Warning – This article discusses sensitive issues such as sexual assault and suicide that some readers may find distressing. Please proceed with care.
On May 16th, 2019, former WWE Diva Ashley Massaro was found dead in her home in Smithtown, New York. Ashley had committed suicide. In the aftermath of her death, Ashley’s lawyer released an affidavit that Ashley had included as part of a lawsuit that was related to concussion related injuries that was filed in 2016.
Ashley’s Allegations of Sexual Assault:
Ashley’s most notable claim did not relate to concussions or injury. Instead, Ashley alleged that she was sexually assaulted while taking part in 2006’s WWE Tribute to the Troops tour, during a stop in Kuwait. At the Ali Al Salem Air Base, Ashley wrote that she experienced severe dehydrated and cramps. She reported that while she stayed at the base, other WWE personnel moved on to the next tour stop.
Left alone, Ashley described how a man who told her he was a doctor, gave her an IV drip of an unknown substance. She said she was moved to a room that was not a treatment room and placed on a table. Ashley claimed a female solider guarded the door and whatever had been injected into her system did not allow her body to move or for her to scream. She wrote she was fully conscious throughout the attack. Ashley’s account was investigated
Ashley said she was found by a member of WWE personnel. She disclosed what had happened. After Kuwait, Ashley stated she meet Vince McMahon, Kevin Dunn and John Laurinaitis and other key members of management. Ashley alleged:
“Vince led the meeting with these men and asked me to recount what happened in Kuwait. Then he said it was not in the best interest of the WWE for me to make the information about my attack public. I was still completely traumatized at that point and I just agreed. It was clear that there had already been a conversation and that they had reached a decision on their own prior to consulting with me as this was not a debate but rather Vince instructing me to keep this confidential.”
She stated that she received an apology and that her assault was minimized:
“Vince did at least apologize for what I went through, but then stressed that if I disclosed this incident it would ruin the relationship between the WWE and the US Military. He told me not to let one bad experience ruin the good work they were doing.”
WWE’s Response in 2019
WWE issued a statement to make their perspective:
“Crystal Clear… At no time was Vince McMahon or the management of WWE ever informed by Ashley Massaro or anybody else that she had been sexually assaulted, drugged, raped or sodomized by a military doctor with a nurse standing guard while on a goodwill tour in 2007 to U.S. military bases in Kuwait. In fact, if she ever articulated such a claim to WWE, we would have reported it immediately to the Base Commander.
At no time was there ever a meeting with Vince McMahon, Kevin Dunn, John Laurinaitis or other company executives in which she told them of such a claim and was instructed to keep it quiet.”
WWE denied a conspiracy to protect their relationship with the US Military. They also highlighted how Ashley had sent a letter of apology after the lawsuit was dismissed in 2018.
Ashley’s Apology Letter
Ashley sent an email to WWE on October 20th, 2018. This was one month after the lawsuit was dismissed. In the email she apologised for her part in the lawsuit. What follows are selected extracts:
“I love WWE, you all were my family the whole time I was there?”
“The lawsuit got out of control very fast-I had been roped in by the lawyer representing the others…”
“I apologize that I was part of this class action suit and knew it was a bad idea but was convinced by the lawyer and I want to acknowledge that I should’ve contacted you guys before agreeing to be involved-i was basically poached. But I accept my part of the responsibility and just want to formerly apologize and express my regret.”
“You all changed my life and I couldn’t be more grateful…”
“Can you express my sincerest regret to Vince, Stephanie, Hunter and Kevin Dunn.”
Taken from Wrestlinginc.
John Laurinaitis’ Version
The ripple effect created by Janal Grant’s lawsuit against her former employer have brought new information to the surface. WWE’s former Head of Talent Relations, John Laurinaitis, who Grant alleged also sexual assaulted her, has stated through his lawyer, Edward Brennan, “Laurinaitis is also a victim, not a predator. The truth will come out.”
On 7th February, VICE printed the following from Mr Brennan in response related to Ashley Massaro’s claims:
“Any allegations that Mr. Laurinaitis helped to cover up an alleged rape allegation is an outright lie…Johnny, like most upper level management at sometime became aware of the allegations and ensured all proper WWE protocols were followed, including privacy for the alleged victim. We object to the use of the term cover up as no such plan or plot ever took place to hide or assist in the alleged rape.”
