An article by Mike Mooneyham
Part two of a two-part series
Published in 1992
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a two-part interview with new World Wrestling Federation president Linda McMahon. Mrs. McMahon, whose husband Vince has long been considered the most powerful man in the wrestling business, discusses the state of the company and responds to allegations that have been made against the organization.
The World Wrestling Federation, the nation’s biggest wrestling company, has been rocked in the past year by controversy.
Lawsuits, countersuits and allegations have made headlines outside of the ring, while the in-ring product has fought for its declining share of today’s entertainment dollar.
Linda McMahon, who recently assumed the reigns of the presidency at Titan Sports, the Connecticut-based parent company of the WWF, in a recent interview discussed the charges that have been launched against the WWF and the economic realities of running a multimillion-dollar sports/entertainment business in the ’90s.
The WWF over the past year has been subjected to a variety of claims, some of which have resulted in lawsuits and some of which have been settled out of court. One claim charged that some front-office members sexually harassed employees.
Tom Cole, 22, who worked as a member of the WWF’s ring-assembly crew from 1985 to 1990, told The San Diego Union-Tribune in an article last year that he was sexually harassed by several WWF employees. Cole said he was grabbed in the crotch numerous times by a top WWF official but was scared to report the incident.
Cole, who started working for the WWF in 1985 as a ring boy when he was 13 years old, said the sexual harassment continued unabated until he was fired in February 1992 after rebuffing an advance by another WWF official.
Cole threatened a lawsuit, but he and the WWF reached a settlement after a meeting with WWF owner Vince McMahon.
Cole, who received back pay of $55,000 and was given the chance to return as a member of the ring crew, was also reportedly informed that the three WWF employees whom he accused of harassment had resigned or been suspended.
Cole recently filed a $1.6 million lawsuit against Titan Sports, Pat Patterson (Pierre Clermont), Terry Garvin (Terry Joyal) and Mel Phillips. The suit claims that Titan breached the settle ment agreement by failing to give Cole a tryout as a ring announcer and said Titan has continually attempted to get Cole to go public and retract his sexual abuse and harassment charges.
Phillips, a ring announcer, was released from the company, while Garvin, a road agent, and Patterson, a front-office official, resigned. Patterson later rejoined the company after the initial settlement was reached.
Mrs. McMahon offered the following detailed account into the Cole situation.
“I think Tom is a very confused young man,” said Mrs. McMahon. “Just about a year and a half ago, we heard stories from some of the wrestling newsletters and from the New York Post that a `ring boy,’ as he was categorized at that time, was going to file a lawsuit against the WWF. None of that had ever been brought to our attention. We didn’t know who they were talking about. And we literally spent three weeks trying to get to the bottom of it. We finally found out who Tom Cole was.
“We made contact with his attorney. The day I called his attorney to talk to him, by the time I talked to him that afternoon, he told me he had been fired. A new attorney had been hired in New York City. But our attorney, and Vince and I, met with Tom Cole and his attorney in New York to find what grievance Tom had. We addressed the grievance.
“Basically from all understanding we could get from him, all he wanted was his job back. He wanted to work for the WWF – that’s all he ever wanted to do his whole life. And he’s a young fellow, and we had compassion towards him. We didn’t know at the time, but we thought he was confused, and we did not know if he had suffered some kind of abuse, and we wanted to find out. But at the same time we wanted to do right by him. So we offered to repay him all of the back wages he would have earned had he not been fired by the company, and to give him his job back, with no promises other than he would be treated like anyone else and would be given the opportunity to succeed and to grow within the company. The ball was in his court.
“Tom then came to work for us and said that when he went back on the road again as part of the ring crew, that people started making jokes and doing catcalls at him from the arena, and he came to me and said he was very uncomfortable and just couldn’t be on the road again. He wanted to know if there was a job he could have here at the company. He said he’d scrub the floors, do anything. Well, we just didn’t have a job here for him. But he also indicated to me that he wanted to further his education, and I said, `Tom, if you want an opportunity to grow, this is what we’ll do for you. We will pay your salary that you’re earning now, and we’ll pay for you to go to school.’
“So he enrolled in Westchester County Community College, and this is after a whole series of things in between. We tried to get him to see a psychologist, and I set him up with that, but he never made the appointment. He registered at Westchester to get his associate degree in criminal justice. I talked to this young man as I would my son, and told him how supportive of him we would be. But I did tell him, `Tom, I’ve tried everything I know to try with you,’ and I had a document for him to sign, and I said but if you fail in college, that’s all I can do for you. So he signed the letter.
