AEW All In’s drop count was 72,265, according to local government

In response to a public records request about the attendance for AEW All In on August 27, the Freedom of Information office for the Brent Civic Centre responded today:

“The actual numbers registered entering [Wembley] Stadium through the turnstiles was 72,265 – this is reflective of what attended on the night and not the total number of tickets sold or no-shows etc.”

AEW announced the paid attendance for the event was 81,035, and called it a new worldwide record for pro wrestling.

The final estimate from WrestleTix of tickets distributed for All In was 83,131.

Wrestlenomics was told by a source that a typical AEW event has a drop count (also known as a “turnstile count”) that is about 80% to 90% of the paid attendance or tickets distributed. In this case, 72,265 is 87% of 83,131 (estimated tickets distributed) and 89% of 81,035 (announced paid attendance).

“Turnstile count” or “drop count” simply refers to the number of tickets scanned as attendees enter the building, not necessarily as they go through physical turnstiles which many venues don’t use.

The turnstile count for WWE’s Wrestlemania 32 in 2016 in Arlington, Texas, was higher than All In’s number. The number of fans who entered the building for Wrestlemania 32 was 80,709, according to the Arlington Police, a number more than 8,000 higher than 72,265.

It’s unclear how suite attendees may weigh into the numbers for either event.

WWE’s public disclosures of quarterly average attendance (reported both with and without Wrestlemania) put the range for Wrestlemania 32’s paid attendance somewhere between 73,711 and 85,888. WWE famously announced 101,763 attendees, a number Vince McMahon later admitted included “ushers and ticket takers and all of that”. Nonetheless, it’s unclear whether All In 2023 or Wrestlemania 32 had the higher number of ticket sales.

Wrestlemania 3 in Pontiac, Michigan in 1987 is in the conversation, too, for verifiable most-attended pro wrestling events ever — outside of North Korea. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported paid attendance for Wrestlemania 3 was 75,800 and total attendance was about 78,000. Though, if the event was a sell-out, I believe the number could be higher.

The request and response related to All In can be read on, a website that helps visitors request information from United Kingdom government entities. You can find at least one other case on the site, from 2018, when the same government entity provided an attendance number for an event at Wembley Stadium.

The Brent Civic Centre provides public services for the Brent London Borough, where Wembley Stadium is located.

The following edits were made on Sept. 14, 2023: 1) A paragraph was added explaining the meaning of “turnstile count”. 2) 72,265 as a percentage of tickets distributed (83,131) was corrected to 87%; it was previously incorrectly represented as 89%, which is the drop count (72,265) as a percentage of announced paid attendance (81,035).

Brandon Thurston

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.

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Lawsuit filed over merchandising rights to Luchasaurus mask design (Updated Apr 10)

Original article posted January 26, 2023.

Click here to jump to updates on this case posted at the bottom of this article

A lawsuit was filed last month over the mask design used by AEW wrestler Luchasaurus. 

Composite Effects, LLC made a legal complaint, dated December 20, against All Elite Wrestling and Austin Matelson, claiming that AEW and Matelson, who performs as Luchasaurus, are using a copyrighted mask design for merchandising purposes without the designer’s permission. The Louisiana-based designer states that it “owns licensing and design rights on all of our characters.”

“Matelson was entitled to use the mask in events as a wrestler,” the plaintiff wrote, “but neither he nor anyone acting on his behalf was entitled to create merchandise that incorporated the mask design.”

The lawsuit shows various examples of the mask depicted in AEW’s merchandise advertisements, including T-shirts and action figures, which the design company claims infringe on its copyright.

Matelson worked with Composite Effects (abbreviated as CFX) initially around December 2016 to have a modified version made of the design CFX calls “Viper Silicone Mask”, according to the complaint. The mask was modified again for the wrestler in March 2019, just months before AEW’s first live events, to add horns to the mask.

When CFX learned that Matelson signed with AEW in 2019, the company tried to come to a licensing agreement with him, according to email records included with the lawsuit.

Later, in February 2021, CFX and AEW personnel began communicating about a new custom mask, which AEW bought the rights to, and which the plaintiff stated was shipped in August 2021. However, the custom mask wasn’t used much, if at all.

