In 1992, Rita Chatterton, the first female referee in the history of WWE, accused then-owner Vince McMahon of sexually assaulting her during her stint in the company in the 1980s. The accusations aired on Now it Can Be Told, a show hosted by Geraldo Rivera. The following year, Vince and Linda McMahon sued Geraldo, former wrestler David Shults, and Chatterton, among other figures, for Civil Conspiracy and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress claiming, among other things that the accusations were false. The lawsuit was dropped the following year as McMahon was embroiled in the steroid scandal that enveloped the promotion, though McMahon was eventually acquitted of those charges. Chatterton never filed a police report.
In the years since, Chatterton's accusations have been one of those "open secrets," a story everyone seems to know but which has rarely been pursued by a serious news organization with the resources to fully investigate it. When Talking Points Memo brought up the story during Linda McMahon's failed Senate run in 2010, longtime McMahon lawyer Jerry McDevitt reportedly warned the website, "make no mistake-if those false allegations are repeated now and again, Mr. McMahon will pursue all available remedies against those associated with this smear job." Since then, the story has appeared on smaller blogs, in occasional Twitter threads by firebrand reporters like David Bixenspan, and at the number five spot on a top ten list of Vince McMahon's most embarrassing moments on Bleacher Report.
Now, for the first time in a long time, Rita Chatterton's accusations have been brought to light by a major publication. In an article for New York Magazine, Abe Riesman, who has spent the last several years working on her upcoming biography of Vince McMahon, lays out Chatterton's claims once more, but this time, the claims are corroborated by another source: Chatterton's longtime friend, Leonard Inzitari, who wrestled under the name Mario Mancini.
From Riesman's report:
According to Inzitari, in that summer of 1986, he found Chatterton standing alone near the wrestling ring a few hours before a WWF show. "She looks at me and bursts out in tears," Inzitari recalls. "And she grabbed me, and I go, 'Rita, what happened?'"
Chatterton began to reply: "I was in Vince's limo …"
Before she could continue, Inzitari let out an involuntary, "Oh, no."
"Lenny, he took his penis out," he said Chatterton told him between sobs. "He kinda forced my head down there, and I made it known I wasn't interested in doing that."
Inzitari was not surprised. He had "heard a lot of different stories" about McMahon's sexual proclivities. "He was strange, brother." (McMahon did not respond to a request for comment made through WWE and his personal lawyer, Jerry McDevitt.)
Inzitari asked Chatterton what happened next.
"Then, [Vince] pulled me on top of him," she told her friend. According to her, she was wearing jeans that McMahon forcibly took off. Soon, as Inzitari puts it, "He was inside her."
This latest retelling of Rita Chatteron's story comes five years after the #MeToo movement began and two years after the #SpeakingOut movement brought to light accusations of sexual assault and harassment in pro wrestling. Chatterton's story was frequently brought up on social media but never seriously pursued during both of those cultural events.
What makes things different now, perhaps, is the fact that Vince McMahon is currently embroiled in a new scandal, having been forced to temporarily step back as Chairman and CEO of WWE as the company's board investigates a secret three million dollar settlement made to a former employee with whom McMahon is alleged to have had a sexual relationship. The investigation reportedly involves additional payments and non-disclosure agreements over misconduct allegations by women involving McMahon and head of talent relations John Laurenitis, who has been placed on administrative leave.
Now, the story is picking up steam. It's been covered in the New York Post and the Daily News. A Business Insider story has been picked up by Yahoo News. MSN has covered the story. So have various wrestling news outlets, like F4WOnline and PWTorch, and even video game websites like Kotaku, amongst many others.
McMahon has remained defiant in the face of the investigation, appearing on both WWE Smackdown and WWE Raw to the delight of crowds in an apparent attempt to demonstrate his public support. But the story also encouraged Chatterton to come forward once more in an interview with Riesman for her New York Magazine piece.
"He's not gonna pay for what he did to me," she says. But she's glad the hush-money allegations are coming to light. "Now this girl's come forward," Chatterton says of the paralegal whose friend sent the initial emails to the WWE board, "and I'm sure others will come forward. Because we're not the only two. There's not a doubt in my mind about that."
The WWE board investigation has not yet been completed, and McMahon's future status with the company remains uncertain. So far, McMahon has avoided blowback from advertisers and TV partners while simultaneously enjoying the vocal support of fans at the live shows he's appeared at, though how aware those fans were of allegations against the wrestling mogul, past or present, is unclear. Whether or not Riesman's report is part of a cultural shift in the wrestling landscape, or yet another passing reference to Rita Chatterton's story that will be largely ignored by most WWE fans, will remain undecided for now.