WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon speaks at a news conference in Las Vegas on January 8, 2014.
Vince McMahon, WWE founder, resigns amid sex trafficking allegations
02:56 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Vince McMahon has resigned from his role as executive chairman of TKO, the parent company of WWE, following disturbing allegations of sexual assault, trafficking and physical abuse.

The allegations came to light in a lawsuit filed by a former WWE staffer, Janel Grant, who worked at the headquarters of the wrestling behemoth McMahon founded.

McMahon has denied the allegations, and said he is prepared to defend himself in court. But, in a statement Friday, McMahon said that he has resigned.

“Out of respect for the WWE Universe, the extraordinary TKO business and its board members and shareholders, partners and constituents, and all of the employees and Superstars who helped make WWE into the global leader it is today, I have decided to resign from my executive chairmanship and the TKO board of directors, effective immediately,” McMahon said in a statement.

Reports that McMahon had paid out settlements to multiple women while serving as WWE’s CEO and chairman have been circulating since at least 2022, but the lawsuit, filed by Grant Thursday, sheds new light on the extent of McMahon’s alleged misconduct.

In the lawsuit, Grant alleged that McMahon dangled a job offer at WWE – and later promotions – in exchange for sex. Grant’s lawsuit also alleges that McMahon trafficked her to other men inside and outside the company, including John Laurinaitus, who worked in the company’s talent relations department and is also named as a defendant in the suit.

McMahon engaged in acts of “extreme cruelty and degradation” toward Grant during her time at WWE, the lawsuit alleged.

TKO, in an email to staff and in a statement to the press, addressed only McMahon’s job status with the company but did not discuss the specifics of the allegations. In an email to staff Friday, obtained by CNN, WWE President Nick Khan said simply that McMahon tendered his resignation from his executive chairmanship and board member positions.

“He will no longer have a role with TKO Group Holdings or WWE,” Khan wrote in his email.

On Thursday, after Grant’s allegations were made public in a lawsuit, the company said, “McMahon does not control TKO or oversee day-to-day operations at WWE.”

McMahon’s second resignation

McMahon’s exit marks another turning point for the wrestling entertainment company he created more than 40 years ago.

He initially retired from his role as CEO and chairman of WWE in July 2022 amid allegations of sexual misconduct. At the time, WWE announced a special committee would investigate McMahon.

However, his retirement didn’t last long. The investigation was closed in November 2022 and McMahon returned to WWE’s board in January 2023.

Grant’s lawsuit raises questions about the culture at WWE, which she claims actively worked to conceal McMahon’s wrongdoing. She alleged that the special committee assigned to investigate McMahon never interviewed her or requested any documents, despite Grant’s alleged willingness to cooperate.

McMahon had served on the board of TKO, which was officially formed in September when WWE merged with its competitor, UFC, owned by Hollywood power-broker Ari Emanuel’s Endeavor Group. The deal valued the new company at over $21 billion, with WWE shareholders owning 49% of the combined company. McMahon was WWE’s largest shareholder.

Disturbing allegations

One disturbing incident in the lawsuit detailed an alleged sexual assault among Grant, McMahon and Laurinaitis that occurred at WWE’s headquarters in 2021. The two men allegedly pulled Grant behind a locked door, forcibly restraining her. As she begged them to stop, one of the men allegedly said to her, “No means yes.”

In a statement to CNN on Thursday, Grant’s attorney, Ann Callis, said the lawsuit sought to “hold accountable two WWE executives who sexually assaulted and trafficked Plaintiff Janel Grant, as well as the organization that facilitated or turned a blind eye to the abuse and then swept it under the rug.”

Attempts by CNN to reach Laurinaitis previously did not yield a response.

New business partners

McMahon’s exit comes as WWE inked several lucrative business partnerships in recent days.

This week, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a former WWE wrestler himself, announced he would join TKO’s board of directors.

McMahon touted the partnership in a statement on Tuesday. “Very few people on the planet understand the convergence of sports, entertainment, media, and business like Rock,” he said.

WWE will pay Johnson $30 million in stock awards to promote the brand as part of the deal.

Netflix also recently announced it would become the exclusive home of “WWE Raw,” starting in January 2025. According to a filing from TKO, the 10-year deal is valued at more than $5 billion.

Neither Netflix nor representatives for Johnson responded to CNN’s request for comment this week.

This story has been updated to clarify how TKO addressed McMahon’s departure.