Warning: This article contains language and descriptions of sexual assault.
Tom Cole, who was at the center of the WWE’s ring boy scandal in the early ‘90s, has died at the age of 50 according to his older brother.
Lee Cole issued a statement on Friday evening that his brother had committed suicide:
My brother Tom Committed suicide a couple of hours ago. Vince McMahon and his wife Linda let child molesters into their companies years ago and did everything possible to cover up what they did to my brother. I hope you can sleep good at night Vince. Our family suffers. Thank U
The story of Cole is a complex one and sadly, has come with a tragic ending.
His association with the WWE (then World Wrestling Federation) began in the mid-’80s after being recruited by Mel Phillips as a member of the ring crew that would run errands and would assist with a variety of tasks. In a 1999 interview with the Wrestling Perspective outlet, Cole said he initially saw Phillips as a “father figure” noting his mother was an alcoholic and his father was never around.
Cole brought up how Phillips would try and play with his feet as a teenager. When Cole got older and realized that Phillips had a problem, he stopped him and said that Phillips stopped calling as frequently for work. In a draft complaint, Cole was more specific about what Phillips did beyond just playing with his feet.
Cole also claimed that Terry Joyal (who wrestled as Terry Garvin) and was the WWF’s Vice President of Operations, propositioned him with Cole turning down his advances at Joyal’s home. Cole was fired in February 1990, which he said were by orders of Joyal.
The allegations became public in 1992 after Cole and another ring boy, Chris Loss, spoke with reporter Jeff Savage of the San Diego Union-Tribune. From there, several media outlets covered the story including coverage on Larry King, Phil Donahue, and Geraldo Rivera’s respective shows.
Both Garvin and Phillips left the company and would never return. Accusations were also made regarding executive Pat Patterson, who resigned from his position but was brought back later that year, with Cole’s approval, and maintained his innocence throughout his life including briefly addressing the stories in his biography “Accepted”.
Garvin passed away in 1998 and Phillips died in 2012.
During this scandal in 1992, Vince McMahon noted to reporters Dave Meltzer and Phil Mushnick that he had previously fired Phillips in 1988 due to his relationship with children appearing “peculiar” and “unnatural”. However, Phillips was re-hired, with McMahon informing the reporters at the time in 1992 that it was on the condition he “steer clear from kids.” Mushnick was later sued by WWF for defamation regarding the accusations made, the sides settled in 1994 without any money being exchanged and neither Mushnick nor the New York Post admitting error. This was part of David Bixenspan’s feature on the scandal in Business Insider last October.
A draft complaint by Cole’s legal team was put together but the lawsuit was never actually filed against the WWF. In Bixenspan’s feature, he noted that in the draft complaint Cole said that Phillips “would frequently caress plaintiff’s feet and would rub them against [Phillips’] own genital area.”
A settlement for $55,000 in back pay was reached with Cole brought back to the company. Cole had done a tell-all interview with Geraldo Rivera, but it was outlined that the interview could not air until the suit was filed. Because the suit was never filed, the interview never ran.
Cole was fired by the WWF in June 1993 after he was unable to regularly attend his school classes, which was part of the agreement with the company. When speaking to Wrestling Perspective, Cole said he couldn’t finish school due to the abuse he suffered.
Prior to his firing, Cole filed a lawsuit claiming unlawful sexual harassment and discrimination, breach of contract, and false imprisonment. The suit was eventually dismissed but the reasoning is unknown, according to the Business Insider feature.
Cole kept a low profile in later years, re-surfacing for the interview on the Wrestling Perspective site, and did an interview on Wrestling Observer Live in 2000 with Dave Meltzer.
In 2010, when Linda McMahon was running for Senate, Cole sent an e-mail to Jerry McDevitt that was forwarded to Politico in support of McMahon’s campaign:
I can truly say without hesitation I’m thankful for how Linda handled my situation. Without me going out into the world and finding myself, god knows where I’d be,” reads the email. The two alleged harassers, he continued, “were fired for there actions and they NEVER returned to the Company. That alone is more than most Companies would do now (let alone 20yrs ago) I’m sending a check to Linda’s campaign fund this evening. She is after all my favorite type of Politician…Fiscally Sound. As a life long Republican I hope she wins.
When Bixenspan wrote his feature on the scandal last year, he noted to us in an interview that Tom Cole wouldn’t speak on the record for the piece.
Tom Cole was 50 years old.
– Wrestling Perspective interview with Tom Cole (1999)
– Interview with Tom Cole by Mike Mooneyham (2002)
– Business Insider feature on the scandal by David Bixenspan (2020)
– Vince McMahon on Larry King Live (1992)
– Wrestling Observer Newsletter coverage (March 1992)
– Sex, Lies, and the WWF by Phil Mushnick (March 1992)
– Outline of Tom Cole’s lawsuit (WON, June 1993)
– POST Wrestling Interview with Bixenspan