Do you think Jessika Carr, also known as former Ring of Honor women’s wrestler Kennadi Brink, is WWE’s first-ever female referee, as seen on the Mae Young Classic? We’d understand it if you thought that was the case, but that’s merely what WWE wants you to think, as the company has quietly scrubbed their actual first female referee from the history books, more than 30 years after she was last seen on WWE television.
As noted by Wrestling News, the woman with the actual designation as WWE’s first female referee is Rita Chatterton, who briefly worked for the company until she was fired in 1986. Chatterton was known in WWE under the name “Rita Marie,” and in the few photos of her on the internet that currently exist, she can be seen officiating matches with male competitors, unlike Carr, who’s making her WWE refereeing debut officiating women’s matches.
As for the reason why WWE removed Chatterton from their records, Wrestling News recalled the story of how she appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s Now It Can Be Told in 1992, and claimed that she was sexually assaulted by Vince McMahon himself. This was right around the time WWE was dealing with multiple controversies, including the well-documented steroid trial of the early ‘90s, and an unrelated scandal where several ring boys accused some of WWE’s employees of sexual harassment.
An embattled McMahon and his wife Linda responded by filing a lawsuit against Chatterton, Rivera, and Chatterton's alleged co-conspirator, former WWE wrestler David Schultz, with Vince denying involvement in the alleged crime. Interestingly, longtime WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt told Talking Points Memo in 2010 that Chatterton never sued WWE or reported McMahon’s alleged actions to law enforcement, and that the case had never gone to trial. He also referred to Chatterton’s accusations as a “$5 million shakedown” so that she would waive her First Amendment right to speak against WWE, adding that company “doesn’t pay money for blackmail.”
Rita Chatterton isn’t the only long-forgotten ex-WWE employee from the 1980s whose name was removed from company records in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, Wrestling News had covered a similar story, where WWE reportedly took more steps to remove ring announcer Mel Phillips from on-demand footage, three years after the company acted on the request of one of the ring boys he allegedly victimized in the ’80s. The former ring boy, who was not named, claimed to have suffered flashbacks whenever he sees Phillips in old WWE clips and threatened to sue if his footage wasn't removed.
Though the circumstances of the Phillips case are understandable, we think WWE’s going a bit too far by denying Rita Chatterton, who has since disappeared from the public eye, her place in history. Although many of her claims have been disputed by people other than the McMahons, including their own “enemies,” she was a pioneering female in a male-dominated role, and that should be enough for WWE to at least recognize her, even begrudgingly.
With that being said, we wish Jessika Carr/Kennadi Brink all the best, and we hope WWE continues considering, and hiring more women for refereeing jobs.