Few corporations can claim a squeaky clean record, least of all a sports organization. WWE in particular, however, has one ugly past. It makes sense considering the copious numbers of individuals WWE employs at any given time and the minefield has only gotten more sensitive with the PG Era. It would be impossible for WWE to produce as many hours of weekly programming as it does without occasionally offending one of its many family friendly sponsors.
In a modern world, it’s a lot easier to cause a social uproar than before. With the rise of political correctness and the presence of so many human rights issues in the forefront of our world’s political campaigns and social movements, it’s understandable that the volume of scandals would be on the rise, especially in a company where people beat each other up for a living while attempting to keep things nice and clean for the children.
It should come as no surprise that many of WWE’s more recent scandals involve social issues such as racism and sexism, but contract disputes and bad personal decisions often put the company in an awkward position too. These certainly aren’t WWE’s worst years in the spotlight, as we’re only now ten years removed from the Chris Benoit tragedy which changed everything in pro wrestling. But, though the fallout from older scandals is still felt, the wrestling organization has plenty of new distractions for the media to feast on.
From wellness policy violations to theft and nude photos, here are WWE’s biggest scandals of the past decade.
15 Seth Rollins' Photo Leak
Seth Rollins has only been in the spotlight for a few years, bursting onto the scene in 2012 as a part of The Shield alongside Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. In less than four years, all three members have become WWE Champion and been involved in major storylines at WrestleMania. Despite playing the heel since he turned on Ambrose and Reigns, Seth Rollins has been cheered by as many fans as he’s been booed by. No doubt, Rollins has already constructed a career which will likely see him one day inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
It only takes a moment for a career in WWE to fall apart and Seth dodged a bullet in 2015 when he managed to keep his WWE status intact following a situation where some nude photos of him and fellow WWE employee Zahra Schreiber leaked online. It would appear that Rollins was thrown under the bus by his fiancee, Leighla Schultz, who realized he was sending inappropriate pictures to Zahra and decided to leak them to the world. This sort of thing is often damaging to WWE employees due to the company’s family friendly nature, so the former WWE Champion cut it close with this one.
14 Ryback Sent Home
Ryback has had a rough go of things in his WWE career. Throughout NXT and his time with The Nexus, as well as his odd pairings with Curtis Axel and Paul Heyman, he had a hard time finding his footing. Even with his most successful shtick, as the endlessly famished muscle beast babyface, he hasn’t really been all that valuable. His “feed me more” chants can usually get the crowd going, but that’s about all Ryback has in his corner.
The man behind Ryback, Ryan Reeves, has poured his heart out both on live television and through social media in attempts to get fans to understand where he’s coming from and WWE tried for an excruciatingly long time to make Ryback work, but when it became clear the crowd wasn’t digging it, the company started to demote him. This ultimately led to a falling out between Ryback and Vince McMahon during a contract renegotiation midway through 2016. He was sent home and hasn’t been seen on TV since.
13 Zahra Schreiber’s Nazi Memorabilia
It would seem Zahra Shreiber’s WWE career was dead on the water as soon as she landed in NXT as a developmental Diva. Not much is known about her among the WWE Universe because she never made it to television, but she certainly got her name rumbling among fans with her two scandals of epic proportions.
Not only was Schreiber the victim of a leaked nude photo alongside Seth Rollins, but there were more photos soon to surface which would ultimately be her undoing. The photos were old shots of some memorabilia which painted Zahra as a Nazi sympathizer, including a “My Little Pony” picture with the pony wearing a swastika arm band. She admitted the photos were in poor taste and her defense was that she was in no way anti-Semitic but that she has a simple fascination with history. That wasn’t enough for WWE who fired her for the scandal.
12 Emma Gets Fired and Re-Hired on the Same Day
WWE Superstar Emma first saw success when she competed against Paige in the final match of a tournament to crown the first ever NXT Women’s Champion. Though Emma lost that match, it was sort of her coming out party for the WWE Universe, as they saw what she could do and respected it. However, her wacky dance gimmick bombed miserably on WWE’s main roster and she was repackaged as a heel, and she was beginning to find her groove again before a back injury in May 2016.
But Emma almost never had the chance to make the villain persona work. In 2014, she was arrested when accused of stealing an iPad case from Walmart and promptly fired from WWE. The internet was in an uproar over the company’s extreme reaction, which was taken before all the details came to light and within hours she was working for the company again. Emma claims the whole thing was an accident involving a self-checkout machine, but she still served a day of community service.
