The Tom Cole Interview Part I
In 1999, Wrestling Perspective published an explosive interview with Tom Cole. In this interview, the former WWF ring boy detailed incidences of sexual harrassment he suffered at the hands of WWF employees.
Paul MacArthur: The Tom Cole interview fell in our lap. After reading some excerpts of our material online, Cole contacted us and asked if we wanted to conduct an interview with him about his experiences with the WWF. After taking a look at our site, apparently he trusted us as an outlet that would allow him tell his story without resorting to tabloid sensationalism.
Needless to say, we jumped at the chance. To most people, Cole was a mystery. In the early-90s, he’d come forward with shocking allegations about the WWF, only to rejoin the company and then just disappear. He’d remained silent about what happened for years but now he wanted to tell his story to Wrestling Perspective.
My conversation with Cole was both fascinating and troubling. He came across as believable while painting an appalling picture of life in the World Wrestling Federation during the 1980s. This candid interview remains one of the most important we've conducted.
David Skolnick: When Paul told me that Tom Cole had contacted him about an interview I was equally excited and nervous. I was curious as to what Tom could say and would say. The anticipated excitement was wondering how far would Tom go. I was also nervous about how far Tom would go. Tom had moved on with his life, but he wanted to provide insight into his time with the WWF and chose Wrestling Perspective as his forum. The final product speaks for itself. Paul expertly asked questions that gave Tom the comfort to talk about a very dark time in his life and in the wrestling business. This was one of Wrestling Perspective's finest moments.
This interview appeared in Volume X § Number 78 of Wrestling Perspective, published in 1999.
This Interview Is Copyright © 1999 Wrestling Perspective.
In Perspective: Tom Cole Part I
Tom Cole paints an ugly picture of life in the World Wrestling Federation during the late Eighties and early Nineties. As a minor, Cole said he was brought into the business by Mel Phillips, who targeted young boys from broken homes to work on the WWF’s ring crew. In an interview with Paul MacArthur, Cole talks for the first time in candid detail about his experiences with Phillips, Pat Patterson, Vince McMahon and Terry Garvin Cole tells how he became an overnight media sensation with his explosive story of sexual harassment of young boys by company officials. It is a story that is equally disturbing and compelling as is portrays the dark underbelly of the business.
Wrestling Perspective: Why have you decided to come forward now?
Tom Cole: To talk? More or less it has to do with the way the WWF is portraying itself on TV today. Mostly it has to do with the stuff they are getting away with on TV, especially the Mark Henry (S&M) angle. People don’t realize that most of the people in that company on the higher end, they’re like sick and twisted people. Those angles, those are them. Our society today is letting them get away with those type of things and they’re just having the time of their lives. That’s one of the big reasons.
Wrestling Perspective: So it’s the nature of the current WWF product you find offensive given the individuals who are running the company.
Tom Cole: For years they tried to hide it. Now it seems they don’t have to hide anything. They can be as sick as they want. They’re brining to the forefront all of the issues that they had hidden from the public for so many years. Now they’ve just come forward with it so much with all the angles on TV. They’re going to have a gay angle and two guys getting married. It’s one thing to be gay, but when you start pushing the sickest issues, where does it stop? I don’t think it’s going to stop unless people stop tuning in and start complaining to the networks. As long as everybody’s making money, it doesn’t make a difference.
Wrestling Perspective: We can do a crucifixion on TV now.
Tom Cole: I was at the ECW show when they did the crucifixion angle.
Wrestling Perspective: What was the reaction from the audience?
Tom Cole: Half the crowd walked out. I tell you something, I was on the top part of the bleachers with about five of my friends and we couldn’t believe it. We started yelling up to Paul Heyman and Kurt Angle. Kurt Angle you could see firsthand saying, “I won’t be involved in this shit. Everything you’re doing I’m against. I can’t be part of this company.” You could hear him yelling that. He walked off the stage and walked out on the company. They were supposed to use him. They apologized for that angle. Paul Heyman came to the ring and apologized. He said, “I did an angle that made a lot of people upset and I'm not looking to make my fans upset." He treated it like a man. There’s a lot of cable companies that won’t pick their stuff up because of the violence. But you can't even compare the two.
It's so funny how a couple of years ago you’d never think the WWF would make the ECW look like child’s play in a sense. Not with the wrestling aspect, but the way their product is so sexual now and how they say, "Oh, kids aren’t watching at 10 o’clock." Come on. Kids watch. They sneak to watch the TV. It’s up to that company in a sense to curb the stuff they put on there. I guarantee you at least 65 to 70 percent of their audience is kids and the kids watch it. Society today, parents don’t have as much parental control over their kids and aren’t able to watch them as much as they were. They catch these angles on their web site. They talk about the angles and they show stuff on the WWF web site, they show a woman with her g-string underwear on. Come on. A kid can’t get a hold of that? Kids are all over the net today. A parent has to curb their kids from watching so called wrestling entertainment. They say the bad stuff comes on at 10 o clock but that s a bunch of horse shit. A lot of the bad stuff does comes on at 10, but a lot of it they put up on their web site and talk about on their web site. You get the kids interested, they’re going to watch TV. Parents can’t keep an eye on you 24/7. It’s impossible.
