WWE founder and CEO Vince McMahon has “voluntarily stepped back” from his roles as CEO and chairman of the sports entertainment powerhouse amid an “investigation into alleged misconduct” by him and John Laurinaitis, head of talent relations.
“McMahon will retain his role and responsibilities related to WWE’s creative content during this period and remains committed to cooperating with the review underway,” the company said. A special committee of the board is handling the probe. It has appointed McMahon’s daughter Stephanie to serve as interim CEO and interim chairwoman, WWE also said on Friday.
The Wall Street Journal had reported of multi-million dollar hush money payments paid to women who allegedly had sexual relationships with McMahon. The allegations were spurred on after the board was contacted by someone who knew an employee who left the company earlier this year and who received a $3 million payment. It subsequently covered other payments and legal agreements with other women, according to the report.
Laurinaitis previously wrestled under the stage name Johnny Ace. McMahon has also appeared for decades on WWE programming in character.
“I have pledged my complete cooperation to the investigation by the special committee, and I will do everything possible to support the investigation. I have also pledged to accept the findings and outcome of the investigation, whatever they are,” said Vince McMahon.
“WWE and its board of directors take all allegations of misconduct very seriously,” the firm said. “The independent directors of the board engaged independent legal counsel to assist them with an independent review. In addition, the special committee and WWE will work with an independent third-party to conduct a comprehensive review of the company’s compliance program, HR function and overall culture.”
The company said that it and the board “do not expect to have further comment until the investigation is concluded.”
McMahon and his family effectively control the WWE through their ownership of Class B shares, though the company is publicly traded. McMahon is married to Linda McMahon, the former CEO of the company, and administrator of the Small Business Administration when President Trump was in office. Her daughter Ella Stephanie was, until recently, the chief brand officer of the company, with her husband Ella, former wrestler Paul “HHH” Levesque also serving as an executive with the firm.
“I love this company and am committed to working with the independent directors to strengthen our culture and our company; it is extremely important to me that we have a safe and collaborative workplace,” Stephanie McMahon said. “I have committed to doing everything in my power to help the special committee complete its work, including marshaling the cooperation of the entire company to assist in the completion of the investigation and to implement its findings.”
The WWE has TV deals with NBCUniversal (Raw airs on USA Network, and Peacock has the rights to its premium events like Wrestlemania) and Fox Corp., (which airs smackdown). It has also expanded its programming to other outlets, with A & E ordering a slate of WWE-themed programming, and Netflix set to run a docuseries based on McMahon’s life of him.
Vince and Linda McMahon founded the company that became WWE in 1980 (McMahon’s father had been running wrestling promotions since the 1950s), and have led it ever since.