By Mike Mooneyham
Oct. 20, 2002
It’s been more than a decade since Tom Cole made headlines as part of one of professional wrestling’s most sordid stories.
A young ring attendant for the World Wrestling Federation at the time, Cole hurled charges against the company that resulted in the resignation of two longtime employees and helped fuel a sex scandal that became instant fodder for the tabloids. He went public in 1992 with claims that a WWF front-office figure had attempted to seduce him two years earlier when he was 19 and that he had been sexually harassed at the age of 13 by a part-time WWF ring announcer who targeted youngsters from broken homes and troubled backgrounds.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Shortly after spurning the WWF official’s sexual advances, Cole also found himself without a job and ostracized by the business. There were others, Cole claimed, who were exposed to the darker side of the business during that time. “When you’re young, you don’t want to think something like that happened to you,” he said.
Cole’s story garnered the attention of the mainstream media during one of the WWF’s most tumultuous periods, prompting WWF (now WWE) owner Vince McMahon to settle out of court. McMahon also promised that the two alleged perpetrators would never work for his company again and offered two years back pay to Cole, who was given his job back, only to be released again a year later.
Tom Cole is now 31 years old and leads a relatively normal life. He has a home in New York and operates his own small business. He and his wife, a schoolteacher, have a 1-year-old daughter. He had hoped his past was behind him.
The memories, however, still haunt him. Those same memories came rushing back recently when he picked up a new wrestling book and read a passage that he says both shocked and infuriated him.
“As for the molestation, there were young guys who wanted to get into the business like I did,” veteran wrestling manager Bobby Heenan recounted in his book, “Bobby The Brain: Wrestling’s Bad Boy Tells All.”
“Tom Cole, the ring attendant who started all these accusations, was a troubled soul,” Heenan wrote. “When I first saw him, I could tell he had a lot of problems. I put up the ring, too, when I was a kid, and I carried jackets as well. But I never had a relationship with another man to get ahead in the business or keep my job. At least Crusher didn’t kiss like he was gay. No one ever propositioned me. I knew Mel Phillips, the ring announcer, was a little odd because of stories I had heard about him and a foot fetish, but that’s all hearsay. I don’t know the personal lives of the rest of the WWF staff and whether they were gay or not.”
When Cole read the passage he was stunned.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Cole said last week. “It affected me to the point that I’ve had a hard time sleeping. My wife has been very upset. Not because she believes that, but she knows what I went through. To think that this guy would say something to hurt me upsets my wife more than anything. What happened is not something I’ll ever forget. It’s in my mind and always will be.”
Cole said he was even more upset after reading a recent endorsement of the book on the WWE’s official Web site. Although the book is not affiliated with the company, Cole called the plug “a kick to the stomach.”
“I hope it’s not a smack in my face. I would like to think someone’s speaking independently and not on behalf of anyone in the WWE,” said Cole. “When they start endorsing it on their Web site, obviously more people will buy it. I feel like my good name has been besmirched. The statements that were made (in the book) were false and malicious.”
Cole said he has been in contact with WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt and said that the lawyer wondered if he had put the past completely behind him.
“As far as putting things behind me, it’s easier said than done. I probably never will be able to. But I want to keep it on a decent level with them (the WWE),” said Cole, who added that talks with McDevitt have been cordial. “We have a mutual understanding of what has happened to me. Maybe I didn’t give them a fair shake 10 years ago. I feel now, looking back, now that I’ve grown up, at least they got rid of Mel (Phillips) and Terry (Garvin) and they didn’t come back. At least they tried to do something.”
Cole said he also has talked to Heenan and asked him why he included the remarks in his book.
“He said he didn’t mean anything personal,” said Cole. “I asked him if accusing me of being gay and having a relationship with another man wasn’t personal. I asked him where he got off stating something like that. I told him that he slandered my name. It just wasn’t true.”
Cole referred Heenan to the book that this reporter and journalist Shaun Assael released in July, “Sex, Lies and Headlocks,” which offers a scrupulous chronicle of the affair. “At least they did research,” said Cole.
When reached on Thursday, Heenan’s publisher, Mitch Rogat of Triumph Books, was contrite.
“We all feel badly that this has come up and that Tom feels as badly as he does,” said Rogat. “Our intent in book publishing is never to hurt anyone or make anyone feel badly in any way. Through my conversations with Bobby and getting to know Bobby through the process, my sense is that Bobby, if we could do it over again, would probably have done it differently because he wouldn’t want anyone to be hurt … We’re going to try to work with Tom to figure out ways to help clear the air and make everyone feel like they’re being heard and understood. It seems like Tom, in years past, was a victim in a lot of ways. I think we all realize that it must hurt now, and we want to make sure we can address this and help the situation.”
That statement, however, appears to fall short of what Cole is seeking, which is a public apology. He also is asking that a contribution be made to an agency of his choice on behalf of children from broken homes.
Despite his anger at having to revisit the episode, Cole is now philosophical about his life.
“The best thing that ever happened was Linda McMahon getting rid of me back in 1993 because I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’d always think I had it for a reason. But now I know that I have a home, a wife, a daughter and a business because I did it on my own, not because anybody helped me get it.” Cole says that perhaps there was a silver lining to the entire seamy episode.
“If it saved one more kid to go through what I went through, it was worth it. I guess I look at it like that now because I’m older.”
– Terry Taylor, who delivered a passionate testimony a week ago at Summerville’s Miles Road Baptist Church, will start work as a full-time road agent tonight at the WWE’s No Mercy pay-per-view.
Last Wednesday, on the final night of the church’s four-night crusade, WWE ref Charles Robinson provided some comic relief when he experienced sound problems with a portable microphone. “I must be back in WCW,” deadpanned Robinson. “There’s nobody in the back to tell you to go home,” quipped Pastor Jim Palmer, alluding to insider wrestling lingo in which wrestlers (or referees) are instructed to go to the finish of a match. Robinson, whose wife, Amy, passed away several months ago at the age of 30, proceeded to give a stirring, heartfelt testimony that brought the congregation to its feet.
– I’ll be signing copies of my book, “Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation,” from 7-8 tonight prior to the No Mercy pay-per-view at George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, West Ashley. There is a $5 cover charge for the pay-per-view which begins at 8.
Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected]. He is the co-author of “Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation,” published by Crown.