Wrestling Perspective: Where I am (in Texas), it 's coming on at eight o’clock, nine o’clock.
Tom Cole: Well, there you go. I read an article where Vince Russo wrote back to I think Bob Ryder. He seemed in his letter to be very cocky. Bob Ryder was quoting what he said. He didn’t write a letter. He had a conversation on the phone. By the way it was worded, what he had said, he was very cocky. “Parents shouldn’t have their kids up that late and I don’t think the Mark Henry angle was bad. I watched it with my 11-year-old son.” Well, if he watched that with his 11-year-old son and found nothing wrong with it, they should take his kids away. That’s insane. I would never want my kid to see something like that. I was sitting there watching it with my wife and I couldn’t believe that they did that. I couldn’t believe how far they went with that angle. In all seriousness, not being a prude or nothing, I’ve seen everything. But I can’t believe they put that on TV. I can’t believe they got away with it. I went to their web site and on their web site they said they did not get even one complaint to the USA network. I think that’s simply because the average wrestling fan that watches that show isn’t going to write in about it. But I guarantee if a lot of people stumble across that, the average person, they would get a lot of complaints. But the average wrestling fan is not going to complain.
Wrestling Perspective: Do you think parents still think it’s the same kiddie entertainment from 1985 with Hulk Hogan and therefore they don’t need to worry about wrestling?
Tom Cole: Absolutely, the business that I’m in now, I deal with people all the time and I have conversations with people. Nine times out of 10, they’ll say their kids are wrestling fans. They’ll go, “Yeah, it’s not a big deal.” Then a couple of times, I’ve talked to someone who actually sat down and watched it with the kids and go, “Oh, yeah, I don’t allow my kids to see that stuff anymore. I can’t believe how it is now. They practically have sex on TV. I remember what it was like in the Eighties, when I was a fan. Now my kids are watching it.” If you go to a show, the kids are giving you the finger and “suck it" and pointing at their crotch. Eight-, nine- and 10-year-old kids. That’s the responsibility of the WWF. They obviously can’t raise people’s children, but you have to set an example.
Wrestling Perspective: If you note the TV rating, they just put TV-PG in the upper-left-hand corner at the beginning of each hour as opposed to South Park, which at least says TV-MA. While you have about half a-million children watching South Park every week, it blatantly states up front that this is adult entertainment. When you put TV-PG, you’re suggesting... (Editor’s note: since this interview was conducted the WWF has changed the rating to TV-14).
Tom Cole: That’s only a cartoon. The things they do now, these are real-life people. These are human beings that are portraying that. In a sense with a cartoon, you can get away with more maybe, because a kid will realize it’s a cartoon. But a lot of young kids, they emulate these stars, like with all sports, show boating on the field with football, basketball and baseball. There’s no sportsmanship left in anything. Even though wrestling is sports entertainment and is not really considered a sport, at the same time, kids don’t look at it that way. A lot of kids believe a lot of it. They believe these guys are wrestling each other and the lives they lead. Like Stone Cold’s character, they really believe that guy’s like that. They try to portray him like that. They don’t come out every week and give a warning that the characters in this show aren’t like that or what have you. Kids believe what they see.
Wrestling Perspective: It’s like kids gravitating toward Amold or Sylvester Stallone or Van Damme or anyone else, they believe the character portrayed in the movie.
Tom Cole: Absolutely, and this is like a never-ending storyline. I guarantee you if you go and you could find out how many T-shirts they sell and how many mall T-shirts they sell which would be considered for children, I guarantee you, it would be in the millions. How could they say that a lot of their fan base is now adults? I’m sure it is, but it’s largely children.
Wrestling Perspective: There are students being sent home because of the T-shirts they have are Steve Austin T-shirts.
Tom Cole: I read a story about that actually and I don’ t know how much I can agree in a sense with that. But everything they’re doing now on TV. I guess if that’s a start, then it is good. Maybe I would have to agree with doing that.
Wrestling Perspective: It depends on the shirt. If it says, "Other Side Jackass.”
Tom Cole: Then that’s inappropriate. Absolutely.
Wrestling Perspective: Right. But if it’s just a skull and crossbones, the Grateful Dead's being doing that for 30 years.
Tom Cole: You can look at it and say every generation has this and every generation has that and back 50 years ago, parents disliked Bing Crosby or parents disliked Sinatra. Now they look back at them like idols. But where does it stop? Because every generation seems to be getting worse. When’s it going to end? First it was Bing Crosby, then it was Sinatra, then it was Elvis shaking his hips on stage, then it was the Grateful Dead and what have you. All the rock bands of the Seventies doing drugs and then people emulating them. Then the Eighties came and you had scandal there. Now the Nineties, where does it stop? Is it going to tum into someday they’ll have shows on TV where people are actually killed and stuff like that. That might sound like a far cry, but it doesn’t seem that far off. Where does it end? It’s getting worse and it’s more acceptable than ever before. Anything goes.
