Jerry McDevitt, the lead attorney for WWE, appeared on The Two Man Power Trip of Wrestling podcast for a 70-minute interview about his life and career. From originally working for WWE in 1987 as part Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart’s case against US Airways through the steroid trials of the 1990s and all of the current day issues regarding concussions and WWE Network royalties, McDevitt addresses these topics in great detail. Highlights from the interview, which you can listen to here, are as follows.
The WWE Network royalties lawsuit being dismissed:
I think (Rene) Dupree was being manipulated by the same lawyer that has been running around bringing these CTE cases against the company and in fact we know he is. That whole business started with this guy advertising on the internet looking for people to sue the WWE and that he’s made various promises and representations to these people about what he thinks he is going to get for them and all the rest of that. After the judge in the CTE cases issued her subsequent rulings throwing out two of the cases and five-sixths of the other one while expressing skepticism about whether that claim would survive, shortly after that we believe he got Dupree to bring this royalties case as kind of a way to deflect attention from what was happening in the other cases and knowing full well that frankly Dupree’s case couldn’t go anywhere. As matters turned out (Dupree) evidently didn’t tell the lawyers he recruited to bring the case and to hide his own involvement that he had signed not one but two contracts that prohibited him from bringing such claims and as soon as the lawsuit was brought to my attention I sent an email the night they filed it to the lawyer in Chicago.
I brought this to the attention of the Chicago lawyer and said I assume you don’t know this because any lawyer who saw these documents wouldn’t bring this lawsuit but here is what your client signed. And as you can see it absolutely prohibits this lawsuit that you’ve brought and that I demand you withdraw it immediately. And he wrote back saying very professionally thank you and that I was not aware of this and that he’ll look into it. And I am sure he did and as the evidence shows, he then withdrew the lawsuit which was the only proper thing he could have done frankly. He could have not continued the lawsuit at all once. I brought that to his attention and Dupree would have known it too, and it was all designed I think to create some negative publicity for the company and see if they could maybe get somebody better then Dupree to bring such a lawsuit which is kind of “trolling” if you will for a plaintiff.
How does the dismissed case differ from the Doug Somers/Gilbert Family lawsuits:
I don’t think it does. They were trying to make it different by making contractual claims but these claims have never succeeded yet and I don’t think they ever will. Gilbert, Somers and there are a bunch of cases like Freddie Dryer and a bunch of guys that opted out of the NFL and if you remember the NFL had similar cases. They had a class action case brought against them from former NFL players on the NFL Network which the NFL as they seem to do, have a lot of money to throw around and they chose to settle with that class and pay them some money. But a couple guys, including Freddie Dryer, and the rest of about twelve others opted out of that class and brought their own lawsuit alleging that the NFL owed them more money then I guess was bigger than they would have got through the class action settlement (which was kind of a dumb move). Now you have to survive motions to dismiss that can be filled to dismiss such claims and the NFL did and they lost and the court threw their claims out.
Basically, the way the law works on this stuff is pretty simple. We are the owner of the copyrights of all of these things. The WWE is the sole and exclusive owner of the copyrights. Federal copyright law rewards the people who make the investments in creating these copyrighted works and go out and hire the talent and the stadiums and the cameras and all the expense of creating these films with exclusive rights of display, reproduction and sale. So when these people come in and say you are being unjustly and I’m not getting any of this money, the defense is always that the federal copyright law gives us the exclusive right to do it and preempts any of these state law claims that you are trying to assert that would burden our rights of ownership and they get thrown out every time.
Why he feels talent from defunct promotions have no claim to royalties from the WWE Network:
Let me use ECW as an example. ECW if you recall your history went into Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Whenever you go into a Chapter 7 bankruptcy what happens is your assets and your liabilities are marshalled. The bankruptcy trustee tries to sell the assets of the bankruptcy estate to generate some cash to pay off creditors who would be for example any ECW talent that are owed money from ECW and would share any money that is available which is usually not very much because when you are bankrupt you don’t get very much and when somebody goes bankrupt like ECW does it essentially wipes out all the claims of anybody that they would have against ECW for contract royalties or contract claims against ECW. The assets of the company are put up for sale free and clear of all liens and that is part of the whole bankruptcy sale. When you think about it nobody is going to buy assets that carry with it liabilities. So what you had there was this entire film library of ECW that would have been sitting somewhere in a cardboard box right now and not being displayed anywhere, and the WWE decided it would buy and pay money to buy the films and the copyrights that go with those films and obtain from the bankruptcy court a bill of sale giving the WWE in exchange for the money we paid for those the sole right, title and interest to the copyrights of those works. That is why the WWE has the legal right to display them on the Network free and clear of any claims, plain and simple.