“Hey man thanks for the work on the new mask but after getting a look of it on my face Tony and I agreed my current mask is just too iconic at this point and we can’t change the face,” Matelson wrote, according to emails provided as exhibits by CFX. Matelson apparently was referring to Tony Khan, CEO of AEW.

CFX says it wrote subsequent messages in 2022 to AEW and Matelson asking them to stop using the design or come to a licensing agreement, but no deal was made and the design continued to be used in AEW merchandise.

The plaintiff also included a written declaration from another designer, George Frangadakis, who CFX says was approached by Matelson in January 2022 to create a mask similar to the design that CFX holds the copyright to.

Matelson and an associate known merely as “Jett” wanted “a near replica of CFX’s custom-designed mask,” according to the statement signed by Frangadakis.

“It was clear that there were legal issues that needed to be handled prior to my designing a new mask for Matelson,” Frangadakis wrote.

Frangadakis’s statement says he offered to create a new mask that didn’t resemble the CFX design, but he wasn’t contacted again by Jett or Matelson.

A certificate of registration for the design referred to as “Viper Silicone Mask” was included as an exhibit with the complaint.

Composite Effects is seeking profits AEW has made related to the alleged infringement, other damages sustained as a result, and attorneys’ fees.

We contacted AEW officials for comment but haven’t yet received a response.

Composite Effects is being represented by Kean Miller LLP.

The case is filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, where CFX is based.

Update February 7, 2023:

AEW requested on February 1 an extension to respond to the complaint by February 22. AEW’s request was approved by Judge Eldon E. Fallon on February 2. AEW is represented by Brad Harrigan from New Orleans-based law firm Tolar Harrigan & Morris LLC. Harrigan also submitted a motion on February 1 for Indiana lawyer Bradley Stohry, from Reichel Stohry Dean LLP, to represent AEW in Louisiana.

Update February 17, 2023:

AEW requested an extension to March 21 to respond to the complaint from Composite Effects, consistent with the deadline for Austin Mattelson (Luchasaurus) to respond. Composite Effects consented to the extension, according to the statement.

Update February 23, 2023:

On February 22, the judge in the case, Eldon E. Fallon approved AEW’s request to have an extension to respond by March 21, according to a filing.

Update March 21, 2023:

AEW moved today to dismiss five of the six counts raised by Composite Effects. AEW’s lawyer said the company will answer the remaining count after a decision is made on this motion.

AEW argued the five counts it says should be dismissed first either fail to make a viable claim or are preempted by the Copyright Act.

Later in the day Composite Effects (CFX) filed a proposed amended complaint, alleging Matelson had another mask maker create a similar mask that infringes on their copyrighted work, which CFX said is a breach of contract.

Update March 23, 2023:

A pro hac vice motion was submitted on March 22 for Austin Matelson (Luchasaurus) to have his own attorney in this case. Ohio lawyer Matthew T. Kemp has moved to represent Matelson in Louisiana.

Kemp is with the law firm, Shumaker Loop & Kendrick in Toledo, Ohio. That happens to be the firm Mike Dockins is from, the trademark lawyer who works with many wrestlers.

Pro hac vice is a common motion used to admit a lawyer who is licensed in another state but not in the case’s jurisdiction.

Update April 10, 2023:

On March 24, Judge Fallon approved the filing into the record of Composite Effects’ (CFX’s) amended complaint.

On April 7, lawyers representing Austin Matelson (Luchasaurus) submitted a motion to dismiss CFX’s complaint based on failure to state a claim.

Matelson’s attorneys wrote that CFX fails to plausibly allege that the modified versions of the Luchasaurus mask are “substantially similar” to the “Viper Silicone Mask” that CFX claims as its copyright.

Substantial similarity is defined, according to the attorneys who cite case law, as a similarity by which “an ‘ordinary observer, unless he set out to detect the disparities, would be disposed to overlook them, and regard [the] aesthetic appeal as the same.'”

Portion of the defendant’s motion to dismiss. First row: Three modified versions of the Luchasaurus mask; Second row: The “Viper Silicone Mask” that CFX claims as its copyrighted work.

At Matelson’s request, the Viper Silicon Mask was modified by CFX in or around December 2016. In March 2019, another modification was made to add horns.