Wrestling Perspective: Let’s talk about your own experience with the WWF. How did you get involved with them at first?
Tom Cole: I got involved with them when I was 11 or 12 years old. I used to help clean up at a weightlifting gym and they had free tickets to a show and they gave them to me. It was at a high school in Yonkers. That’s where I met Mel Phillips. He was a ring announcer and head of the ring crew for the WWF at the time. He asked me if I would ever go to the County Center in White Plains, New York. I said, "No, I’ve never been there because I’m too young.” He said, “Well, next month I’ll come pick you up at your house. If you get your parents’ permission, I’ll take you to the show there.” So he called the house and got my mother’s permission and I went to the show and that’s pretty much how it started.
Wrestling Perspective: At what point did you actually start working for them?
Tom Cole: I started working for them pretty much right away helping with the ring at local shows and getting paid $20, $30, especially at the Westchester County Center. I would sell programs for Arnold Skaaland’s wife and I would help set up the ring and help take down the ring at night. That’s how it pretty much started there. Then I’d go to Madison Square Garden and go for coffee and stuff for the wrestlers backstage. I never helped set up the ring there because it was a union building, but I did start taking jackets when I was 14. They had a guy there named Elliott, who worked for them for years at Madison Square Garden. They used to call him The Professor. I remember it was close to New Year’s about 15 years ago I guess, Elliott showed up at Madison Square Garden and he was drunk and Vince McMahon said, “You’ve got to get someone out there to do the jackets.” I used to always bring a suit jacket with me because I was waiting for my big break even when I was a kid. Vince McMahon looked at me and said, “You got a suit jacket or something you can wear?" I said, “Yeah.” They sent me out to ringside to do jackets and that’s how I started to do jackets every month at Madison Square Garden.
Wrestling Perspective: Time frame, when did you start out?
Tom Cole: I’d say about 1985. I can’t be absolutely clear on years because it was so long ago.
Wrestling Perspective: You started working with them on the side.
Tom Cole: Local and New York area, but I started going on the road that summer; the summer of 1985. Mel would pick me up and other boys. This was when they used to run Nassau Coliseum usually on a Friday night and Baltimore on a Saturday and then Sunday would usually be an afternoon show at the Washington Capital Center. So it was Long Island to the Baltimore Arena to the Washington Capital Center. That’s how it started with the weekend stint. Or it would be Madison Square Garden, then Philadelphia and then Boston. That’s how they would run their shows a lot of times on the weekends when I’d be able to go.
Wrestling Perspective: Mel Phillips was usually the guy driving you around.
Tom Cole: Always or we’d fly. Sometimes there’d be Philly in the afternoon and you’d fly to Boston for the night show. I've done that several times when I was younger.
Wrestling Perspective: You were a teenager at the time.
Tom Cole: Yes.
Wrestling Perspective: There were several other teenagers at the time.
Tom Cole: Mel had a black book with names of kids from all over the country that he would call up if he would be in a specific town and he would ask these kids if they would want to go to the shows. You’d meet kids from every state. I’d go from New York to Philly and he’d have young kids waiting for him, boys, at the shows and he’d get in five, six, seven kids. They’d go to Boston and it would be the same thing and maybe one or two of those kids would come with us or they’d drive with us. It was the same motif he had with me. He’d call parents. They were always kids from broken homes. Once in a blue moon, you’d hear like a kid who came from a so-called stable environment. Mostly it was kids with a broken home with no father. Just a mother, drunk mother, alcoholic, drug addict, whatever. That’s pretty much the type of kid that Mel was geared toward.
Wrestling Perspective: Did your family have any problems?
Tom Cole: My mother was an alcoholic and my father was never around. Mel was like a father-figure in a sense.
Wrestling Perspective: You fit the profile of the kid he was looking for.
Tom Cole: Absolutely.
Wrestling Perspective: Did you ever notice any suspicious behavior?
Tom Cole: When we were younger, he used to have a thing where he used to play with your feet. He would wrestle you for five seconds then he’d grab your toes and pull your shoes off and he’d start playing with your toes. Squeezing them and stuff. I was a small kid, maybe 100 pounds. I was real small when I was younger. He’d get your toes. I don’t know, I didn’t think anything sexual about it because he was playing with your feet. When you’re a young kid, you’re not thinking like...Now I look at it like, “Wow, that was a foot fetish." Several years later I realized, “There’s something wrong here.” I was watching a show and on the show they were talking about fetishes and some guy or woman were talking about foot fetishes. I’m thinking, “Wow, man, maybe Mel has a problem.” Then I had a friend who I met through Mel, a kid named Chris, we started talking to one another about it saying how, “it’s really weird that Mel plays with kids’ toes and stuff. That’s not normal and I’m not going to let him do that no more, man. He better not try to touch my feet anymore.” The next time he tried to get my feet, I started getting older. This was a couple of years after the first instances. I kicked him. You try to be like, “Na, man, I don’t want to play that.” That’s how it stopped. He never tried anything else. I guess he knew. When you started getting older, he started calling less. Once that happened, he started calling less, but l still went to the shows at the Garden. I’d just show up. But he was like trying to get rid of you. He liked the younger kids who couldn’t give him a problem about it or didn’t realize that there was something wrong with it.