Is Vince McMahon preserving the history of professional wrestling?
Yes and I think you can see it by his actions. He is a custodian of wrestling history right now and it’s been his whole life. It’s been the life of his family, it’s generational. I think he cares greatly about the history of this business and has great respect for the people who have been part of it and who have helped him build it.
How would he describe Vince McMahon?
I think he is a fascinating person. One of my favorite stories about Vince is when you first undertake to represent anybody as a lawyer you form judgments about the people you are representing and whether you get emotionally invested in them or whether you don’t. Are they honest? Are they truthful? In the early days when I was forming my relationship with him back in the early 90s and during the time the government was doing all this and it was a horrible time because all of the tabloid wars and all of these horrible and sensational stories telling these lurid and false tales about people up there; it was just miserable times. What I will always remember was one day when the headlines were just terrible and lurid and false and the kind of stuff that would make everyone angry, we were walking out of his office late at night one night and there was this fella, a janitor named Nick, who I learned later that he had a need for a dialysis machine in the building in order to keep his job which they did just to keep this janitor working.
When I came out of the office I saw him standing there mopping the floor and Vince came out of the office right after me and was walking down the hallway and Vince turned around after this hellish day and goes back and starts asking how’s his family, how are you doing and took the time to care about that little guy in the building that most people probably wouldn’t know his name. But he did and he cared about him and that was such an interesting scene. And I have never forgotten that about Vince. A part from that, part of him as a business man he is fascinating to watch and I think he is a great marketer of our era and what he has done with this business is just mind boggling when you watch WrestleMania and you see the production values and the people from all over the world that come to see it, it’s extraordinary. When you see the influence on television even beyond wrestling and you see how these politicians now use sort of the ring entrance mode to build drama for themselves in various ways and how the NFL has stolen, if you will some of the camera techniques that were used in the XFL, his influence on television and marketing is extraordinary.
Billy Jack Haynes being the “lead” wrestler to sue WWE as part of the ongoing concussion lawsuits:
Billy Jack Haynes goes all the way back to the late 80s/early 90s and he was doing the same stuff then and everybody in the business knows what he is. The idea that this “trolling” campaign where this Kyros fella was out there looking for people to sue and the best you could come up with was a Billy Jack Haynes to supposedly put forward as he’s going to be the representative of a class representing all of the people to ever perform for the WWE? Do you really think for a minute that people like Rock and Stone Cold think that Billy Jack Haynes is somebody they want representing their interests? It’s ridiculous. That is basically what he would be doing in that situation.
He (Kyros) was doing the same thing with him (Billy Jack Haynes) but just trying to do it with Dupree and that was trying to make some very sensational charges that were false from the minute they were made. When they were made, we got on the phone with him and said these charges you have made are false and you know they are false and if they are not withdrawn, we are going to seek sanctions against you. They quickly withdrew much of what they said that was absolutely false. They have continued to do the same thing however and the recent opinion that the judge issued dismissing Haynes’ claim and dismissing the claims of (Russ) McCullough, (Ryan) Sakoda and Matt Wiese (Luther Reigns) is (the judge) actually made findings that they had made false allegations in the lawsuit and noted that there are sanctions and notions pending against them and went on to describe all of these totally inconsistent and sometime incomprehensible allegations through this litigation. Billy Jack Haynes is just being used and will never see one penny for anything.
The rebranding of the World Wrestling Federation to World Wrestling Entertainment in 2002:
Actually it was kind of interesting the way that transition took place pretty quickly. It was another one of Vince’s clever and genius ideas to just switch one letter. The whole ordeal with the World Wild Life Fund was kind of crazy, and I never did understand why they cared because nobody ever confused us with them and watching the whole English Court proceedings and seeing how different that was then American Court proceedings was kind of frustrating from my standpoint because it was the one big case that I couldn’t handle. The English Court would not allow American Lawyers to try cases in their court rooms and so I could only go there and watch. And it was infuriating to sit there and watch that and to not be able to do anything. But whenever they issued their orders that we couldn’t be “WWF” in the way we wanted to be anymore, it was just too burdensome to comply with the requirements of what we had to do if we were going to be “WWF” and so Vince just came up with the idea of we will change to “WWE.” And I don’t know if you remember the slogan “get the F out;” It’s kind of clever and now it actually captures what they do maybe better than the word federation anyway because they are an entertainment company and that is exactly what the business is so it was a very successful rebrand I thought.
Other topics include seeing Shane and Stephanie McMahon’s growth, the future of WWE, WrestleMania 32’s impact, his first meeting Vince McMahon and more. You can check out the interview here.