Hello and good day to you. Today, we begin a series looking at the many allegations of sexual misconduct directed at Vince McMahon and WWE. This is in response to recent allegations of McMahon paying “hush money” to keep employees quiet. In this volume, we’re going back to 1992 to learn about Rita Chatterton and her experience with Vince McMahon. I’m writing this in parts so we can discuss each case with plenty of sources and analyses given.
Who Is Rita Chatterton?
Rita Chatterton is known as the first female referee to appear on television in the United States. Her little brother, Christopher, never got to become a wrestler because he died in a car accident on May 3, 1979. Wanting to fulfill the dream in his honor, she looked to become a wrestler, but a cyst in her lung forced it to collapse.
Not to be deterred, following a long recovery, she underwent referee training while raising her daughter. In 1984, she completed her training and received a license to referee in New York. Otherwise, not much is known about her personal life. Last year, the International Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame gave her a trailblazer award as the first female referee in wrestling.
— Brian R. Solomon (@BrianRSolomon) August 29, 2021
What Is The Allegation?
In 1985, Rita Chatterton was invited to referee several matches in Madison Square Garden. There were promises that at some point, she would be given a 500k annual salary and extra publicity, yet she had to promise not to fool around with any of the wrestlers. In 1986, Rita left her current job to be more available for the World Wrestling Federation. She has used July 15th as the date of the offense but has also stated she struggles to remember the exact day.
After meeting at a diner, Chatterton and McMahon got in his limousine, as he wanted to talk to her privately before he was driven to a different establishment. After the driver, Jim Stuart, left the vehicle to go back into the diner, this is when the incident occurred. Chatterton was asked for a retelling of events by New York Magazine Intelligencer, but she chose not to. Instead, it shared what she said in her 1992 interviews. Here are videos of those interviews, which may also highlight other cases we’ll talk about in other volumes.
In 1992, Rita Chatterton says that Vince McMahon unzipped his pants and told her to satisfy him if she wanted 500k per year and to keep her job. She says that McMahon forced her to touch him and bruised her wrist in doing so. After performing oral on him, she states McMahon became frustrated, ripped off her jeans, and pulled her on top of him.
He said if she didn’t do this, he would blackball her from wrestling. Afterward, McMahon allegedly gloated at what he jokingly claimed was her becoming involved with one of the wrestlers, after being told not to. Following the incident, she cried in the diner’s restroom before going home and taking a “five-hour shower”. It turns out that showering worked against her because her lawyer told her she should have gone to the hospital for evidence. Now it was her word against his.
Why did it take six years to speak up? Chatterton says it was because of her ailing parents and not wanting to put them through any stress. By the time of her interviews, her parents had recently passed away. With other allegations being brought forward, Chatterton felt this was her time to be heard because there was no chance anyone would have listened to her when it happened.
How Did McMahon Respond?
Rita Chatterton stopped being booked as a referee in 1986. When the allegations came to light in 1992, Vince & Linda McMahon sued her, Geraldo Rivera, their producer Brooke Skulski, two production partners, and former wrestler David Shults for civil conspiracy.
They believed that the defendants “performed numerous tortious acts with the intent of inflicting severe emotional distress upon Plaintiffs, including the fabrication of a false accusation of rape against Plaintiff Vincent McMahon which was aired on the nation’s airwaves.” Also, it was said that Chatterton was released because of performance-related issues. Chatterton had allegedly conspired with David Shults to make up the video for the allegation, and they were seeking damages.
The lawsuit didn’t go anywhere because the company had to abandon it to focus on the steroid scandal. Jerry McDevitt, the long-time lawyer of the company, confirmed this in 2010 by saying they had to defend themselves (in the bigger case), so unfortunately they could not see this lawsuit through. He said if the allegations turned into anything serious, they would not hesitate to remedy the smear job. Devitt threatened anybody (“You do so at your peril”) who pushed further with this story because it was defamation.
Rita Chatterton recently said in response to the latest allegations against McMahon: “He’s not gonna pay for what he did to me. Now, this girl’s come forward 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. As far as wrestling goes, I guess I’m the first in a lot of things. As far as I know, I’m the first to come out with the whole issue of what a scumbag he is.”
Publications like the Intelligencer have since reached out to Jerry McDevitt, but have yet to respond, likely because it would not be the smart thing to do.