Wrestling Perspective: At one point you had a run-in or issue with Terry Garvin, I believe?
Tom Cole: Well, there was an issue with Pat Patterson. He used to, when I was younger, I can’t be specific, but l was in the 15-year-old range, 16-year-old, he’d look at you when he was talking to you, he’d look right at your crotch and he’d like lick his lips and shit. He’d make sexual gestures by looking at you like that. He put his hand on your ass and squeeze your ass and stuff like that. He’d check you out like you were a chick. That’s pretty much all that he did.
But Terry Garvin, he offered me a job when I was 19 years old. It was at Madison Square Garden and he had a friend who worked in the warehouse sending out parts to all the ring crews and he’d take care of the warehouse. It was a really good job. That guy had left to go to the music division of the WWF because he was a guitar player or something. So Terry Garvin needed somebody else. He asked me if I wanted to do it. I was like, “Aw, man!” I felt like that was my big break. He asked me, “What did you always want to do in the WWF?" I said, “I want to be ring announcer.” He said, “Make a tape and send me the tape and we’ll get together and make plans about when you can come up to the WWF and get all your credentials, your pass and your photo IDs and everything else.” I was like, “That’s great.” So a couple of weeks passed and I called him up and I was like, “Hey, what’s going on with the job?” He was like, “Oh, I’ve been busy, but you’ve got the job and ba-ba-ba.” He’s like, “I’ve got to make time for you to come up.” So he called me maybe a week later or so and he said, “It’s a good time to come up.” So I go up there. He picked me up at the train station in Stamford, Connecticut. We went over to the warehouse and we were looking over what my job would be and stuff like that. He was married with two kids and he lived in Connecticut.
He said that if I wanted to go on a road trip...they were doing a TV in L.A. first and then they were doing a tour of Japan where Stan Hansen and Hulk Hogan fought in the Egg Dome. He had asked me if I wanted to go to a show with him. I was like, “Oh, yeah, that would be great.” So he’s like, “Well, I’ve got to stop by my house real quick. I’ve got to get my assignment book.” I was like, “All right, I’ll take the ride.” He’s like, “You can say hello to my wife and kids.” I was like, “All right, no problem.” So on the way there it starts snowing real bad. We walk up the stairs, you go through the bottom of the house up through the garage and you get into the kitchen and I don’t see anybody. I’m like, “Where are your wife and kids?” He’s like, “Oh, I totally forgot. They went to Florida.” I get a funny feeling in my stomach. He’s like, “Come sit in the living room and I’ll show you the book.” I’m sitting on the couch and he’s showing me the book. He’s like, “I want you to go here and here. Can you get a passport?” I was like, “Yeah, that shouldn’t be a problem.” He said, “That’s good. The tour is next Thursday." He goes and tums on the TV and a porno comes on. I was like, “What the fuck is this guy doing?” I’m saying to myself. It’s a guy and girl having sex. He’s like... Can I be frank when I talk right now and tell you what he said?
Wrestling Perspective: Yes.
Tom Cole: He’s like, “Has your girlfriend sucked your dick like that?” I was like, “What?” He’s like, “Let me suck your dick like that.” I jumped off the couch and said, “What are you talking about, man?" He’s just like, “What do you mean? Don’t you want me to do that?” I was like, “Listen man, I didn’t know you were gay. I’ve got nothing against you if you’re gay. That’s your business. But I’m not gay. I’m not gay in any way. I’m not interested in that.” I was like, “Is that what this job is all about?" He was just like, “I don’t want to make you nervous or nothing.” I was like, “Listen man, I don’ t want any part of this. I came from nothing. I can go back to having nothing. I want to go now.” He was like, “I don’t know if I can take you. It’s snowing out, real bad.” It was like a blizzard. I was like, “I’m sleeping in the garage or I’ll sleep in the van if I have to.” I went and took a blanket and I slept in the van the whole night. The next morning, it was early like six o’clock, he gets in the van he didn’t talk to me the whole way there. He dropped me off at the warehouse where I thought I’d start working.
So maybe a couple of hours later Mel Phillips shows up and he goes, “Terry Garvin has decided he doesn’t need you to work.” I’m like, “What do you mean?" He’s like, “He’s going to do it himself or get somebody else.” I said to Mel, “That’s fucking bullshit, man. That guy came on to me last night. He tried to fucking put the moves on me. That’s fucked up and now I’m getting fired.” I was really pissed. I was like, “There’s laws against this. You can’t just doing this shit to people. What am I going to do, man? I should fucking go to the paper. I should go to Vince McMahon or something.” Mel’s like, “Ahh, you don’t want to make trouble like that. Terry’s done this before. Terry likes guys who are straight. He loves that. Terry loves to try to break guys. To try and get with guys and stuff that he feels are straight and not gay.” I was like, “That’s fucked up.” That was the last time I spoke to Mel. Two years later I decided to go through with suing him and I went forward with my story.
