McMahon, 78, is the most influential figure in the history of professional wrestling. He is not just the co-founder, along with his wife, Linda, of the company that would become WWE, nor a simple corporate executive. He is the person most responsible for transforming wrestling from a sleepy regional entertainment product to a globally televised spectacle.
He also appeared in the ring for decades and is as well known as wrestlers such as “The Rock” and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. In the 1990s, he adopted an arrogant and dictatorial alter ego in the ring who yelled at wrestlers and was the headliner at pay-per-view events. Well into this decade, Mr. McMahon retained control over WWE’s creative direction.
However, for almost as long, McMahon has faced allegations of sexual misconduct, which he has repeatedly publicly denied. In 1992, for example, Rita Chatterton, who had been a wrestling referee, said in the “Geraldo” talk show that Mr. McMahon had raped her in 1986. (Mr. McMahon and Ms. Chatterton reached an agreement in 2022, according to The Wall Street Journal).
Meanwhile, WWE made the sexualized treatment of women a central part of its brand. In 2003, the company started the “WWE Diva Search,” a competition to find female performers who would sometimes wrestle. Physical appearance and low-cut blouses were a explicit part of the appeal. McMahon also filmed fictional promos with his real-life daughter, Stephanie McMahon, a longtime WWE executive and wrestler, in which McMahon’s character made lewd accusations about her father’s character.
“Every time I went out to dinner with one of your business partners, I was 17, don’t you think they told me what you promised them I would do,” Ms. McMahon asked him. in one of the promotionswhich was broadcast on television during the games.