“It is evident from these pictures that the Luchasaurus Mask differs from the Copyright Work in much more than simply the addition of horns,” Matelson’s lawyers argued. “Most obviously, the Luchasaurus Mask is an entirely different shape, covering only the front part of the face above the mouth, rather than covering the full head with a cowl extending to the shoulders.”

Matelson later had a third version of the mask made by a different mask maker, the “Olaja Mask”, seen on the far right in the first row of the image above, which the wrestler’s attorneys said has even more differences than earlier iterations of the design. The shape and placement of scales are different, his lawyers say, as well as a difference in the mouth hole shape, and the presence of raised cheek ridges.

On the subject of breach of contract, Matelson’s representatives said, “[T]here is no allegation that Matelson–by engaging in two custom sales transactions with CFX–agreed to be bound by the general terms and conditions displayed on CFX’s website.”

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.

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Opinion: What AEW could learn from ADKAR

“Determine what behaviors and beliefs you value as a company, and have everyone live true to them. These behaviors and beliefs should be so essential to your core, that you don’t even think of it as culture.” – Brittany Forsyth

Last month, I wrote an article where I addressed the potential for toxic positivity existing in AEW. I did not quite understand the extent of it until I watched the AEW All Out post show press conference on September 4. I came to the conclusion that it’s worse than I originally thought after listening to the comments of CM Punk, and then hearing that after the press conference there was a violent outbreak. 

On September 7, Tony Khan announced that the world title and the newly-minted trios titles were vacated. It was reported by Sports Illustrated that all parties involved in the alleged melee; including CM Punk, Kenny Omega, and both the Young Bucks; were suspended. Needless to say, AEW has a few problems.

The signs were always present. When AEW became a viable alternative to WWE and an attractive destination for wrestlers, for all praises that were sung for AEW, there were people in the background, like Brian Cage and Joey Janela, who, while they didn’t outwardly bash AEW, seemed to not be creatively fulfilled.

In business psychology, one of the tools taught to organizational leaders when things start to go awry is the Prosci ADKAR Model. It’s an important model to look at when the toxicity of an organization has spilled over into the public and is no longer simply an “in-house” issue. ADKAR uses five building blocks for successful change: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement. 

ADKAR methodology is usually associated with managers, but it can be used to improve overall culture. In this article, I am going to go over each step in the process to examine AEW.

Awareness – of the need for change. The first major component to the Prosci ADKAR methodology is the understanding that changes in the organization have to happen. One can hardly watch the All Out press conference and assume anything other than AEW has issues. From my vantage point, it’s got more issues than a subscription to The New York Times. Their world champion CM Punk went on an expletive-filled rant about the EVPs of the company, Colt Cabana (referred to in the press conference by his real name, Scott Colton), and Hangman Adam Page. Punk said:

“It’s 2022! I haven’t been friends with this guy [Cabana] since at least 2014/late-2013, and the fact that I have to sit up here because we have irresponsible people who call themselves EVPs, and couldn’t fucking manage a Target, and they spread lies and bullshit and put [it out in the] media that I got somebody fired when I have fuck all to do with him, want nothing to do with him, do not care where he works, where he doesn’t work, where he eats, where he sleeps. And the fact that I have to get up here and do this in 2022 is fucking embarrassing.” 

He said all this while eating breakfast pastries.

The part I find the most amusing about this rant is Punk laments needing to “have to” talk about Cabana, when no one at this particularly press event asked Punk about Cabana. Punk interrupted before the first question of the scrum could be asked and went into his tirade. Anyway, I digress. 

Whether one likes Punk or not, this complaint speaks volumes to a management problem in AEW and there is at least one wrestler who is publicly implying that he has no respect for management. Khan needs to examine this thoroughly. Punk’s rant was unprofessional and wrong, but before we go blaming him and dubbing him the cancer in this situation, Khan needs to sit down with every single person on his roster to see who or what is the problem in this company and why it has gotten so bad that it has spilled over to the public. Prosci maintains that the ADKAR Methodology is based on the understanding that organizational change can only happen when individuals change. 

The question Khan has to ask himself is, “Did CM Punk join AEW and introduce this toxic behavior to the locker room?” or “Did this toxic behavior in the AEW locker room already exist and Punk just shined a light on it?”

