Disclaimer: I am in no way accusing any parties listed of legal wrongdoing. This is an opinion piece in light of the recent Royal Rumble press conference. This is in no way an accusation of guilt, but a personal observation of Levesque’s answers during last night’s press conference.
While many WWE fans will have already taken sides by now (likely against the author of this piece) just by reading the headline, I want to ask readers to keep the following three pieces of information in mind moving forward:
-Paul Levesque is the public executive face of World Wrestling Entertainment.
-Mr. Levesque was on the WWE Board of Directors during the time of the alleged incidents which has now brought forth a lawsuit against McMahon and WWE.
-Many online have also called his PR performance a “bad look”. It’s not just me.
It’s better to acknowledge an ongoing lawsuit and offer a general, but genuine, piped response rather than act like it didn’t even happen. This behavior in itself trivializes the victim, Janel Grant. Levesque sort of made it seem like constantly focusing on the positives of a “great week” for WWE is somehow more important than the founder of the company being accused of sex trafficking, rape, and battery of a former employee.
Let’s call it for what it is: A fumble.
It by no means implicates guilt of Levesque of any connection to the lawsuit itself. But it does raise questions. These questions will be addressed in a coming article where I seek to identify the four “Corporate Officers” in the complaint, as well as other non-parties listed.
But for now, we have to talk about last night…
Part One: Knowledge of McMahon’s Actions
After a softball question from WWE-friendly outlet Sportskeeda, Jon Alba of SNYTV asked the first legitimate question of the CCO:
“It was about a year ago the WWE Board of Directors unanimously opposed Vince’s return to the company as executive chair due to the ongoing investigations at the time before ultimately voting him back into power. You, Stephanie [McMahon], Nick Khan, you were a part of that. What degree of knowledge of the current accusations against him did you guys have at the time and how does the situation affect WWE’s relationship with partners going forward?”
“Look, we just had an amazing week. I just said it, 10-year, $5 billion Netflix deal. The Rock joining our board. We just sold out the Royal Rumble, put 48,000 people into Tropicana Field. I choose to focus on the positive. And yes, there’s a negative. But I want to focus on that and just keep it to that.”
There are allegations of rape and abuse inside of WWE HQ over a span of many years.
Keep in mind that Count V is Negligence against WWE — not just McMahon or Laurinaitis. As the complaint reads:
From Count 5 of Negligence:
“307. WWE has a responsibility and duty as an employer to ensure the safety, protection, and well-being of its employees.
308. Notwithstanding its responsibility and duties, WWE knew, or reckless disregarded, that it was the practice of McMahon and Laurinaitis to entice, recruit, force, and/or coerce women into sexual acts based on the promise of hire, job security and advancement within the WWE, Case 3:24-cv-00090 Document 1 Filed 01/25/24 Page 60 of 67 61 including with respect to Plaintiff. Alternatively, WWE reasonably should have known of these facts under the circumstances.”
The lawsuit details multiple parties that very possibly had some level of knowledge that this was transpiring. This affects sponsors, investors, and most importantly, the talent and staff within the company.
Levesque almost acted like nothing has happened. You can acknowledge a controversial lawsuit while focusing on the positives of the night. Instead, Levesque decided to trivialize Ms. Grant’s experience by dismissing the very reality which clouded the week.
And let’s keep something huge in mind in this context:
According to the lawsuit complaint:
“In November 2022, WWE touted the conclusion of the Special Committee investigation into the misconduct – yet the Special Committee never even bothered to interview Ms. Grant or request any documents despite Ms. Grant stating that she would cooperate.”
He was allegedly a part of the initial investigation into Vince’s misconduct in 2022. And we’re to believe that he not only didn’t know anything was going on, but found nothing of illegality in an internal investigation as well.
Part Two: Safety in WWE Workplace
Cameron Hawkins, from The Ringer, then inquired about what WWE was doing in regards to employee safety in light of the recent allegations and lawsuit.
“I’ll give you the most generalized answer that I can: Everything possible.”
You have allegations of rape, trafficking, and battery at WWE HQ by the founder of the company. Levesque was on the WWE Board of Directors at the time of the alleged incidents. He was possibly involved to some degree in the internal investigations into the matter in 2022.
And this is how he chose to respond to this question.
He could have touted WWE whistleblower policies, or a tried to respond with a general record of safety for past and current WWE employees (something history shows isn’t true).
He could have reassured the public that this matter is being taken seriously. Levesque could have dived into the importance of the safety of talent and staff in WWE. Something. Anything.
Instead, however, he dismisses the entire question in a vague response. It’s a simple question of employer safety, and it was avoided like the plague.
Part Three: Have You Read the Lawsuit?
Brandon Thurston of Wrestlenomics then asked one of the most important questions of the night: If Levesque had read the 67-page complaint attached to the lawsuit.
“I did not.” “I think Cody [Rhodes] mentioned it that we all found out in real-time when you (did) and that’s the truth. I’ll go back to what I said before; this is an amazing week for us. I just at this point, I don’t even want to get bogged down in the negatives of it. I just want to focus on the positives and where we’re going.”
Dave Meltzer said it best via Twitter:
“Your father in law was just accused of sex trafficking and rape. Everyone knows how much I personally like Paul, but this was bad. The most powerful man in the history of the business was just removed in disgrace. This was really bad.”
There is a lawsuit that points to a potentially toxic culture within WWE HQ with a failure to act by past WWE board members. A culture that allegedly failed to protect an employee from being trafficked from the founder of the company, which he may have had some knowledge of.
And his response is that he doesn’t want to get “bogged down by the negatives.”
How deaf do you have to be to give such an insensitive and dismissive answer? There are employees that look up to you, that may have questions regarding this explosive lawsuit. You’re the CCO and public executive face, and you didn’t read the lawsuit which very possibly and indirectly names past WWE board members as part of negligence on behalf of WWE in failure to protect a staff member from being trafficked?
Either he purposely avoided reading it, and that’s just a slap in the face who every employee in WWE if true — or he’s straight up lying. As such a high-ranking official in the company, it is his responsibility to read such a document. Especially if he’s one of the four corporate officers named as a non-party.
If you were an executive of a company, and the founder was accused of sex trafficking right under your nose, and you were possibly indirectly named in the lawsuit itself — you wouldn’t read it?
Vince McMahon resigned in disgrace over allegations of sex trafficking, rape, and battery. Cody Rhodes himself even acknowledged the ‘dark cloud’ hanging over WWE this week earlier in the press conference. There are ways you can reassure the public that this matter is being taken seriously while boasting about the company’s success.
What Levesque ultimately did, however, was a complete minimization of a very serious legal matter. Prepped or not, he knew the questions were coming. And he chose to ignore and dismiss the severity of the lawsuit, act like nothing had happened, and pushed the Netflix deal, The Rock, and the success of the event.
That in itself is a slap in the face to the victim in all of this.
Yes, TKO’s legal counsel likely told him to avoid answering these types of questions at all costs. Remember, eight of the nine counts in the lawsuit are also against WWE; not just McMahon and Laurinaitis. The complaint outlines that those on the board of directors allegedly knew of Vince’s misdeeds, and failed to act.
However, when a response to this is to essentially play dumb to reporters involving allegations that he, or past WWE board members, are quite possibly a part of in some form, it’s not a good look.
In my mind, it only raises more questions in regards to the ongoing lawsuit. It certainly doesn’t paint WWE executives during that time period in a good light, and I question how many of those executives that were around then, are still with the company, and TKO Holdings, now.