11 Triple H Dodges The Chyna Question
The late Joanie Laurer, known to the world as Chyna, had a monstrous following full of fans who have been demanding she be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame for years now. Chyna transcended gender in the late 1990s, doing things in the wrestling universe that no woman had ever done before, including competing for the Intercontinental Championship. Unfortunately, her career came to a crashing halt when her boyfriend, Triple H, fell for Vince daughter, Stephanie McMahon. The drama ended with Chyna unemployed and fans have always assumed that, along with her personal issues, have kept her out of the Hall of Fame.
On Steve Austin’s Stone Cold Podcast in early 2015, Triple H was asked by Austin when Chyna will be inducted, and Triple H attempted to clarify that her not being inducted had nothing to do with personal issues but more to do with her decision to have made adult videos in the past. Fans were outraged at how Triple H danced around the topic, as they claimed his reasons were flawed and the company came out of the interview looking bitter.
10 Jim Ross Gets Fired
WWE Hall of Famer “Good Ol” Jim Ross is one of the wrestling world’s most revered television personalities, most widely known and admired for being the voice of WWE’s Attitude Era. Ross took part in a plethora of on-screen storylines throughout his illustrious career, but once he began to step away from regular commentary, he started working on more special tasks.
One of those tasks was hosting a 2013 publicity event for the upcoming WWE 2K14 video game, an event that also featured another WWE Hall of Famer, Ric Flair. An apparently intoxicated Flair, who had lost his son Reid Flair earlier that year, created quite the stir by taking over the symposium. Jim Ross was held responsible for not reining “The Nature Boy” in and the result was WWE firing the long time announcer. Fans were in an uproar and Ross was none too happy about it, either, especially after the company’s attempt to spin the story into a retirement instead of a firing.
9 Alberto Del Rio Gets Fired
Alberto Del Rio is one of the most successful Mexican competitors to ever wrestle for WWE. In fact, it was Alberto on whom the company relied for its Latino demographic when Rey Mysterio was no longer active. He’s won multiple World Championships and at one point was the hottest heel on SmackDown, which is why it came as such a surprise when he was suddenly fired in 2014.
As the story goes, a coworker made a racist comment about how Del Rio should be cleaning the dishes in catering and, when confronted about it, the coworker refused to apologize and even smiled at Del Rio, who then slapped him. WWE immediately released Del Rio from his contract when the coworker threatened to take legal action, but the company came under fire for apparently not punishing the man who made the racist comments.
Alberto found success on the independent scene including a run with Lucha Underground and has since returned to WWE.
8 WWE Accused Of Homophobia
WWE’s relationship with the LGBT community was a strained one for many years. Openly gay retired wrestler Pat Patterson has long had a close relationship with the McMahon family and recently WWE has celebrated the coming out of Superstar Darren Young, but the company has run into a lot of trouble over the years with gay rights organizations like GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation).
After the sham “wedding” between Billy & Chuck in 2002, WWE and GLAAD had a major falling out as the LGBT rights organization claimed they were blatantly lied to by the wrestling giant about where the storyline was headed. The two companies were finally working together once again in 2011 when, during the build to WrestleMania XXVII, John Cena was dropping homophobic insults on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and The Miz left and right. GLAAD quickly pounced and forced Cena and the entirety of WWE to cease such language and ever since then WWE has been working to shake its anti-LGBT image.
7 AJ Lee Publicly Calls Out Stephanie McMahon
In February 2015, following a very brief Divas match, a social media movement picked up which used the hashtag #GiveDivasAChance, attempting to demand better treatment of women by WWE ,which had used its women as eye candy for years. It was just poor timing that days after the movement began Stephanie McMahon would choose to tweet about empowering women.
AJ Lee, a wrestler for WWE at the time and known to be outspoken, called Stephanie’s bluff in front of the world on Twitter.
This shocked the wrestling world because it’s a rarity for an employee to speak out against the McMahon family in any context, especially on such a public platform. AJ single-handedly exposed WWE for its corporate sexism and incited a public relations disaster for the company.
6 Daniel Bryan Gets Fired
When Daniel Bryan’s WWE career kicked off, he was a member of The Nexus alongside Wade Barrett, Darren Young, Heath Slater and other Superstars who would go on to see varying levels of success. Bryan, however, transcended them all and became WWE’s most popular new performer in years, launched into the main event scene more by audience demand than corporate support. It was certainly a tough ride to the top, but Daniel Bryan’s WrestleMania fairytale story almost never happened.
In 2010, when The Nexus made their forceful debut on Raw, Bryan spat on John Cena and choked ring announcer Justin Roberts with his own tie, which resulted in Bryan’s release from the family friendly WWE. Fans were furious, as Daniel Bryan had garnered a rabid following on the independent circuit and the WWE Universe was enraged that a seemingly small infraction got their favorite Superstar fired, and ultimately WWE would rehire him months later.