From there, he can determine if the goals of people in the locker room are congruent with the organizational goals of AEW as a whole. If the individuals involved in the backstage altercation do not have goals that are aligned with the companies, this means that they are not a good fit for AEW, which brings me too…

Desire – to participate in and support change. This step is important in the ADKAR process because it gets rid of all of the bad apples that do not want to be there. For a lot of people, change is scary. The fear of change is why a lot of people stay in loveless marriages or jobs that they hate. Moreover, humans are wired to fear change. For the Bucks, Page, and Omega, they have been operating one way in AEW that they have been used to and were comfortable with. For Punk, he has made clear that there are certain individuals that he does not like. If all of these individuals are to maintain their influence in AEW they will need to have a desire to change and get over whatever egos that they may have. They will have to want to change.

Knowledge – on how to change. Outside of just AEW, I often wonder who wrestling companies defer to when talent is dealing with mental health issues. From a historical standpoint, while there have been successful wrestlers who have retired and have meaningful lives once their careers are done, there are plenty who have died early, get incarcerated, and seemingly do not know what to do once they are out of the limelight. I believe a lot of these issues come from the fact that wrestling is a bottom line business. Promoters pay close attention to who is drawing, who is selling merchandise, and what wrestlers have the highest ratings when they are on screen. It would behoove all wrestling companies to hire Industrial and Organizational Psychologists or I/O Psychologists. It’s the job of I/O psychologists to understand what is going on with individuals in the companies, through interviews, questionnaires, and observations. 

As soon as the All Out press conference ended, I started seeing memes across the internet of Khan looking confused and disheveled after Punk’s rant. What I found the saddest about all of this is, I seriously doubt that he saw it coming. To fully understand the knowledge milestone in ADKAR, Khan is going to have to hire people to do necessary research and actually get to know his talent, who will maintain the anonymity but will report common complaints.

Ability – to implement desired skills and behaviors. This milestone in the process comes when people in the organization have the ability to implement change once other steps have been completed. The toxicity that AEW is experiencing did not happen overnight. It didn’t even begin when CM Punk joined AEW or when Cody Rhodes quit AEW. The potential for this chaos in AEW existed the minute Khan came up with the idea of starting the company. Since AEW is still in its infancy, these negative behaviors are not yet baked in and can change if the individuals in the company want and desire change. 

Reinforcement – to sustain the change. Finally, the ADKAR methodology understands that it’s easy for an organization to jump back into bad habits. Some of these bad habits in wrestling have been going on for decades. There are plenty of wrestlers historically who have relished and even celebrated bad behavior. I do think that is starting to change, but old habits die hard. AEW needs to make clear to talent that these public call outs and people going into business for themselves in promos will not be tolerated by anyone.

Khan actually set a precedent against this by doing things like publicly tweeting why he got rid of Big Swole. He set the stage for “call out” culture where talent goes public rather than keeping discontent in-house. 


Somewhere along the way, Khan lost control and it resulted in a culture of disrespect among top talent in the company, which will continue to spill over to other talent if it’s not addressed. I believe that blame in this situation can be easily spread. I think Khan hired the EVPs because they could interact with other talent in a relatable way. 

I don’t think anyone in this situation has to be fired, including Punk. However, if this conflict results in litigation, then all bets are off. 

I don’t think the EVPs titles should take away because this is their first true test. I believe if they survive this, they will become better EVPs, as the mettle of management is tested in bad times, not good.

Kristoffer Ealy is a political science professor and business psychologist with a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership. He co-hosts the Nubian Wrestling Advocates podcast on POST Wrestling.

What it’s like to attend a Tony Khan media scrum

On Saturday, I got the chance to participate in the media scrum following Ring of Honor’s Death Before Dishonor event in Lowell, Massachusetts. I know that there has been a lot of interest in these scrums ever since AEW started doing them after their major events, so people might be interested in what the experience is like. I decided to chronicle my experience and provide some thoughts and insights to the public on what participating in the scrum is like, as well as potential ways to make the experience better for everyone involved. 

For starters, the event isn’t really a media scrum. A media scrum is typically somewhat informal and spontaneous, with one person standing and answering questions while media members jostle around to get the best position to stick their recording device close to the interview subject. The post-AEW/ROH events are much more like press conferences. They are organized, public relations staff assist in organizing the questions from the media, everyone is sitting down, etc.

