President Donald Trump has asked the most prominent owners in American sports to join him in an advisory group to discuss reopening the country during the coronavirus pandemic. Among those owners is WWE’s Vince McMahon, who runs one of the few remaining operations that has not postponed their programming. McMahon’s wrestling shows are still taking place live without fans.
McMahon and Trump are far from casual acquaintances. They both took part in WWE WrestleMania 23 in 2007 as part of an infamous hair vs. hair match. Trump was the victor there, shaving McMahon’s head in WWE’s biggest annual event. Trump later appointed Linda McMahon, former WWE CFO and Vince’s wife, to his cabinet, until 2019. She now runs the pro-Trump SuperPAC, America F1rst Action.
This might not be the first time you’ve seen McMahon’s name in the news this week. His recently rebooted XFL folded as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. What seemed like a promising start to his football league ultimately became a flop, just like his first attempt at an NFL competitor back in the early 2000s. The XFL first announced it would postpone its inaugural season, but later announced the league would shut down. It would eventually declare bankruptcy.
Recently, the state of Florida has deemed WWE an essential business, which allows McMahon to continue running his weekly wrestling programs live, though without an audience. WWE reportedly taped shows, including WrestleMania, up until May in case the government shut them down. That would have allowed the wrestlers to go back home and self quarantine.
Instead, Linda McMahon and her Trump SuperPAC promised to spend $18.5 million in Tampa and Orlando. The next day, Vince McMahon announced WWE would no longer tape shows in advance and would continue doing live shows. Wrestlers are reportedly unhappy with the situation, according to Fightful.
The reason behind continuing this may be due to television contracts, per Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer. McMahon’s deals with both USA and Fox allow for a limited number of taped episodes, which WWE may have already reached. Airing more taped shows would violate the respective agreements and give room for the networks to modify or cancel the television deals. As of now, McMahon is still willing to put his performers at risk in order to keep his current contracts.
WWE won’t have a full staff, as some of their top performers have opted not to compete during the coronavirus pandemic. Most notably, Roman Reigns was dropped from the WrestleMania WWE Universal Championship match against Goldberg. Reigns battled chronic myeloid leukemia in 2018 and was in remission in 2019. Wrestling live during this pandemic would only put him at higher risk.
All of this comes during a week where Vice aired their newest episode of the documentary series Dark Side of the Ring that focused on the murder of Nancy Argentino in 1983, allegedly by pro wrestler Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. McMahon allegedly joined Snuka during a follow up with detectives. After the meeting, the case was not pursued for decades. It’s rumored McMahon had a role in that.
”I remember Vince McMahon being what Vince McMahon has always been — very effusive. He was very protective, a showman,” said Robert Steinberg, the assistant D.A. at the time. “He was the mouthpiece, trying to direct the conversation.”
Snuka was later charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in 2015. The charges were dismissed because the judge found Snuka incompetent to stand trial.
WWE also released multiple wrestlers and producers on Wednesday.