Any Other Involvement?
Former wrestler Leonard Inzitari (stage name Mario Mancini) has recently corroborated Rita Chatterton’s story. The Intelligencer article quoted him as saying:
Inzitari doesn’t use the word rape while talking about what happened. But he describes something that sounds like the conventional definition of that term.
“Was she taken advantage of? Absolutely,” Inzitari says. “Was she scared to death? Absolutely. Did she wanna do that? Probably not.”
Inzitari said nothing to anyone about what Chatterton told him. “You just keep your mouth shut, because it’s Vince McMahon,” Inzitari says. “What are you gonna do, stooge on Vince McMahon? You’re gonna be blackballed from the wrestling business!”
When Inzitari was asked why he was speaking up now, he said:
“He’s (Vince) dug himself such a deep hole that I’m just tired of it. I can’t do it anymore. I’ll tell you why I’m hopping on the bandwagon now. There’s worse stuff than that.”
While Chatterton had confided in Inzitari, she had also told her good friend André the Giant. Sadly, he passed away a year after she made the allegations public. She attended his funeral and Vince McMahon was there. The chairman walked up to her and acted as if they had never met before by saying “It’s nice to meet you”, to which Rita responded by telling him to “f*** off”. This was the last time they met face-to-face.
While the opinions of those who had nothing to do with the incident aren’t important, I find it interesting to hear contrasting takes on it. Let’s begin with Dutch Mantel. When asked about this, he had the following opinions:
– It was a different time, so he didn’t hear about the incident until much later, because it’s not like nowadays where you can find it all at the click of a button.
– When Mantel heard about it, he kind of believed it because women didn’t do it in those days. They didn’t come out with stories back then, because no one else would book them whether or not she was telling the truth.
– He believes most promoters thought it was true because McMahon had not been promoting long, and having a woman referee was unheard of. It was an odd decision because no one even thought about having a woman refereeing something they knew nothing about.
– Mantel had talked to Mancini, who told him in passing that this incident with Chatterton was one of the tamest stories he’d heard of. Some of those stories would frighten you, and he doesn’t want any kind of legal action taken against him by WWE, so he should keep quiet about that.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have Bret Hart talking about the incident. He makes the following colorful statements:
– Bret Hart says Vince is a pretty smart guy and he wouldn’t risk his company over this. He has billions of dollars and can buy whatever he wants, so he has trouble believing this story.
– A big reason he doesn’t buy it is because “just look at her”. He’s seen Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tiger Woods with women who were like 2/10, and they could easily find better than that. Hart can’t understand why they are going out with these 2/10 skanks from strip clubs when they have all this money.
– Bret never saw Vince fretting at all. He was always composed and prepared for the worst. They always had a backup plan in case Vince ever went to jail, and he’d probably still be booking from there. He seemed determined to prove himself, and he did.
We must remember that while Bret Hart and Vince McMahon had a rocky relationship, they had rebuilt bridges. Bret had been booked for appearances on WWE programming for several years before this interview. He was never bound to say anything which would paint McMahon in a negative light, so he joked it off by saying, “she’s too ugly”.
This is a colorful, yet dismissive manner to deflect from a topic he wanted nothing to do with. It’s claiming that it’s impossible for somebody rich to rape ugly women because they have better options. I understand what he’s trying to say, but it proves nothing, and it makes Hart sound insensitive to women who speak out.
Jim Cornette weighed in on this subject a fortnight ago. Here are the highlights:
– He wouldn’t be surprised if Vince McMahon had done this with an unsuspecting female in his limousine.
– Cornette has a problem with her saying she would get a 500k annual salary as a female referee. Anyone at the time would have laughed at that number.
– He says Vince McMahon rarely gave promises to anyone for regular bookings and money in 1986.
– Cornette believes the incident happened, but wonders if she’s looking for extra sympathy by claiming he promised her this amount of money. He’s not sure if even ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper made that much a year in 1986.
– He didn’t really know Vince McMahon then and never met her. But how was she in wrestling school and believing that McMahon would pay her that much as a wrestling referee?
– She was supposedly going to be on magazine covers. Jim has a hard time believing that the company would push an unknown female referee to get this much publicity.