How to participate is straight-forward; if you have been approved for a media credential, when you pick it up before the show, a staff member will instruct you where to meet up after the show. In the case of Death Before Dishonor, the meeting place was right behind the section where the media was sitting. A member of the PR staff led us down a hallway into a small conference room, where a podium had been set up for Tony Khan and talent to speak.

When Khan (and whatever talent arrives with him) is there, media members take turns asking questions. To get in the queue to ask questions, you must signal to one of the PR staff members who are passing around the microphone. This can be somewhat challenging, since the pace of how Khan and his wrestlers tend to go through their questions is slow, meaning that a backlog of people waiting in the queue to ask a question builds up quickly. You may find yourself bumped in the order as it can be hard to keep track exactly when it is your turn. 

The advice I’d give to people is to continue to remind the PR staff that you would like to ask a question. This is very much a “squeaky wheel gets the grease” situation, and it never hurts to be aggressive in reminding people that you would like to go next.

For Death Before Dishonor, it was a smaller crowd of media members than for AEW PPV events. There were approximately ten people at the presser; Nick Hausman of WrestlingINC was the only person I know for a fact who flew in for the show. The rest of the group was made up of some national outlets that had local people on their staff (e.g., Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated, Liam Crowley of as well as some local sports media that occasionally dabble in wrestling coverage.

During the presser you are pretty much free to ask any questions that you want. There is no vetting of questions beforehand, so media members are free to fire away. I asked two questions during the presser, and while I would have liked to have gotten more questions in, I was at least satisfied with my experience. 

The first question I asked was for Claudio Castignoli, which was about if he felt like he had more in-the-ring freedom working in AEW and ROH, as opposed to WWE. After pausing for a second and making an incredulous face, Castignoli did give what I would consider a substantial answer.

The second question I had was for Khan, which asked if we would ever see The Briscoe Brothers on Dynamite or Rampage. Khan declined to give a straight answer, saying that he “doesn’t know” if they will ever appear in AEW, but said they’d be a big part of ROH. 

While Khan declined to give a definitive answer, he essentially did give us one. There has been speculation online that The Briscoes have not been able to appear on Dynamite or Rampage due to controversy surronding Jay Briscoe and a homophobic tweet he made in 2013. This speculation has been fueled by their noticeable absence in the build-up to Death Before Dishonor, since they were in the main event of the show against FTR. By declining to give a clear answer and saying that he “doesn’t know”, Khan, who we are led to believe controls every aspect of what appears on AEW television, is giving the indication that The Briscoes will not be on AEW TV going forward. 

The response was about what I expected. I did not expect Khan to give a definitive answer, since if our suspicions are correct, he isn’t going to acknowledge that Jay Briscoe may be problematic. Public figures are not obligated to give great, clear answers when the media asks them a question; it is up to the media and the public to decipher what something means based on the evidence that we have.

On social media there is a lot of frustration with the kinds of questions that are being asked during the pressers. I fully understand that frustration; and at times during the presser I was annoyed by some of the questions, particularly the ones that are kayfabe-based, or ones that are compliments of the show disguised as questions.

What I think is helpful to keep in mind is that media members have different interests in the kinds of questions they are asking. Some outlets are looking for comments on kayfabe storylines or angles, searching for news headlines like, “Claudio Castignoli says he is going to defend the ROH World Championship again at  ____” . Others might be writing feature stories and looking for quotes on certain subjects to round out their articles.

As a representative of Wrestlenomics, I knew my questions had to be fact-based and oriented on the more serious side. Personally, I think the pressers would be a lot more interesting if the kayfabe questions were dumped entirely; the pressers are too good of an opportunity with one of the most powerful individuals in wrestling, as well as numerous top performers being available for questions, to be wasted by asking kayfabe-based questions, or complimenting the people on their performances. However, I understand that there is a market for kayfabe-based comments and “soft news” and those questions will always be a part of the pressers.

I do think there should be more people at the pressers pushing for real information. The conduct of some members of the media is questionable. Before the presser started, I heard one media member loudly talking about how people on social media complain about the media not asking “tough questions”, and stated that you simply cannot do that. The individual then said that if Vince McMahon was in front of them at a presser, they would obviously not ask McMahon about the recent NDA scandals.