Wrestling Perspective: At this point, after the incident with Terry Garvin, you had no more contact with the WWF after the Mel Phillips discussion?
Tom Cole: Not that I can remember, no.
Wrestling Perspective: When did you decide to come forward initially?
Tom Cole: There was another instance with Terry Garvin actually before that, when we were coming back from Boston. I was probably 16. We did a trip to Worchester, Massachusetts, it was an aftemoon show. I went with the ring crew from Glens Falls the night before. I went with the ring crew to Worchester, Massachusetts. I was with the ring crew for about a week. When I went to Worchester, they chartered a flight for the guys. They had an afternoon show in Washington. I had no way to get home. The ring crew was trying to get me home, but they had a show I think in Canada. They were going in the opposite direction. Terry Garvin gave me a ride. He started smoking pot in the car and shit. I was 16 at the time. He asked, “You smoke? You want some pot?” I was like, “Nah, I don’t smoke.” He was like, “Come on. Do some. It’s good.” I’m like, “Nah, I don’t smoke, man. I don’t want any.” It was a pretty long ride and it started getting late. There was a Howard Johnson’s in Darien, Connecticut, where all their employees used to stay so I stayed there. He walked me back to the room. I was talking to him. This is the time I had no idea he was gay. He was asking, “Do you want to go to a strip bar?” or shit like that. He was like, “You can see the naked girls and stuff.” I thought he was trying to be cool. He seemed pretty cool. Your idea of gay wouldn’t be that. I was like, “Nah, I can’t go there. I’m only 16 years old. How can I get in?" He goes, “Money talks, bullshit walks. I know people in this town. I run this town.” I was like, “Nah, I really don’t want to.” Then I go to my room and he says, “I’m going to be taking off. I just want to do a little something before I leave.” He puts down a wrapper on a table and he starts doing coke and he’s like, “You want some?” I’m like, “Nah, man, I don’t want any. I don’t fuck with that shit.” He’s just like, “You’re sure you don’t want none? I’ve got a bottle of Absolut vodka out in my car.” I’m like, “Nah, I’m really not interested.” I started getting, like I felt pressure. I didn’t feel pressure in a sexual way then. But I felt pressure that he was trying to push drugs on me and shit. I guess he saw it and he said, “Am I making you feel uncomfortable?” I was like, “Yeah, yeah, very much so.” He’s just like, “Well, want me to leave?” I was like, “Yeah, I think you should leave,” and he left.
Wrestling Perspective: Were there any other instances? You mentioned Mel Phillips, Pat Patterson and the two instances with Terry Garvin. Did any other instances happen with them or that was pretty much it?
Tom Cole: Those were pretty much it. The one with the drugs, I had no idea that he might be gay. But then when I was 19, there was no doubt.
Wrestling Perspective: So if I'm hearing this correctly, Mel Phillips was transporting minors across state lines and playing with their feet. Terry Garvin was transporting minors across state lines with drugs in the car.
Tom Cole: Absolutely.
Wrestling Perspective: So Terry Garvin never came on to you when you were a minor?
Tom Cole: That time in the hotel, I had lost my jacket at one of the shows and I didn’t get it then, but the jacket was a windbreaker, maybe a $20 jacket. He gave me $500 for that jacket. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. But when he started doing coke and shit, it started getting me real nervous. Not when I was 16, no. That’s why I didn’t have an idea he was like that. Otherwise I wouldn’t have went with him for a ride or anything like that. He had a wife and two kids. To be gay, everyone knew Pat was gay because Pat didn’t try to hide it. Pat is a homosexual who checks guys out. You can see him look at you when you talk to him. He’s like checking you out like you’re a good-looking girl or something. But Terry Garvin was different.
Wrestling Perspective: But Pat Patterson never made an overt pass at you?
Tom Cole: He grabbed my ass. Except that, no. Maybe because of my age at the time that he didn’t want to get out of hand. Terry Garvin said something to me that night that really bothered me though. Actually, it was the next day on the way home. He didn’t say much. The one thing that he did say to me was something to the effect of this is how it goes. There is a chain of command. I was like, “What does that mean?” He’s like, “I figured since you knew Mel and we all know what Mel’s all about. Mel usually,” he didn’t use the word hooks me up, but he said something to that effect. I don’t want to say something that he didn’t say so I really can’t find the word, but it was to the effect that there was a chain of command with him and Mel or something. That’s what he meant, but I can’t remember the exact wording. But that was what he was getting at.
Wrestling Perspective: During the scandal of the early-Nineties, you came forward publicly.
Tom Cole: Yes.
Wrestling Perspective: Which was the first media outlet you went to?
