had a drug problem, possibly including Vince himself, and no one really said anything about it. Flash forward to the mid-’90s, and WWE superstars like Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, and The British Bulldog were far more open about their serious struggles with drugs, but Vince continued ignoring these difficulties and pushing the wrestlers involved into main event matches. Thankfully, this practice has finally started to cool down in the modern era, at least as far as we’re aware, anyway. For all anyone knows, some current WWE superstars might be hiding drug problems with Vince’s help, just like old times.
7. How To Lose $350 Million In A Single Day
As a certified billionaire more than once in his life, Vince McMahon knows what it’s like to deal with big money decisions. His family’s wealth is such that they might even look at some failed investments with a “win some, lose some” mentality, even to the extent they don’t care all that much when their bank accounts take a hint. What’s a million dollars to a man who has a thousand times that amount? It’s a fair question. However, take an even larger sum like $350 million out of his purse, dropping Vince down from billionaire back to a mere multimillionaire, and there’s some serious reason for concern. That’s exactly what happened in May of 2014, when WWE stock plummeted a massive 40%, taking away $350 million from McMahon’s personal bank account. The reason for the loss related to WWE’s then-new contract with NBC, which gave the company significantly less money than was expected. Despite how devastating this news was to the McMahons, fans never heard a word about it on WWE television because Vince is still so badly hurt by the loss that he doesn’t want people to know about it.
6. Jim Duggan and The Iron Sheik Don’t Know How To Party
Nowadays, when two feuding wrestlers are seen together in public, it’s more or less no big deal. In fact, WWE might even send them out to a press event together and expect them to take pictures in harmony. Back in the 1980s, though, it was completely unfathomable for two in-ring rivals to hang out, let alone a random heel and babyface pairing. This made the 1987 DUI and possession arrests of Jim Duggan and The Iron Sheik all the more scandalous to the media at large and forced Vince McMahon into some rapid damage control. Immediately, the Sheik was placed on probation and taken off television, while Duggan was fired outright. No other wrestlers were allowed to talk about the incident for years, and Sheik and Duggan themselves were forced to remain quiet about the exact circumstances that sent them behind bars.
5. Jimmy Snuka’s Murder Trial
Whether or not Vince McMahon was personally involved in any way, the murder of Nancy Argentino had huge ramifications for his company. Though it was never officially proven in a court of law, the common belief is that Argentino was killed by her boyfriend, WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka in 1983. Argentino’s parents certainly believed such and managed to win a $500,000 court settlement when a judge decided Snuka was in one way or another responsible for the death. At the time, Snuka was arguably the most popular star in WWE, a position he would maintain until the arrival of Hulk Hogan. For this reason, McMahon became highly interested in his case, showing up at the courthouse and, by Snuka’s own admission, “doing all the talking” with his lawyers. It’s totally possible Vince was, as he’s since argued, simply protecting his employee’s best interests, but the fact WWE continues to ignore the charges against Snuka to this day, long after his death, suggests there may have been more to the story than anyone truly knows for sure.
4. Getting Sued Over Health Care Issues
Another scandal WWE has quietly been sitting on for decades now relates to the fact wrestlers under Vince McMahon’s employ aren’t actually his “employees” per se, but rather “independent contractors” who happen to work for him exclusively. This distinction seems irrelevant on paper, but from a legal standpoint, it’s huge, as it means WWE doesn’t have to pay traditional healthcare benefits. If wrestlers get injured in the ring, they’re covered, but should they get hurt at home or in the gym, they could be without a job or any way to pay for their medical expenses virtually overnight. Several wrestlers have complained about this in the past, most notably CM Punk, who walked out of the company in 2014 over concerns related to this issue. Earlier than that, Raven, Mike Sanders, and Chris Kanyon attempted to file a class-action lawsuit demanding WWE start giving employees real benefits, only for it to be thrown out of court. Even though Vince won that day, he still doesn’t want people talking about it, lest it inspire other wrestlers to try the same thing.
3. Sports Illustrated Notices WWE Superstar Signatures In A Steroid Ring
Vince McMahon, of all people, certainly understands the sting associated with a federal steroid investigation into his trial, which is probably why he got so mad when no less than 10 of his employees were caught in one during the summer of 2007. Over a full decade after McMahon’s own trial, superstars including Rey Mysterio, Booker T, Edge, and William Regal were found on the client list of Signature Pharmacy, a website that illegally sold steroids and other drugs, mostly painkillers, to countless athletes who didn’t have prescriptions. This time around, Vince McMahon himself had no personal involvement in the case, but that didn’t stop his fervor in making sure no one knew about it. Unfortunately, Sports Illustrated found out and investigated deep into the situation, revealing it all in their pages. There was nothing Vince could really do about it, except to move on and pretend it never happened, something he’s largely succeeded at doing.
2. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s Domestic Issues
Callous and cold though it seems to us, the reason Vince McMahon attempted to hide all of these scandals is very simple: he was worried that if the public found out about them, it could affect his bank account. Never was this fear more prevalent than in the case of his Attitude Era golden goose “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Though it may seem like hyperbole today, losing Austin genuinely could’ve meant the entire WWE Universe crumbling apart, something Vince obviously wanted to avoid at all costs even if it meant one of his female employees suffering from spousal abuse, which Austin’s wife at the time, Debra, claimed was the case in their marriage on at least three occasions. Debra claims “everyone” in WWE knew about the abuse, including the McMahon family, who essentially put a gag order on her from ever discussing it publicly. A few years later, the couple divorced almost immediately after Austin walked out on WWE, and Debra finally came forward with public accusations against her ex.
1. Chris Benoit’s Temper And Marriage Troubles
Some stories are far too big for Vince McMahon or any other person, no matter how powerful, to cover them up. This was certainly the case on that horrible June 2007 weekend when Chris Benoit murdered his wife Nancy and son Daniel. However, as the horrid story gradually unfolded, information came to light that put the entire wrestling industry in a dark light. Four full years before he murdered her, Nancy attempted to divorce Benoit due to irreconcilable differences and, more pointedly, Benoit’s extremely violent temper. Not only did Vince McMahon ensure this information was never public; so, too, did all of Benoit’s friends and insiders in the wrestling press, who looked past any questionable behavior due to his considerable talents inside the ring. Once his violence tragically caused the murder of a child, people couldn’t look the other way anymore.
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