On June 17, 2022, Vince McMahon stepped down from his corporate position in WWE as CEO and Chairman. His daughter, Stephanie has been named Interim CEO and will take over day to day running of the company in her father’s absence. McMahon apparently is retaining final say over the creative direction of WWE.
This action came after news broke on June 15th that Vince McMahon was being investigated by WWE’s board of directors over allegations that he paid $3 million to a former employee with whom he had previously had an affair.
It was also noted that the board’s investigation has unearthed older non-disclosure agreements that surround claims of misconduct made by other former female WWE employees that involve both Vince McMahon and WWE’s Head of Talent Relations, John Laurinaitis. The payments reportedly run into the millions of dollars.
McMahon was typically defiant in an appearance on SmackDown! on June 17, in which he referenced WWE’s ‘Now, Then, Forever, Together’ slogan, highlighting the word “together.”
Vince McMahon is no stranger to controversy and this is not the first time he has stepped away from the day to day running of WWE. In 1994, his wife, Linda McMahon assumed the Chairman’s corporate duties while he went on trial for allegedly distributing anabolic steroids to his roster. If convicted, McMahon faced up to 11 years in federal prison.
To rewind; in 1989 Dr George Zahorian had his offices raided and was charged with 15 counts of distribution of controlled substances, including anabolic steroids. Documents were discovered which proved Zahorian had sold steroids to WWF wrestlers and McMahon himself, between 1985 and 1989. The following year, Zahorian was found guilty and jailed. With Zahoran in prison, the United States government set about taking down the WWF owner next.
To combat the bad publicity, McMahon set about shrinking the muscle mass of the WWF roster. The likes of The British Bulldog, Davey Boy Smith, The Warlord and The Ultimate Warrior were out and the slender (in comparison) Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart and Shawn Michaels were suddenly pushed towards the top of the card as his new WWF and Intercontinental Champions.
On November 18, 1993, Vince McMahon was indicted by the US government. He faced two charges or steroid distribution in April and October 1989 and a further charge of conspiring to defraud the US government by impairing its efforts to control the illegal use and distribution of steroids, by supplying them to his roster, in order for them to gain superhuman physiques.
The argument went, that the big muscular bodies parading around WWF rings, convinced thousands of wrestling fans to part with their hard earned dosh to watch McMahon’s cartoon characters come to life compete, live in arenas and on pay-per-view.
Each distribution charge carried a maximum sentence of three years imprisonment and the conspiracy charge carried a five year sentence. All three charges would have seen McMahon forced to also pay a $1 million fine.
With the shocking prospect of a lengthy jail term, McMahon sought to put in practice a succession plan, to run the WWF whilst he was on trial and continue to do so, long term, should he be found guilty.
Whilst McMahon’s wife Linda was drafted in to take care of boardroom matters, as Chairwoman and CEO, McMahon brought in Jeff Jarrett’s father, Head Booker of the USWA, Jerry Jarrett, to take over the creative arm of his company, with long-time associate and play-by-play commentator, Gorilla Monsoon assisting him.
However, to McMahon’s relief, on July 22, 1994, a New York jury found him not guilty of conspiring to distribute steroids. The two charges of distribution had earlier been dropped on July 18, thanks to the testimony of Hulk Hogan (supposedly the prosecution’s key witness), who stated under oath that McMahon had never sold him, or any other wrestler, steroids.
With McMahon exonerated, Jarrett, who had been reluctant to take on the role full-time due to his wish be closer to his family, soon departed and went home. Months later, he also sold his stake in the USWA to Jerry Lawler and Larry Burton and essentially retired from wrestling in a full-time capacity for several years. As a thank you, to agreeing to step in and help keep the WWF afloat, McMahon continued to pay out the remainder of Jarrett’s three-year contract.
Interestingly, in 2022, it is Jarrett’s son, Jeff, who is a prominent member of WWE’s booking committee and has been touted as a possible lead voice on all aspects of creative, should McMahon be forced to resign from that aspect of the company as well.
Back in 1994, the WWF’s parent company, Titan Sports was also levelled with the same charges as McMahon. However, due to McMahon owning 100% of all stock, he and Titan were deemed to be one and the same and therefore he couldn’t be tried twice for the same charges.
In 2022, WWE is public, as has been the case since October 1999. McMahon and his company now have shareholders to keep onside. However, McMahon crucially owns 37.6% of company stock and possesses 80.6% of voting power. By comparison, Stephanie and Linda McMahon own 2.5% and 0.7% of company stock and have 5.2% and 1.6% voting power, respectively.
Although, McMahon does not have the same autonomy he did in 1994, he is still very much commander-in-chief of WWE. As his appearance on the June 17, SmackDown! confirms, McMahon still sees WWE as his future. The steroid trial historically remains the gravest threat to his position, McMahon has ever faced. Time will tell if the current scandal will one day supplant it.