Eve Torres, a former WWE performer accused Donald Trump on Monday of inappropriate behavior in the workplace stemming from an incident in 2009. The accusation was made by Torres (2/17/20) via her Instagram account. Prior to his current engagement, Donald Trump was a frequent character in WWE story-lines. Unrelated to this story, I don’t cover politics for PSE. Accordingly, I will concentrate my efforts on the facts and business implications for such within WWE. If you aren’t familiar with the Torres’s comments here is what she stated on her personal Instagram account:
“I look forward to having a president who doesn’t grope or objectify women. I have taken pictures with thousands of men at military bases, at WWE events, and signings, and very few have grabbed me and pulled me in as forcefully as he did without knowing me. Of course, at the time I believed it was my job to be eye candy in a photo for this supposed billionaire, and play along. It is actually hard for me to see that photo because it reminds me of my beliefs about my worth at the time. Swipe to see what I mean. Swipe again for a brush up on Creepy Hug Defenses including the Inappropriate Photo Squeeze.”
I have not yet seen a statement from the WWE on the matter, but given Trump’s history of objectifying women and sexual harassment, it doesn’t take a leap of faith to view this news as business as usual for Trump. Further, given the history of WWE’s working relationship with Trump, I wouldn’t be surprised if they took the position that this is something they hope will blow over after a few days.
My coverage of WWE for PSE generally leans toward the business issues that impact their product. Given that approach, let’s first recognize that currently Torres’ comments reflect an unsubstantiated allegation. Further, once the mainstream media begins to dedicate resources to this news, we may hear of other allegations regarding inappropriate behavior at WWE involving female performers. WWE has a long history of objectifying female talent and has not been immune to tabloid headlines in its past. It is important to note that in the last decade WWE has sought to change how women are presented on-screen by focusing more on in-ring skills and wrestling talent. These changes have been significant and should not be ignored when assessing causation of this allegation.
It’s also likely we will hear from Torres or her representatives whether her allegation was reported up the chain within WWE Corporate. Issues of harassment in the workplace are complicated for both the accuser and those who are alleged to have committed the offending act. Sometimes the only evidence of the allegation rests on whether the victim can provide any corroboration from third parties. This usually takes the form of witness accounts, contemporaneous notes or third-party conversations immediately after the incident in question.
It won’t be surprising to learn that WWE has chosen to keep the issue private due to the serious nature of the allegation and the reputations of the parties involved. Claims of harassment in the workplace are mostly governed by state laws, but in some cases, usually involving Title IX matters, federal regulations can apply. It’s also important to recognize that harassment laws often apply to employees, contractors and clients of a given business concern. Torres was not an employee of WWE. Rather she was considered by WWE to be an independent contractor, as are all WWE performers. It is unclear what role Trump was acting in at the time of the alleged incident. But he was most likely acting in the capacity of a contractor or client for WWE in this circumstance.
A contributing concern is that Linda McMahon, wife of WWE CEO Vincent McMahon, was a Trump Administration appointee responsible for the Small Business Administration from 2017 until April 2019. Linda McMahon departed the Trump Administration in April of 2019 to Chair the pro Trump Super PAC, America First Action. Further, according to Wikipedia, the McMahon’s contributed $6 million to a Donald Trump Super PAC, Rebuilding America Now during Trump’s campaign for the presidency in 2016.
Given the business and political entanglements surrounding the multi-layered relationships between Donald Trump and the McMahon’s this matter is certain to generate a ton of heat on WWE. This is not the kind of heat that successful WWE performers generate in the ring. Rather, these are the type of headlines that keep consumers away from live events and watching the onscreen product. In the short term it will be interesting to hear from WWE Corporate. A statement of some sort addressing the controversy is almost perfunctory from Corporate America in circumstances such as these. Following that, next steps will likely involve WWE retaining a PR firm accomplished in crisis management. Further, the idea of the McMahon’s leading a WWE corporate investigation, given their business and political conflicts of interest, seems unlikely. There is a strong likelihood that WWE will have to retain outside legal counsel to dig into the details of the claims made by Torres.
As mentioned earlier in this piece, all we have at the moment is an allegation. There is nothing on the record other than a statement from Torres. It is important that we hear from all parties involved and allow time for the proper people to investigate the matter.
Photo Source: WWE