An article by Mike Mooneyham
First of a two-part series
Published in 1992
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first 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, which under Vince McMahon took the sport to a new level in the mid-1980s, is facing what could be the most critical time in its existence.
The nation’s biggest wrestling company, which underwent widespread scrutiny with the trial and conviction of Dr. George Zahorian in 1991 for selling anabolic steroids without medical purposes to WWF wrestlers, has confronted allegations of drug abuse, sexual harassment and various other improprieties since that time.
Reports of a Justice Department investigation into the WWF, and company owner Vince McMahon in particular, have further fueled rumors of serious problems at Titan headquarters in Stamford, Conn.
The latest major development – the resignation of McMahon as president of the company – sparked a new wave of speculation. McMahon, however, has retained his position as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the organization.
Linda McMahon, who recently replaced her husband as president of Titan Sports, says she’s angry and disturbed at allegations and charges that have been leveled against the company.
“There is definitely another side of the story to be told,” she said in a recent interview. “At this point we’re outraged at the absolute viciousness of the attacks that have been launched against us. There are a lot of malicious rumors and gossip that float around. I constantly read quotes by folks who would have no attribution made to these quotes. It’s always `officials said’ or unnamed source or unnamed wrestler said.’ We’ve spent a great deal of time investigating and looking into the issues, looking into charges or allegations that have been made, to try to get to the cause or the reasons behind what’s promoting this witch hunt.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]“We’re arriving at some answers. Our attorney, Jerry McDivitt, has launched a lawsuit against Phil Mushnick and the New York Post, as well as Geraldo Rivera and The Tribune Entertainment Co., to address the libel issues on one and to address the emotional distress on the other. It’s not too easy to stand and be attacked with issues and comments and slurs which you know to be untrue and to find yourself in a position of defending allegations which have no merit.”
Mrs. McMahon, who has worked behind the scenes at Titan Sports since her husband assumed power in the early ’80s, called reports that she assumed the presidency in order to deflect negative publicity “almost laughable.”
Speculation has run rampant, however, that the change was made due to ongoing grand jury activities and wrestlers being subpoenaed as part of a reported U.S. Justice Department investigation.
Mrs. McMahon, who was executive vice president of Titan Sports, said the move was simply a logical business decision.
“If you’re a good manager or a good administrator, you take a look at the company and decide if you are running all the departments in the most efficient way,” she said. “Sometimes there are steps you need to take to make it better. We have looked at our company across the board and are doing a great deal of restructuring. Some things aren’t in place yet. It has absolutely nothing to do with any kind of investigation. It is simply a more efficient way to do business. I will be more of an outfront spokesperson for the company. But my actual day-to-day role with the company has changed very little because I’ve pretty much been in charge of the administrative faction for many years.”
Mrs. McMahon, who said she felt her husband would be “absolutely vindicated” when the smoke clears, explained the role she has played in the company for the past 10 years.
“I’ve been executive vice president of Titan Sports since 1982. I have worked side-by-side with Vince and have been one of the architects in growing this business structure that is now Titan Sports. So my role hasn’t changed a great deal. My title has changed to give me an ability to be a little more out front and to deal with more businesses around the country. I’ve always been contented to be behind the scenes and operate as a very quiet vice president. So it’s just time to step to the forefront a little bit. Vince certainly is the chief executive officer and the chairman of the board of Titan Sports and still the creative and dynamic force behind it. There really hasn’t been a transfer of anything. It’s just more of my taking a public stance with the new position.”
Mrs. McMahon decried reports that have put her husband in an unfavorable light.
“It’s a pleasure being married to Vince McMahon,” she said. “He’s a wonderful husband and father. We will have our 27th anniversary this August.”[ad#MikeMooneyham-468×15]
Mrs. McMahon also responded to claims that the WWF has attempted to garner positive media coverage at a time when the organization appeared to be under close scrutiny.
Vince McMahon was honored March 15 by the Michael Landon Foundation for philanthropic contributions to charities, and highlights from the event were aired on WWF telecasts. Mrs. McMahon was recently one of about 100 people, including President Clinton, to receive the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for contributions to society.
The WWF also heavily promoted its “Headlock on Hunger” campaign and benefit show at Madison Square Garden. The program reportedly raised $100,000 for the Somalia relief effort.
“It’s very disconcerting because we had a community relations director in place for years,” said Mrs. McMahon. “If you were to come here and go through the community relations director’s office, look at all the photographs, read all the letters from Make-A-Wish Foundation, March of Dimes, Jerry Lewis Telephon, Boys Clubs of America, the Children’s Leukemia Foundation. We’ve been doing this work for years and years and years. We’ve never been very vocal or very public about it. We felt it was just the right thing to do and we’ve always enjoyed doing it.
“As a matter of fact, as a little aside, George Steinbrenner was at a recent awards ceremony, and George said, `It was such a pleasure to deal with the World Wrestling Federation athletes. Whenever we need somebody to be somewhere for one of the activities, they’re there and are so professional. We really enjoy working with them. Your organization always steps up to the plate and never asks to be paid anything. It’s really a pleasure working with the World Wrestling Federation.’ That’s the reputation we have in the world of charity. We’ve always done it enthusiastically. We’ve never done it with any other motives.
“Some of the charities that we’ve been involved with have on their own made public statements about us. I did not seek an Ellis Island award, Vince did not seek a humanitarian award from the National Leukemia Foundation. These people called us and asked us, told us they would like to honor us. Someone out there is recognizing the works that we’ve done. Our `Headlock on Hunger’ campaign was the most visible thing we’ve done. We felt compelled to make very public that particular charity because we had hoped with the campaign we had launched around the country to raise a significant amount of money to help the hungry and starving people in Somalia.”
Phil Mushnick, whose New York Post column has blasted the WWF and particularly Vince McMahon over the past year and a half, has followed the controversy with headlines such as “WWF’s McMahon Is Lowest Of Low” and “WWF’s Defense Just More Lies.”
Mushnick, in one especially scathing column, wrote, “Never will you encounter a human being more cold-blooded, more devoid of humor and propriety than Vince McMahon, America’s foremost TV babysitter. In your wildest, most twisted dreams, you won’t meet up with the likes of McMahon, a miscreant so practiced in the art of deception, the half-truth and the bald-faced lie as to make the Artful Dodger appear clumsy. A George Steinbrenner or a Don King pale by comparison. Indeed, Hannibal Lecter is the only fictional character who comes close.”
“I think people have finally come to realize what Phil Mushnick’s agenda is,” WWF spokesman Steve Planamenta said in a 1992 interview. “It’s a personal attack against Vince McMahon. He’s made no bones about the fact that he hates Vince McMahon – for no particular reason. He’s never had the guts to meet with Vince McMahon. I think he just doesn’t like what we do and maybe resents Vince’s success.”
Mushnick is presently the target of a WWF lawsuit.
Mrs. McMahon, when asked if she thought Mushnick had a personal vendetta against her husband, replied:
“That’s a question I look forward to asking him when his right hand is raised in the air. I have never talked to him. He’s had one telephone conversation with Vince McMahon, who after he wrote his first couple of articles, Vince called him and said, `Phil, I don’t know what has given you this really bad impression of Titan Sports and the WWF, but I would like to sit down with you and ask me what you want.’ It was about a 15-minute conversation, although Phil said he talked to Vince for hours. It was about 15 minutes. The parting words that Phil used were he told Vince that he ought to get used to eating at MacDonald’s … A real nice guy.
“He’s never met us, he’s never sat down and talked with us. So the reason for his vitriol really eludes us. And he really went over the line of professional journalism, and we felt necessary to take the action we did.”