After the news broke that Turkish authorities believe missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, WWE immediately found itself embroiled in a firestorm.
There has been a public outcry for WWE to cancel its "Crown Jewel" show, which is scheduled to take place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Nov. 2 and be streamed live on WWE Network. In addition, several U.S. senators have encouraged the company to rethink its business relationship with Saudi Arabia.
My initial reaction also was that WWE should call off the show at the very least, and perhaps even pull out if its lucrative 10-year deal with Saudi Arabia, which is reportedly worth $450 million. Thinking about it further, however, that might be easier said than done.
Without knowing the specifics of the contract, I don't know if WWE could legally cancel the show or terminate the whole deal if it wanted to. And that leads to a larger question: Does WWE want to cancel "Crown Jewel," and if the answer is no, shouldn't it?
Based on WWE's reaction, it seems that it has no intention of calling off the show or moving it to another location, as has been speculated. One thing is certain, however: WWE knows how bad it looks for the company to be doing a show in Saudi Arabia at this time. Why else would WWE suddenly stop promoting that the event is taking place in Saudi Arabia?
"Crown Jewel" was referenced numerous times on this week's episodes of "Raw" and "SmackDown Live," but there was no mention whatsoever of Saudi Arabia.
That certainly wasn't the case with "The Greatest Royal Rumble," a WWE Network event that took place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in April. That show included the airing of Saudi Arabian propaganda videos and WWE announcers gushing about the "vibrant, progressive city." It will be interesting to see if "Crown Jewel" has such videos and comments throughout the show.
It's also telling that WWE removed "Crown Jewel" from its calendar of events on its website a few days ago. It was subsequently restored, but all references to Saudi Arabia have been deleted.
The only public statement WWE has made thus far is that it is "monitoring the situation." There hasn't been a single comment from WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, and that's unacceptable.
As the leader of the company, McMahon needs to publicly address the matter, even if it's just to say he takes the situation very seriously and has heard the public outcry for the show to be canceled. McMahon always says he listens to the audience, and if that's true, he heard the crowd for "SmackDown Live" at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., last night booing whenever "Crown Jewel" was mentioned.
WWE's strategy seems to be to ignore the elephant in the room until Nov. 2, and then hope it quickly becomes old news and any angry fans or sponsors will just get over it.
If the show does go on as planned and WWE continues to do business with Saudi Arabia, it certainly won't reflect well on the company, which has attempted to craft a positive image by frequently calling attention to its philanthropic endeavors on its broadcasts.
WWE also heavily promotes its anti-bullying campaign, and with its emphasis on women's wrestling in recent years, has portrayed itself as a champion of gender equality. (The latter created an awkward and controversial situation for WWE when its female athletes were not permitted to perform on "The Greatest Royal Rumble" due to Saudi Arabia's laws and restrictions regarding women.)
WWE, which won an ESPN Sports Humanitarian Award a few months ago, comes off extremely hypocritical for turning a blind eye to the current situation with Saudi Arabia.
However, while WWE undoubtedly is taking a PR hit for not canceling the show, it could pale in comparison to the hit the company's stock might take if there is any indication the deal between WWE and Saudi Arabia is in jeopardy. At this point it appears WWE's greed has trumped its morals.
A number of individuals and companies have backed away from doing business with Saudi Arabia, including billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, who announced last week he is suspending talks of a $1 billion investment with the country.
On the other hand, is it right to hold WWE to a higher standard than we hold our own government, which has long been an ally of Saudi Arabia and looked the other way in regards to its human rights violations?
It's a fair question, but my belief is that WWE can't have it both ways. Either it's a company worthy of humanitarian awards and praise for its good deeds or it's not. If WWE doesn't intend to sever ties with Saudi Arabia, it's the latter.
WWE's oft-stated mission statement that it strives to "put smiles on people's faces" will have to take a backseat to something McMahon enthusiastically proclaimed years ago while playing his heel character on WWE television:
"It's all about the money!"