Tom Cole: Phil Mushnick of the New York Post. I never really told anyone what happened to me why I didn’t get the job except my sister. That was pretty much it. I didn’t tell anyone else. My brother was reading the New York Post and he says to me, this is in the summer of 1991, “Whatever happened to that job you had with the WWF?" I was 20 at the time. He goes, “What happened?" I was like, “Ahh, nothing, I don’t want to talk about it.” He said, “What do you mean you don’t want to talk about it. Look, they’ve got all this steroid shit about them in the paper. That company’s in trouble." I’m like, “Ahh, that’s nothing, steroids.” He’s like, “What do you mean?” So I told him the whole story. He goes, “Holy shit. Why didn’t you tell somebody sooner or tell me?" I was like, “It’s not really something I wanted to talk about. It’s something I wanted to forget about. I was pretty much heart-broken that I didn’t have my job anymore.” He said, “Well, why don’t I call Phil Mushnick?” I was like, “I don’t care. Do whatever you want.” He’s like, “If I call Phil Mushnick and I get him to talk to you will you talkto him?” I was like, “Yeah,” but I didn’t think Phil Mushnick was going to call back. Maybe two weeks later I’m at work and my brother calls me and goes, “You’re never going to believe who called me today.” I’m like, “Who?” He’s like, “Phil Mushnick. He wants to talk to you about what happened."
So I spoke with Phil Mushnick and I told him everything, the whole story of what happened to me. He’s like, “Do you have proof of places that you went and receipts, anything like that? You really need proof. I believe what you’re saying, but you really need proof.” I used to collect the tickets from all the shows I used to go to, so I had tickets from Madison Square Garden, Baltimore, Washington. One time when I was 16, the WWF paid for a plane ticket of mine. They were doing something a lumberjack match, a come-as-you-are lumberjack match. They didn’t have anyone else in New York City to buy all the shit from the prop shop, so I went to New York City and they flew me on a Pan Am flight up to Rochester, where they were going to have that battle royal. So I went down to New York and I bought a scepter for Harley Race and hockey stuff for the Canadian wrestlers that they had at the time. A bunch of stuff like that. That's one of the things I had. The plane ticket from that day. I had the receipts from that day. I had the note given to me by Mel Phillips and the people from the travel agency about what I needed to get. That was some of the proof that I had. That’s what he needed. That’s how the story started to unfold. Maybe four or five months he didn’t go anywhere with the story. I moved back down - I was living upstate in Utica with my brother at the time - I moved back downstate and my brother called me. He’s like, “Phil Mushnick is talking to somebody who’s going to break the story in another paper in San Diego, The Union-Tribune. They did like a 10-page story. I went back up there and that’s how it all started. It snowballed from there, huge
Wrestling Perspective: From the time the story broke, at what point did you decide to file a lawsuit with them?
Tom Cole: Well, my brother in a sense said, “You should sue them.” One of the main reasons I got a lawyer in the beginning was a lot of people started calling my brother’s house and going there, like Geraldo Rivera’s producer. Brooke Stolsky was her name. She called my brother. I picked up the phone and my brother’s like, “Don’t pick up the phone. Don’t say anything to these people.” There were a lot of reporters that started calling from all over the country. She says to my brother, she goes, “I want an exclusive interview with your brother, Tom. We’re putting a big show together.” He’s like, “Not interested.” She’s like, “You can do this the hard way or the easy way. We need an interview. We’ll go there. I’ll camp out on your front lawn pretty much.” So she was kind of like that. My brother’s like, “We’ll think about it. Give us your phone number and your information and we’ll consider it.” Then my brother’s like, “We should definitely get a lawyer. This is definitely getting out of hand now.” So we went to a local lawyer in Utica and explained the situation to him, He was dumbfounded in the beginning. But he started to see it was a legitimate case, a good case, so he took it. But my brother goes to Brooke Stolsky for Geraldo’s Now It Can Be Told. I gave her the interview. She came up to Utica and we shot it in the Howard Johnson’s motel and then my lawyer finds out about it. So he’s pissed. He’s like, “You don’t do this without my permission” and shit like that. He really ripped into me. He’s like, “I don’t want the case anymore. I’m dropping the case.” I was like, "Fine, whatever. It wasn’t my decision. It was mostly my brother's.” So we left the office that day. We get home and then two days later that lawyer calls back and he’s like, “Listen, come back down. It’s kind of like a misunderstanding.”
What had happened was Jerry McDevitt called them. This guy was a little lawyer in a little shit town upstate. Joe Paturo was his name. He had a little rinky-dink law firm up there. I should have kept him as my lawyer. Jerry McDevitt later told me that that guy was a tough lawyer. When they called there, he told them to go fuck themselves. He had no comment about his client. He was trying to get me back as his client. When they had first called there, he told them to go fuck themselves. He wouldn’t talk to them. He wouldn’t give them the time of day. It was like, “I’ll see you in court” and that was that. I had already gotten hooked-up with a lawyer down in New York City named Alan Fuchsberg, who turned out to be a nightmare. He was a big shot. His father was an appellate court judge for the state of New York, who was a very respectable judge in the state of New York. That’s pretty much how it started with the story.
Wrestling Perspective: Did Vince McMahon initiate any contact with you?
Tom Cole: Not with me personally because I hooked up with a lawyer first. Later on, they said they tried to go through Mel to get in contact with me. But that’s when they tried to call Joe Paturo and he told them to go fuck off. That was later on they told me when I went back to the company, they told me that they had tried to get in contact with me.
Wrestling Perspective: You mention your second lawyer being a nightmare. How so?
