It should be stated that wrestling press conferences are something of a farce to begin with. They’re the equivalent of asking the cast of Game of Thrones to meet the press right after a season finale, or whatever other show you want to substitute in. Are you asking the character a question or the actor? They’re still part of the theater of the whole enterprise, which is a boon for the theater aspect, but maybe not the journalistic quotient. There are some media members who are happy to play along with the advancing of wrestling characters and stories in these settings. And there are some who are actually trying to get answers and find out something behind the curtain, which only adds to the murky status that all of wrestling lives in between real and kayfabe.

Still, there comes a point where Paul Levesque (HHH to some) or Tony Khan, who are real life executives and not characters, have to answer actual questions or provide actual info, where the facade is supposed to drop. Perhaps no wrestling press conference in history was beset with something as heavy as the one after Saturday’s Royal Rumble, which was the first time Levesque would face the media after the lawsuit filed against Vince McMahon by Janel Grant became public.

Shame no one prepared him for something so important.

Even a peon like me knows that one of the first rules of PR and damage control is that one should never, ever point to their accomplishments or rewards instead of, and/or before, talking about the issues that are causing said crisis. It looks like a deflection, or minimization of the actual story, or even a justification.

Levesque pretty much broke all of the rules after the show on Saturday. Even just a prepared statement at the beginning would have been considered par for the course. Instead, Cody Rhodes and Bayley, the winners of the two Rumble matches, were trotted out to either delay or distract from the elephant sitting in the corner. It makes those wrestlers, who had nothing to do with anything, at best look like pawns or kevlar.

When it came time for Levesque to take questions, again there was no prepared statement or even a whiff of dodging questions behind, “I can’t comment on an open legal issue” or something to that effect. While some in the scrum did not ask about the lawsuit for various reasons, that only gave Levesque more ammo to try to shove it to the side with discussions about the new TV deal with Netflix or WWE’s booming ratings and attendance, which precisely no one wants to hear about when the most famous name in the industry, and one of the biggest in entertainment, has just been accused of being an absolute monster.

When it finally came time for Levesque to answer questions about the lawsuit, things didn’t get any better. He admitted to not having read the lawsuit, which is either a complete lie or a complete abdication of his duties. This has the potential to clean house at the upper levels of WWE, and Levesque didn’t have time or the inclination to read it? Or did Levesque already know what was in there?

When asked what protections WWE had in place to prevent this kind of thing happening again, not only did Levesque give the most general answer possible of “everything possible,” he labeled it beforehand as the most general answer possible. Which isn’t an answer at all. A former employee has detailed the ways she says she was assaulted, violated, tortured, abused and broken, and this is the best you got? Not one detail? Not one protocol? Not one change? After already admitting he hadn’t felt the need to read the lawsuit and now he’s essentially swatting away the idea of how the company is protecting every other employee, leaving the impression that there are no protections.

Levesque went on to push to “focus on the positive of the week,” such as Netflix or the success of the show just concluded, as if these are somehow on an equal level of what allegedly went on in WWE offices and not mere details in the background for a company that allowed their CEO to do this.

Perhaps the “allowed to do this” is what had Levesque such a deer in the headlights. Because the lawsuit lists four unnamed executives who were complicit in McMahon’s actions, including one board member. Levesque is a WWE board member and was at the time that Grant cites, as were Nick Khan, Stephanie McMahon and Frank Riddick.

Certainly Levesque is in the middle of this on a couple levels, as McMahon is his father-in-law, as well as the investigation that Grant’s lawsuit basically labels as a sham was conducted while his wife, Stephanie, was the interim CEO. None of that was helped by the mealy-mouthed responses that Levesque came up with on Saturday night.

While merely citing ongoing legal processes as a reason to not answer anything would have been frustrating, it wouldn’t have made Levesque and WWE look like this was merely a minor happening in another week at the company or that they have no protections in place for their employees, or that they even have a grip of the enormity of what’s been alleged. It felt like Levesque, and whoever else he would have consulted with, figured his ability to cut a promo in a past life would suffice at this press conference, when they needed a seasoned pro behind the mic on this one.

This kind of dismissive and incomplete attitude is exactly the kind that allows for someone like Ms. Grant to allegedly be so heavily abused in the company. Which is why there’s a lawsuit in the first place. 

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