That shows the difference in mentality between the various members of the wrestling media. To me, not asking Vince McMahon about the scandals if presented with an opportunity to do so would be a complete dereliction of your duty as a member of the press. To other people, it’s a toxic idea, something to steer clear of at all costs for fear of ruining a relationship with sources. My response to that would be how valuable of a relationship do you have with a source if you are not allowed to ask them the most important questions?

There is also a tendency for some people to include their own opinions before asking a question, things such as, “I think that was a great match. What do you think (wrestler X)?” 

Not only are these questions boring, they also pose an ethical dilemma. By asserting your own (favorable) opinion into the question, you are admitting a clear bias towards a particular response, something that reporters should steer clear from.

Why do people choose to insert their own views into the presser? One explanation is that they are afraid of having a negative relationship with the person they are interviewing, such as a wrestler they like. By prefacing a question with a compliment, they are indicating that they are a fan of the wrestler, and that the wrestler should appreciate them for saying they had a great match or whatever. 

Another explanation is that the line between analysts and reporters in wrestling media (and in all media) has been blurred. For many people in the presser, if they were not attending the presser they would either be writing reviews online of the show or hosting a podcast reviewing the pay-per-view. I suppose that can translate to people assuming it’s common to add a little of their opinion into their questions. Either way, I think it would be an improvement if the media attempted to have a more publicly unbiased disposition when asking questions to the talent (and please, hold your applause).

On the AEW side of things, there was one major negative. At one point during the presser, while Wheeler Yuta was fielding questions, Daniel Garcia came in and shot an angle, interrupting Yuta and complaining about how he lost his match. He was ushered out by security and that was the end of it. The whole thing lasted under one minute. 

I understand why AEW/ROH does things like that; it makes the show feel more “real” and Garcia was very good in the angle. However, I’m here to do a serious job based on real issues, and I don’t like being used as a prop for a wrestling angle. My time is more valuable than that, and I’m not interested in being part of the show. It also creates an awkward transition where Yuta and Castignoli had to react in kayfabe for a minute before going back to answer real questions.

In my experience, AEW/ROH does a pretty honest job with the press conferences. They are much more media-friendly in this environment than WWE ever is. You are allowed to fire away with any question you can come up with, and even if Khan or the wrestlers decline to say anything substantial, you at least are able to get those answers publicly on the record, something that is almost non-existent in wrestling coverage.

The pressers can be improved the most by the wrestling media taking itself more seriously. If more media members were committed to asking real, honest questions and gathering relevant information, as well as being willing to be a little tough sometimes and not shy away from the hard questions, the experience would be improved across the board. 

We would get way more relevant information out of the subjects, and it would also create an environment where the media supports each other more, since people can ask follow-up questions if they feel like a previous question was not answered in a satisfactory manner. It is difficult to do that when we are bouncing between honest questions and kayfabe commentary.

Lastly, I’d add that if you ever have the chance to attend an AEW event as a member of the media, I strongly suggest you go. The coolest thing about it is getting to meet other media members in-person, and network a bit. Wrestling media is a very isolated job. Most people work out of their homes and only communicate digitally with their colleagues. Major events with media coverage allow people to meet up with one another, share thoughts and ideas, and promote a healthier media environment.

Jesse Collings is a writer and reporter who has written for WrestlingINC, Voices of Wrestling, and other outlets. He is currently a reporter for Gannett/USA Today.

We’re in this together, right?

“A press that is free to investigate and criticize the government is absolutely essential in a nation that practices self-government and is therefore dependent on an educated and enlightened citizenry.” – Thomas Jefferson

This quote from Jefferson is still relevant in 2022, perhaps now more than ever. In the wake of the latest scandal involving Vince McMahon, I have given a great deal of thought to wrestling’s relationship with wrestling media and the mainstream media.

I have been following wrestling media since I was in high school. While most of my friends stopped caring about wrestling as they got older, I stayed a fan. Full disclosure, I probably would not be such an ardent wrestling fan for as long as I have been one if it wasn’t for guys like Dave Meltzer or Wade Keller. As far as I am concerned, sometimes the behind-the-scenes stuff is more intriguing than the stuff that goes on in front of the camera in wrestling. For example, I care way more about how the backstage drama with Naomi and Sasha Banks will play out than I care about who’s going to be the next member of Maximum Male Models.