Tom Cole: It turned out to be that way. He was a big shot with a big law firm. In my opinion, he rode on his father’s coattails. He kind of sold me up the river. He became my lawyer and was my lawyer for about a week-and-a-half before I went back to work with the WWF. I went down to New York to do another interview with Geraldo Rivera’s people because they liked the first interview so much that they wanted to do it over with Geraldo’s brother. They were trying to put him in charge of that show and they were trying to give him a good story to go with. They liked the story so much they had me come down to New York and reshoot. I went down there and I reshot the whole interview. That’s when I realized a lot about the media, how full of bullshit they are and how they don’t care about you or anyone else. They just care about a story. Very phony and cold people. That week was when I first met with Alan Fuchsberg, who was my attorney in Manhattan. That first week, he had already gotten in contact with the WWF and he started negotiations to meet with them.
I don’t know if you remember the show. On a Thursday night, Vince McMahon went on Larry King and Bruno Sammartino brought my name up and said, “What about this young man, Tom Cole?” Vince McMahon said, “I have no idea who Tom Cole is. Never heard of him. Don’t know anything about him.” But he blatantly lied because Jerry McDevitt, his lawyer, was in negotiations all that week to meet with me and they had made the decision to meet that Sunday at two o’clock in the afternoon at the midtown Manhattan offices of Alan Fuchsberg.
Wrestling Perspective: This was ‘92, ‘93?
Tom Cole: This was 1992, I think in March of 1992.
Wrestling Perspective: Then shortly thereafter, you are slated to appear on Phil Donahue?
Tom Cole: Yes.
Wrestling Perspective: What happens there?
Tom Cole: I had already settled with the WWF. Vince came into New York City that Sunday aftemoon. I met with him. Everyone was telling me to sue for millions and this and that. He seemed very shrewd. He was very shrewd and I was very young (laughs). He was there with his wife, Linda, and Jerry McDevitt. They were sitting there with me and my lawyer. He was just asking me what happened and I told him everything that happened to me. He looked disgusted and upset about it. He said, “Well, you know Tom, this is a terrible thing that happened to you. I want to make it right. This isn’t the type of company that we run. "These people have left company. They will be fired. Pat Patterson, Terry Garvin and Mel Phillips will be fired from their jobs." A week before he said that, they had taken a leave of absence. At the meeting that Sunday he told me that he was going to fire them. He said that he believed everything that I said and what exactly was I looking for. So my lawyer who was kind of throwing numbers at him in a sense, my lawyer was like, “A couple of hundred thousand for this and another $500,000 for this.” Vince was like, “Well, that’s a lot of money that we’re talking about.” I’m like, “Listen, I’m not looking for money.” It was probably the stupidest thing I ever said because I believed what this guy was saying.
My lawyer kept walking out of the room and leaving me in there for 15, 20 minutes at a time with Vince McMahon and his wife. He’d go on walks with the lawyer and leave me in the room and McMahon would talk to me and say, “It’s terrible what happened to you and ba-ba-ba. We want you to come back and work for us” and this and that. But what they really wanted was to find out any other kids’ names and any other people who were involved and anyone they could pretty much go to.
Wrestling Perspective: So they were asking you names of other people.
Tom Cole: Oh, absolutely. They did all along even when I went back to work for them. But getting back to being there in the office with them, my lawyer came back in and they started arguing, him and Vince. Vince was like, “I will be backed into a corner. I’m like a rat. I’ll go for the throat if I have to. I won’t be backed into a corner.” Then I stood up and I was like, “I’m not looking for money. I’m looking for the right thing to be done. I’m not looking to hurt your company. You seem fair.” He goes again, “You were wronged. I want to give you your back pay. I want to give you your job back. I want to start on a clean slate with you. I want to take care of everything.” So he goes, “How would you feel about that?” I loved wrestling. I loved working for the business. It’s what I wanted to do my whole life. There was never a better feeling than going into an arena or going to a wrestling show and meeting people and stuff like that. It felt so good inside. You were so happy to be there. It was the best feeling in the world. So I took my job back. I thought that was the right thing to do. I thought, let me give it a chance, maybe this guy didn’t know anything that happened. I’m looking at him and I was in no league for Vince McMahon. The guy’s methodical.
So I went back to work for them that Monday. I went up to the offices. Later on that week was when the Phil Donahue show was to air. I stayed in the Sheraton in Stamford for the whole week. Linda McMahon said to me, she was like, “We’re going to send a car for you so you can go shopping. I’m sending $5,000 over so you can go get clothes and whatever you need and ba-ba-ba.” So I went and I did that. Then she said, I guess the next day, I remember getting the phone call from her, and she said, “Listen, Tom, there’s a show coming up tomorrow. Phil Donahue. I would be honored,” I can’t believe I believed this shit now when I look at it, “if you were there.” I was like, “Sure, no problem.” So we go to the show and we’re in the limo. Steve Planamenta was the public relations head at Titan Sports at the time. We’re sitting in the car with Linda and Vince and I’m sitting there and Vince is going over his cue cards that Steve Planamenta was writing out about possible questions that would be asked and how to answer them. He was beating around the bush about everything and not giving a straight-forward answer. This that and the other thing. Kind of like they do now. So I said to him, “Why don’t you come out and like be truthful. Something happened in your company that you’re trying to fix,” and he just looked at me like I had five heads. I was like, “People will understand that. What you’re doing now is making a joke of yourself.” Sure enough, I don’t remember the show, but people were laughing at the whole subject and it was kind of like a joke. He didn’t do what I said. He did it the way he wanted to, which is whatever.