5 Roman Reigns Gets Suspended
There are no words for the magic made by the members of The Shield from the moment they stepped foot in WWE. It was as if the WWE Universe had been awaiting their debut for years, so that they might once again have something to be passionate about in an otherwise stale wrestling era. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose dominated for a year and a half before going their separate ways and have dominated the WWE Championship scene ever since.
Roman Reigns was the least popular of the group, but it was obvious WWE was grooming him to be their next big star. Night after night, the company pulled out all the stops to turn the crowd in Reigns’ favor, but the fans disapproval for him even got The Rock booed out of the building! Despite that, it was clear this was WWE’s poster boy and he was on top of the world as WWE Champion when he shocked the world with a failed drug test (allegedly due to Adderall). Due to WWE’s wellness policy, Reigns was suspended for thirty days and the company’s hand-picked star began to fade.
4 Brock Lesnar Walks Out Of RAW
In recent years, WWE has embraced the role of the part-time money maker. Men like The Rock, Triple H and The Undertaker have been lacing up their boots whenever the whim strikes for years, but Brock Lesnar is in a league of his own. The MMA star has managed to build a massive fan base with his “eat, sleep, conquer, repeat” shtick and has become known as the guy who clocks in to beat people up, then clocks out to collect the paycheck.
Respect isn’t something that oozes from Brock Lesnar. He commands plenty of it, but it’s not always clear if he has any for others, as evidenced by his near walkout from WWE weeks before he was set to defend the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 31. During a contract dispute with Vince McMahon, Lesnar, who only had a few weeks left on his current contract, walked out of a scheduled appearance on Monday Night Raw when a deal could apparently not be struck.
WrestleMania’s main event was saved just in time by a new agreement, but WWE very nearly had a marketing crisis on their hands.
3 WWE’s Modern Steroid Scandal
Just when WWE thought steroid abuse allegations were long behind them, the ugly beast reared its head again. It was a wrestling world freshly terrorized by the Chris Benoit nightmares and, in 2007, the government was investigating the early deaths that have always seemed to plague the industry. Florida-based Signature Pharmacy was raided when found to have been distributing illegal steroids and other medications, and among the client list for that pharmacy was a slew of wrestlers under contract with WWE.
Edge, Booker T, William Regal and many others were on the list and suffered consequences from WWE when the news broke. It was a total disaster for the company and the McMahon family who have battled steroid scandals for decades. Certainly not helping their case was that Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero were both on that list and had passed away in recent years, as well as WWE Superstar Umaga, who also would pass away at a young age. For these reasons WWE’s Wellness Policy remains very strict today.
2 Hulk Hogan’s Racist Comments
Hulk Hogan is a name known the world over, even to those who aren’t fans of wrestling. At one time, Hogan might have been one of the most famous people in the world, as well as one of the most beloved. He was a childhood hero to legions of fans and wrestlers alike, so when Hogan and WWE reignited their working relationship a few years ago, the WWE Universe was ecstatic.
But this hero fell, and he fell hard. In 2015, stories began to surface of alleged racist remarks Hulk Hogan had made years earlier. WWE was ready to pounce to avoid a PR nightmare, and when it came to light that these conversations had been recorded and were being released to the public, WWE swiftly released the Hall of Famer and removed all mentions of him from their website. In this day and age, the last thing any company, especially a wrestling organization, wants is allegations of racism and WWE made sure to distance themselves as soon as possible, sending Hogan out into the waters to fend for himself.
1 CM Punk Versus WWE
CM Punk was the WWE Champion for longer than anyone in decades and had a following rivalled in modern times only by that of Daniel Bryan’s. He’s the most outspoken wrestler to ever walk through WWE’s doors and has a lot of pride. So when he felt wronged by the company, there would be no backing down from Punk.
In 2014, CM Punk took it upon himself to go home, slamming the WWE door behind him and never looking back. The dispute itself didn’t create nearly as big a scandal as Punk’s explanation, which included general burnout, but also accusations that the company was negligent with his health. On top of that, Punk apparently got his WWE release papers on his wedding day. Vince McMahon himself has said that this was a coincidence, but that didn’t stop CM Punk from seeking legal action later when his likeness was featured in the video game WWE 2K15.
With “CM Punk” chants persisting to this day and his name still the topic of many a wrestling conversation, CM Punk’s nasty break up with wrestling clearly dominates as the biggest WWE scandal of the last ten years.