This seems to contradict WWE’s “crystal clear” statement that they knew nothing about the allegations of assault. However, some the vagueness. One word choice, “sometime”, makes it unclear in terms of the timeline of when exactly this information became known. Whether this was during Ashley’s time in WWE or after her death or after their 2019 statement. Many have speculated and assumed this is proof of WWE’s conspiracy to cover up the alleged assault. The lack of clarity means this is speculation at present. With time more specific details will be revealed.
Naval Criminal Service Investigation
In June 2019, the Naval Criminal Intelligence Service investigated Ashley’s claims and the case was closed in January 2020. Occurring thirteen years after the date of the allegation, the results have not been made public.
Journalist, Isobel Thompson, whose investigation became the Amazon Audible podcast Ashley vs. WWE, had extensive experience of investigation sexual assault in the military. This is an on-going issue. A 2012 Pentagon survey found that approximately 26,000 women and men were sexually assaulted that year; of those, only 3,374 cases were reported. During her investigation, there is an episode entitled “Kuwait”. Thompson describes the combination of factors that have made allegations of sexual assault in the military a “perfect storm”.
Thompson brings up examples of how female soldiers who reported taking extreme steps to protect themselves. From sleeping with knives in their beds to stopping drinking water in the afternoons so they would not have to go to the toilet in the evening. Female soldiers were told not to travel anywhere without a another solider, euphemistically termed a “battle buddies”.
Ali Al Salem was nicknamed “generator city”, implying how noisy the base was because you could not hear someone scream. Even more disturbingly, soldier would joke and reference to women who entered the place as “an entirely different creature”, referring to some of them as being “desert queens”. The first term implies the dehumanisation of women. The later, implying a sense of attraction and speciality about women. Both have predatory undertones.
Ashley’s Previously Unreleased Claims
On Friday 9th February, VICE reported a segment of Ashley’s affidavit that had previously been unpublished. Attorneys ultimately left it out of the lawsuit due to it not being relevant to the main claims related to concussion-based injuries.
Ashley alleged how Vince McMahon, after her Playboy Magazine covers release, Vince began pursuing her:
“During my time with the WWE, I had observed Vince McMahon making-out with other divas in the locker room, but he never paid attention to me, and I assumed I was not his type. This changed after my Playboy cover was released. I was fortunate enough to be allowed to fly on the company jet and stay at the same hotels as the executives for a period of time so that I could get home faster to spend more time with my daughter. On one of these occasions, Vince was attempting to get me alone with him in his hotel room late at night and I felt extraordinarily uncomfortable. He began calling the hotel room phone and my cell phone nonstop. I called Kevin Dunn to explain the situation and he said I should tell Vince I was not feeling well and would see him on TV the next day, so I did.
Immediately after that night, Vince started writing my promos for me. Vince does not write promos for female wrestlers—that is the job of the creative department—and he certainly wouldn’t have, under any normal circumstances, written a promo for me. But he did, and the promos were written with the clear intention of ruining my career. I brought the first script Vince wrote for me to the WWE employee in charge of Creative at the time, Michael Hayes, and he said, ‘you’re not saying this, who the [expletive] wrote this?’ and I told him that Vince did. He said, ‘Well kid, these are the breaks,’ meaning that Vince wanted to end my career and destroy my reputation on my way out.
He is known for this type of behaviour and also did this to [REDACTED] upon her departure from WWE. In addition, after that night, each time I walk by him he would make vulgar sexual comments that were clearly designed to make me uncomfortable.” From VICE news.
What Other Former WWE Employees Have Said
Former WWE Director of Security, Jimmy Newland, professed Thompson WWE had an “alpha male dominated business” during his time with the company. He claimed also detailed how backstage sexual tension would persist through the Divas Search contests, which Ashley would in 2005.
Paul London, who at one point was Ashley’s boyfriend has spoken multiple times about the way Ashley felt, alleging to Thompson (Ashley vs. WWE) that “everyone wanted a piece of her” and collaborated Ashley’s story about Vince asking her to fly on the company jet and knocking on her hotel room door at night.
A former WWE medical doctor, Dr Ferdinand Rios, collaborated aspects of Ashley’s story. He claimed to Thompson he thinks about Ashley Massaro being allgedly sexually assaulted from WWE management “gossiping” and confirmed that when WWE were in Kuwait, there was no WWE medical doctor travelling with the wrestlers.
Rios left WWE around the same time as Ashley Massaro.
If you would like to learn more about Ashley’s life and her experiences in WWE, please see Alexa Pruett’s article Ashley Massaro: Her Life Around Wrestling, and WWE’s Ethical Failures.
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