But I went there and I sat there in the audience with Linda McMahon and Miss Elizabeth. She was friends with Linda. I sat in the audience. No one brought my name up because they were tipped off that I had gone back to the WWF and that I was in the audience somewhere, but nobody knew what I looked like. They didn’t know. No one brought my name up. I later come to find out that Vince had it planned that if anyone brought my name up he was going to say, “Here’s Mr. Cole now,” unbeknownst to me that that was going to happen. We get in the back after the show’s over and a producer for Phil Donahue comes in the dressing room and he’s talking to Vince, “Oh, it was a great show. Good crowd response” and everything else. He’s like, “Man, I wish we could have had that kid Tom Cole here. That would have made the show.” Vince looks at me and he turns around and says to the guy, “Well, there’s Mr. Cole.” The guy’s like, “Get the fuck out of here. I can’t believe that this kid is here. Oh, my God.” He was pissed because he would have loved for me to be on the show. I guess Vince was using it as a pull if someone said, “What about this kid Tom Cole?” He would have been, “Well, we settled with this kid and everything’s fine.” But it didn’t come to that because I guess everyone on stage got wind of what had happened a couple of days earlier so they didn’t bring my name up. It didn’t happen.
Wrestling Perspective: What exactly were the terms of the settlement?
Tom Cole: I got my job back, two years back pay, they could never like try to say, try to go against me what they agreed with the understanding of everything that happened to me. They weren’t going to try to fight that issue and Terry Garvin and Mel Phillips would never, ever again be employed by Titan Sports or the World Wrestling Federation or any parent company thereof. They had a clause in there about Pat Patterson, but it wasn’t pertaining to him never working for the company again. So they knew from the beginning, which I didn’t realize being young and not looking at the document. I was young. Pat Patterson wound up coming back a couple of weeks later. I was up in the office with Vince and they were going over a bunch of stuff about how to handle things and I, was sitting at a board meeting, which I did for like two months straight. Vince goes to me one day, “Can you come here for a second, Tom?" I’m like, “Sure.” So we walk into this comer of the corporate meeting office up there and he goes, “Pat Patterson is in the building. You don’t have a problem with that, do you? Because if you do, I don’t want you to run into each other and you get all upset.” I was like, “Whatever, man, nah, I don’t.” What was I going to say? He goes, “Good, maybe you guys can have a talk and work this out.” But that never happened. But that’s what he said to me that day. This is how I know their mindset and how they think because I sat in on meetings with these people. I see how vicious and how ruthless they are. No one really knows that except being there and not many people have been where I’ve been at that company and have sat there and seen how they handle things and see what they’re about. Not many people can say that. There are people that write about the WWF. There are people that say stuff and give their opinions, but if you haven’t been there then you just don’t really know what the inner workings of that company is really all about.
Wrestling Perspective: Can you give me an example of vicious behavior that you saw?
Tom Cole: Vicious behavior that I saw? Well, maybe vicious behavior isn’t the right word in a sense, but just how ruthless they are. Going after Murray Hodgson. He was suing them and they went after him. Jerry McDevitt, their lawyer, had said, “We dug up stuff on him. He’s a closet fag,” and all kinds of shit like that. “He won’t be suing us long.” Then his suit disappeared. Then that ring woman, “she’s full of shit. Her case ain’t going to mean shit in a little while.” Stuff like that you’d hear. Jerry McDevitt said to me one day, we were at the top of Titan Tower, and he was a chain smoker, I don’t know if he still is, but he was at the time, and we’re standing at the top of Titan Tower. He seemed like a nice guy in a sense, but he’s a great lawyer. An absolutely great lawyer. There’s no doubt about it. I said to him, “Let me ask you a question.” He goes, “Shoot.” I go, “What would you do if you found out all this stuff about the WWF was true and that Vince knew what was happening and Vince knew what happened to me with Mel Phillips and stuff and he just let it be.” He says to me, “I would drop them as a client because I have children. I have morals and the right type of priorities and I would not have them as a client.” And that was that.
Wrestling Perspective: When you came forward to the media, did you have any conversations with David Meltzer, Wade Keller or any of the other wrestling writers?
Tom Cole: No, but my brother had talked to them. I didn’t really didn’t talk to anyone in the media really.
In part two of this explosive interview with Tom Cole, Cole discusses how the settlement affected his relationship with his brother, what his second tenure with the WWF was like, and the steroid scandal of the early-Nineties. He also discusses his dismissal from the WWF and the unusual circumstances surrounding the subsequent unemployment hearings. To read part two of this interview, click here.
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