“A little ways into the semester, he called and said he was having trouble with the course. I told him we could arrange for some special help, and if I got a report that you’re in class and really trying, we’ll take that into consideration. So the semester ended and I got his grades and his attendance report. He failed every subject, and he never went to class. So I just felt he let a golden opportunity slip right through his fingers. The day before we got his grades, we were notified by the Utica Dispatch that he had filed a suit against us. The suit is ludicrous. The allegations that are made in it are just totally unfounded. And Tom has been and continues to be manipulated by his brother Lee Cole. And it’s a tragedy. It’s really a tragedy.[ad#MikeMooneyham-468×15]
Mrs. McMahon, despite Cole’s allegations in his recent lawsuit, said he was given the opportunity to be a ring announcer on two or three different occasions.
“Our agents gave him the opportunity to announce a match and to rehearse in the arena, which is what he had asked to do,” she said. “We gave him that opportunity, but after that he said he didn’t want to be on the road anymore. He just couldn’t be exposed to the fans, and he said some of the wrestlers gave him a hard time, and we said fine, we’ll take you out of that environment.”
Mrs. McMahon also said she now doubts that sexual abuse occurred.
“As I have found out now, no, I don’t. I think he’s very confused. He comes from a very large family. I’ve met a sister who is a very nice woman and gave her the same response that I had given Tom, that he would have every opportunity to succeed provided that he help himself. But when he stopped helping himself, then I would have done all I could to help him. So we spent over a year trying to help him in every way we could.
“Lee Cole was the one who called Phil Muchnick in the beginning and really launched this. He was the coordinator.”
Mrs. McMahon also addressed lawsuits involving two other former WWF wrestlers – The Ultimate Warrior (Jim Hellwig) and Nailz (Kevin Walcholz).
Hellwig, who filed a $5,819,500 lawsuit against McMahon and Titan Sports earlier this year claiming breach of contract among other things, recently withdrew the suit.
“We pointed out to Mr. Hellwig’s lawyer the absolute inaccuracy of the claim that was filed and the misrepresentation that Jim Hellwig made to his attorney,” said Mrs. McMahon. “His attorney withdrew the suit. That’s why it went away. It was withdrawn.”
Kevin Walcholz, who appeared in the WWF as Nailz, made headlines last December when he accused Vince McMahon of assaulting him in a Green Bay, Wis., locker room.
WWF officials who allegedly witnessed the event said it was Walcholz who instigated the attack, and a suit was filed against the wrestler.
“We sued him (Nailz), and depositions will be going forward during the month of July,” said Mrs. McMahon. “I have no idea why he acted that way. He acted like someone who had just gone off the deep end. I’m not quite sure what the motivation was, or what happened, but I can tell you there were several witnesses who saw and heard the attack and know the lack of truthfulness that Kevin reported, and that testimony will be made very clear.”
Mrs. McMahon also said the company has taken steps to upgrade its programming and pump fresh new blood into the organization. Despite declining crowds and the on-again, off-again status of top draw Hulk Hogan, she remained optimistic that the organization will survive the current drought.
“We have certainly reacted here within our company to address the economic realities of the ’90s, which I really do feel have played a good part in family income and the availability of that disposable income to attend live events of any kind. What we’re doing to address the issues which we believe are at our control are to continue to create excitement and entertain ment with our live event programs, new faces, our television programming is going through some new formats such as our Raw program on Monday nights is being well received. It’s a lot of fun. The Saturday morning Mania program, plus our syndicated properties, are also going to get some new formatting. So we’re doing all of these kinds of things, as well as refocusing a lot of our marketing and promotional efforts.”
There are also plans for a new generation of McMahons to enter the wrestling business.
“Our son Shane will graduate from Boston University in December,” said Mrs. McMahon. “He worked as an associate producer in our studios this summer, and he has worked in the company for about the past four years. He has done everything from putting up the ring to working in the warehouse. He has a definite interest. I think it must be born in the McMahon family. Our daughter Stephanie will also be working here for the third summer. She really likes production and a lot of the facets of the business as well. They’re both excited. This really is a family business run by a family for families.”
Where will the WWF be five years down the road?
“It’ll continue to be the dominant leader in sports entertainment around the world,” said Mrs. McMahon. “I would just like it to be known that this is the company that has always looked to provide the best product for not only our television fans, but the fans who come to live events. It is our goal to entertain. It is our goal to always put our best foot forward, which is what we will always continue to do, We put a lot of effort into our creativity. We put a lot of production value and dollars into our product. We’re constantly upgrading everything that we do. And we want to continue to take the pulse of the fans and to provide the kind of entertainment that they want to see.”