Vince McMahon, a longtime executive for World Wrestling Entertainment who led professional wrestling from a sideshow curiosity into a mainstream phenomenon, has stepped down as chairman and chief executive while the company’s board investigates allegations of misconduct against him, the company said on Friday.
Stephanie McMahon, his daughter, will take over as interim chief executive and chairwoman, the company said in a statement. Mr. McMahon will remain involved with W.W.E.’s creative content and “remains committed to cooperating with the review underway,” the company said.
“I have pledged my complete cooperation to the investigation by the Special Committee, and I will do everything possible to support the investigation,” Mr. McMahon said in a statement. “I have also pledged to accept the findings and outcome of the investigation, whatever they are.”
Mr. McMahon briefly appeared on “Friday Night SmackDown” at the beginning of the show. He stepped into the ring to applause.
“I’m here simply to remind you of the four words we just saw,” Mr. McMahon told the crowd, referring to the W.W.E. signature at the beginning of the broadcast. “Those four words are ‘then, now, forever,’ and the most important word is ‘together.’ Welcome to SmackDown.”
Mr. McMahon then dropped a microphone and stepped out of the ring, high-fiving fans as he left.
On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. McMahon agreed to pay a secret $3 million settlement to an employee with whom he was said to have had an affair, and that the board had been investigating since April. The investigation unearthed other nondisclosure agreements involving claims of misconduct by Mr. McMahon, The Journal reported.
A lawyer for Mr. McMahon told The Journal that the employee had not made any claims of harassment against Mr. McMahon and that he used personal funds to pay the settlement.
Far from an anonymous executive, Mr. McMahon is among the most recognizable faces of professional wrestling, adopting a swagger-filled public persona who is often at the center of the on-screen action. Since taking over his father’s wrestling company in 1982, Mr. McMahon has presided over its ascent into a cultural giant, with more than $1 billion in revenue in 2021. W.W.E’s programs are aired in 30 languages and are distributed through NBCUniversal and Fox Sports, among others.
The company said it had hired independent legal counsel to conduct the investigation, and would also work with an independent organization to review the company’s compliance program, human resources function and overall culture.
Jesus Jiménez contributed reporting.