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Mickie James Incident Indicative of a Larger Problem for WWE

Mickie James deserved better.

So did Maria Kanellis-Bennett, as well as every other former WWE employee who was let go and received their belongings dumped to them in a garbage bag.

James, who was among the talent released last week, boldly and bravely tweeted at her former employer, speaking out against a brazenly stupid business practice. Well-respected and successful over the course of her 22-year career in pro wrestling, it is maddening to think any talent would be treated this way, let alone someone of James’s stature.

And yes, the company at fault here is WWE, the biggest, most powerful wrestling entity in North America. There were swift consequences for this particular incident, as WWE senior director of talent relations Mark Carrano was quickly fired. And while he may shoulder the blame here, the problem runs deeper than this one incident.

The manner in which this company—one that has reached meteoric heights through its extraordinary performers—continues to mistreat talent is staggering. The culture and climate of the corporate side of WWE is the problem at play in this situation. For the company, the timing couldn’t be worse. Earlier in the day on Thursday, WWE announced its better-than-expected first-quarter earnings report. Episodes like James’s mistreatment provide a carnival-like feel to what is supposed to be a successful global entertainment company, one that is in business with NBC, Fox and now A&E.

WWE president and chief revenue officer Nick Khan, who has been in the job since August, has his hands full. In addition to branding WWE in new markets and platforms around the globe, he also needs to examine under a microscope the way business is handled internally, a process that begins with CEO Vince McMahon.

There will need to be changes among the WWE structure, of which Khan is well aware. In addition to Carrano, there were other cuts within the company on Thursday. And considering part of his expertise is in talent relations, it will be telling whether Khan can change the work climate for WWE’s talent roster.