Additionally, the recent news of Vince McMahon allegedly engaging in sexual relationships with a former paralegal and other women under his employ in his company — allegations that include sexual coercion and sexual harassment — has me thinking about the way mainstream media covers wrestling.

There was an episode of Dark Side of the Ring, airing on Vice last September, where the topic was the now infamous ”Plane Ride from Hell”. In this episode, wrestling personalities like Tommy Dreamer, Rob Van Dam, Terri Runnels, Jim Ross, and others were documented by producers Evan Husney and Jason Eisner talking about an infamous plane ride where the passengers got belligerently drunk and caused hell for the flight attendants and others on the flight. This plane ride was so infamous that it got Curt Hennig and Scott Hall fired almost immediately and, almost twenty years later, Tommy Dreamer was suspended from his duties on Impact Wrestling and Busted Open for brushing off allegations from flight attendant Heidi Doyle, that Ric Flair flashed himself in front of her and forced her to touch his penis on this now infamous plane ride.

This brings me back to the Jefferson quote. The relationships between media and politicians has always been a complicated one with a lot of layers. The same can be said about wrestling media and wrestlers. As with the media and politics, the job of wrestling media is to be a check on the wrestling industry and help unblur the lines between rumor and reality. The media is often nicknamed “the fourth branch of government” (in addition to the executive, legislative, and judicial branches) because the media exists to make sure that political actors are being honest and giving the public the truth, whether we want to hear the truth or not. It is important for me to illustrate the complicated relationship between media and politicians to underscore why I believe wrestling media’s relationship with promoters and wrestlers have similar complications.

From Watergate to “fake news”

In the 1960s President John F. Kennedy had a media image of a devoted family man. While this might be true on the surface, it had been rumored as early as 1962 that Kennedy was a notorious philanderer and had multiple affairs with women of note, like Marilyn Monroe.

There is much speculation as to why the media did not run with this rumored affair of JFK and Monroe. One of the most prevailing thoughts is that because there was no hard evidence. Outside of eyewitness accounts to suggest that JFK and Monroe were romantically linked, the media did not want to report on mere speculation. Another reason why the media might have protected JFK is because many in the media felt that the president’s reputation should be protected at all costs by the media during this time.

Fast forward to Richard Nixon. In 1972 journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered what is now known as the Watergate scandal, which included audiotapes of Nixon conspiring with Bob Halderman about the break-in at the Watergate Hotel. What made this scandal unique is the hard evidence it produced in the form of audio tapes. Woodward and Bernstein had to make an ethical decision: Should they report the evidence they have or should they protect Nixon?

Fast forward to President Bill Clinton in the 1990s and his multitude of extramarital encounters that included famous WrestleMania 14 alumnus Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, etc. The mainstream media not only reported on all of Clinton’s philandering, it was sensationalized.

Since the advent of social media, the relationships between media and politicians have been turned upside down. So much so, that two former presidents have used Twitter to generate media buzz. When Barack Obama announced who his running mate in 2008 would be, he did so via Twitter. Donald Trump has also openly admitted how he used Twitter to generate media buzz to help him win the presidency in 2016. Like with these former presidents, Twitter has given wrestlers a chance to take control over their own narratives.

Outside of being a former president and media star, Trump is also famous for how he was able to bypass the checks and balances of the media, and proclaim on a huge platform that any negative story he was involved in was “fake news”. People laughed at this until he was able to rally up a group of his faithful supporters in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021. What followed was a disgusting display of rebellion and a complete disregard for the law. At the cornerstone of all this is Trump discrediting the media to garner public distrust and disdain for the media.

Antinomy of the liar

So how is this similar to wrestling? Well, Trump was able to use the public’s natural distrust for media outlets to build up his supporter base. This has been referred to by psychologists as antinomy of the liar or simply a false dichotomy. The general premise behind this fallacy is the notion: “If I tell you that I am lying, am I really lying?” For someone like Donald Trump, who will outright say anything he wants, no matter if it is a lie or not, to a lot of his followers, he will come across as honest since he has no filter and others in the same political space that he is in do have filters. Essentially it is a fallacy that can be used to garner distrust of media outlets and trust for himself.

