The WWE has had a long, robust relationship with President-elect Donald Trump.
Trump first appeared on WWE television at WrestleMania V in 1989, when the event was hosted at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. In the 21st century, he played a larger role in the company’s storylines, winning the so-called “Battle of the Billionaires” at 2007’s WrestleMania 23, and later “buying” the WWE’s flagship television show from Vince McMahon in 2009 (a move that caused the company’s real life stock price to briefly dip.) In 2013, Trump was even inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Most recently, however, the relationship between Trump and the McMahons has made more than just dirtsheet headlines: Vince and Linda McMahon were among Trump’s biggest donors to his presidential campaign, coughing up a reported $7 million to his super PAC. Linda was later tapped to head the Small Business Administration, because if anyone knows about small businesses, it’s the former CEO of a $659 million corporation.
But with Trump now elected, it’s time for fans to understand what that relationship means for us: that supporting WWE could mean tacit support of a Trump presidency.
Being a wrestling fan can be challenging for those with a social conscience. Pay-per-view buys over the years have helped fund such things as Vince’s 1994 steroid trial, the continued employment of abusers like Jerry Lawler, and the lack of opportunity for women and people of color. Now, supporting WWE might mean supporting a message embraced by white supremacists.
Though wrestling and politics may seem like a reluctant tag team in the vein of Sheamus and Cesaro, pro wrestling has a long history of politicking. Linda herself ran two failed U.S. Senate campaigns in 2010 and 2012, while Jesse “The Body” Ventura successfully ran for Governor of Minnesota. Most recently, former SmackDown Live Tag Team Champion Rhyno ran as a Republican representative in his home state of Michigan. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, perhaps WWE’s most successful export, even teased his own possible presidential ambitions.
WWE also dips its toes into political activism, championing its Be A STAR anti-bullying initiative, and partnering with breast cancer awareness group Susan G. Komen. But this partnership actually serves to highlight the McMahons’ own conservatism, as Komen has shown itself to be an opponent of abortion rights.
In some ways, Trump and the WWE share philosophies: Trump ran on a platform of abolishing Obamacare, which would see millions of Americans return to being medically uninsured. Meanwhile, the WWE doesn’t offer its own wrestlers health insurance, despite a physically demanding job, because they’re classified as “independent contractors.” Fifty-three such contractors expressed their dissatisfaction in a class action filed last year, asserting that they suffered concussions and other head injuries that may result in brain damage while in WWE’s employ. Trump, meanwhile, has his own history of allegedly mistreating contractors.
With the close ties between Trump and the McMahons, wrestling fans can’t be sure that the $9.99 they spend every month doesn’t go towards supporting Donald Trump’s agenda. So how can we direct our hard-earned dollars to a more worthy cause?
Erin Cline of the feminist wrestling podcast Not Your Demographic created a Twitter thread with suggestions on how to support wrestlers more directly. Buying merchandise and tickets to house shows is one option, as wrestlers get royalties and a percentage of the gate, but that can put a strain on your own purse strings. And, as one of the Rockettes told Marie Claire after news broke of the group performing at Trump’s inauguration, “Why would they want to pay $100+ for a ticket to support someone who doesn’t support all human rights? Women’s rights?” If you’re ready for more drastic measures, consider unsubscribing from the WWE Network, and supporting independent wrestling instead. While it’s admittedly a move I haven’t taken yet, money is a powerful tool. And as the WWE continues to grow, a strong independent scene is more and more important.
With the success of Standing Rock and the Rockettes, making noise is our best form of protest. We can demand more transparency from Vince McMahon and others in management positions, and question the company’s relationship to the incoming President. We can speak out on social media about how our fave is most definitely problematic. We can never STFU about holding WWE accountable for its distasteful storylines and questionable business practices.
Just as we’ve protested and petitioned Donald Trump’s presidency, we can do the same against WWE’s involvement in it.
Scarlett Harris is an Australian writer. You can read her previously published work at her website The Scarlett Woman, and follow her on Twitter at @ScarlettEHarris.