– Cornette laughs when David Shults’ name comes up because he knows the guy is very anti-Vince and couldn’t be any more biased. He believes that having his name associated with Chatterton goes against her.
Just in case you were wondering, WWE has erased Rita Chatterton from its history books.
This was confirmed in 2017 when WWE introduced Jessika Carr as its “first full-time female referee” for its Mae Young Classic tournament. She is currently signed to the SmackDown brand and is the first female to referee a wrestling match in Saudi Arabia.
One of the first excuses I see from defenders of the accused in a situation like this is: “She’s doing this for the money and publicity”.
Think about this for a moment. Assume she’s doing it for the money and publicity. Vince McMahon is promising her an annual salary of $500k, which back then (and even now) is a ton of money. He also said she would get tons of publicity, and that could be possible as the first female wrestling referee on television. Provided the company does it in the right way.
Now, if she was really after money and publicity. If all she cared about was becoming rich and famous, why would she turn it down? Why would the company release her and then sue? She was at risk of getting sued or at least going through a long, drawn-out court process. There was a small chance she would get decent compensation in the way of a settlement but likely would have earned more had she remained with the company.
But what if they had released her for performance-related issues? What if others had coerced her into telling this story so it makes their allegations more believable? McMahon & the WWF was under serious fire, so it would make sense to build up a case against them while the iron is hot. However, Rita Chatterton’s allegations were never followed up on. They were never disproved. To this day, it’s one out of a list of controversies that were brushed under the rug and forgotten about.
Chatterton got very little publicity and was just a footnote in the cases against the company. She could have kept going and done more interviews but decided against it. The story didn’t make the rounds like it would have today. Her case just wasn’t interesting, compared to the steroid scandal or allegations of sex with underage boys. Why? Part of it could be because she didn’t have any evidence. Another could be because it was easily missed, as she only appeared on two shows. What hurts this case is it hangs on her word alone. There are no images of her wrist injury, and no video of them meeting up. Only one other person has corroborated her story. We could say it happened, but without evidence, you can’t outright say it did without sounding judgmental.
Dutch Mantel said it sounds believable. Why would a woman of that period speak out when there was so much to lose? Even more so if it was fabricated. Chatterton was speaking out while knowing she had no evidence. She knew that speaking out wasn’t changing anything. Her lawyer would have told her that going on television would be counterproductive. It’s technically defamation unless you can back it up. Had WWE gone through with its lawsuit, a court would not have automatically sided with her. There needed to be evidence, but without that, it’s a lost cause. Going on television to share this story was super risky, and the only benefit was therapeutic.
To go on television and be brave enough to tell this story would have gone a long way to help her move on with her life. She had this weighing down on her for six years, and couldn’t do anything about it until her parents were no longer around to see this. Although, it could also be said that this story was simply a device to help somebody else. Just because someone says it happened doesn’t make it true.
We may never know the truth behind this allegation because it would mean either Rita Chatterton or Vince McMahon admitting to their lies. McMahon has never told his side of the story and only responded with a lawsuit (which went nowhere), so it leans me more toward believing Chatterton. But in all honesty, that’s just an opinion, and I would never accuse someone of anything unless there was enough proof. If I were on a jury panel, I’d be thinking of it as a waste of time. Could Vince McMahon have done this? Sure. Did he do it? We’ll never know. The allegations go nowhere. If true, it’s exceptionally difficult for Chatterton to have had to endure that. And if false, well, it goes to show how far people will go. It’s up to the individual to decide how they judge this.
With that said, I appreciate any man, woman, or child speaking out about sexual abuse. Silence is the enemy in cases like these, but we also have to remember that false allegations are damaging, too. It’s not right to straight up believe in an allegation, because there’s a good chance the accused is innocent. Perhaps one day we’ll find better ways to handle allegations of sexual misconduct, but until then, we have to respect those who speak out about sexual abuse, while also keeping an open mind so the accused who are innocent, don’t have their lives destroyed because the story sounded true.
This is the first volume in a series of articles looking into the history of sexual misconduct allegations directed at Vince McMahon and WWE. They are created for educational purposes and information has been taken from other sources. This is to inform and not to defame. It is up to the individual reader to interpret the information, and I am not here to persuade either way. Thank you for your understanding! I hope you have found this interesting. See you next time for volume #2.