Following the earlier report of alleged misconduct by Vince McMahon, in June, he made a grandiose appearance on the June 17 edition of Smackdown on Fox where he reminded fans of WWE’s signature tagline: ”then, now, together, forever”. He also appeared on the next Monday’s Raw in a similar grandstanding gesture. The unassuming WWE fan might come to the conclusion that, well, since he is this bold in the middle of this huge scandal, he’s at least more honest than the media. Those fans who truly believe in the aforementioned tagline might fully embrace that not-so-subliminal message that an attack on Vince McMahon is an attack on them as fans, similar to the way Trump was able to convince his supporters that the election wasn’t just stolen from him but from everyone who voted for him.

To mainstream media, the thought might be, “Well, this is just fake wrestling and who cares what Vince McMahon does?” This was evident when CNN’s Jake Tapper scoffed at the announcement that McMahon was going to appear on Smackdown a mere two days after news of the scandal broke, when Tapper dismissively said, “Of course he is,” as if the anchor had better things to do then report on this stupid wrestling story.

If all this wasn’t enough, to add gasoline to an already wild fire, the Wall Street Journal reported last Friday that McMahon, over the course of the last 16 years has paid more than $12 million dollars in hush money payments to various women. While the totality of this seems more egregious than the initial allegations, it has seemingly gotten less coverage by mainstream media than the initial allegation involving the paralegal.

Hiding in plain sight

For someone like McMahon who runs WWE and is also from time-to-time an on air character, mainstream media might just assume that since wrestling is a circus anyway, this story might not be worth spending much time on since currently we are dealing with more pressing matters in the world such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In this regard, McMahon is able to hide in plain sight right in front of the mainstream media. Often when a wrestling scandal breaks, mainstream media defers to people who actually work in wrestling and not those of us who cover it. But this is where wrestling media should come in, because wrestling media is capable of investigating and vetting stories. 

For some fans and people in the wrestling industry who do not understand power dynamics in business, they might think this story is much ado about nothing. Chris Jericho recently stated in an interview, apparently recorded before the Wall Street Journal revealed additional allegations: 

“When you look at it, it’s really not illegal. He had an affair, paid the lady off to not say anything, and moved on. It’s almost like, okay, and? It was a mutual acknowledgment of the affair, he paid the lady to say nothing, and she took the money. I really know Vince well and it sucks that it happened. It sucks that he did it, but is anything really going to happen from it? I don’t think so. Is it morally right? Absolutely not. Is it illegal? No. Is it something that is going to get him into real trouble? I don’t think so.”

It would be very easy for me to pass judgment on Jericho. He is someone who often has takes I do not agree with but I have often found this to be the prevailing thought, not just in wrestling, but in business generally. While Jericho is almost certain that Vince did nothing illegal, the legality of what McMahon did or did not do is really tough to say with the limited information the public has on this.

In the 1986 case Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, Sidney Taylor was a Vice President at Meritor Bank. He hired 19-year-old Michelle Vinson as a bank teller trainee. Over the course of four years Vinson advanced to the position of head bank teller. Vinson was then fired for excessive absences but she claimed that she was actually fired for ending a sexual relationship with Taylor. Vinson said she felt if she didn’t comply with Taylor’s advances, she would be fired. She believed that once she grew tired of the sexual relationship Taylor decided to fire her. Taylor, of course, denied everything Vinson accused him of. Initially, Vinson lost and Taylor was able to keep his job. However, on appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court took into account the explicit conditioning of sexual receptivity and stated that such an act is sexual harassment and a violation of Title VII. Additionally, if the employer sees an instance of sexual harassment the employer must take action.

So, contrary to what Jericho might believe, the story about McMahon’s relationship with the former WWE paralegal might go beyond a simple breach of ethics. McMahon could have possibly broken the law.

I am not sure if Vince McMahon is guilty of a crime. We do know that his lawyer admitted that he was in a “consensual” relationship with a former paralegal and that further reporting from the Wall Street Journal is suggesting it goes deeper than that. While McMahon may or may not have committed a crime, in most corporate settings it is not ethical for a superior to start sexual relationships with employees. One might ask can a sexual relationship with an employee really be “consensual” if the employee is desperate for money? In any case, it says a lot about the culture in WWE.

Kristoffer Ealy is a political science professor and business psychologist with a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership. He co-hosts the Nubian Wrestling Advocates podcast on POST Wrestling.