Former Impact referee Kris Levin recently posted on Twitter details about his termination from the company. He said it related to him speaking out about abuse within the company and he talked more about his decision to tweet when he joined The Wrestling Inc. Daily podcast.
"When I made a statement about Impact, I had so much support. But there's a handful of people who tried to discredit it. It's so hurtful that you can take someone's truth and try to discredit it because you're a fan of the company or because that company pays you," Levin said.
"One of the best lessons I ever learned in wrestling was when I joined the business at 15. And as you would expect, I had all the maturity of a teenager as I chatted a lot and talked too much and didn't know my place at times just being an over-excited pup in the business. And I was pulled aside once and told it's never a bad time to shut the f*** up.
"If you look at the accusations being made, and your first thought is, 'Well, I'm not personally involved and I don't have any evidence to say whether it's true or not. But, because I work there or because I'm a fan there, I'm going to try and discredit them.' That is some of the most cowardly, selfish actions that you could ever possibly consider. And right now, I'm speaking directly to Moose who did that. He shared my tweet and there's only two people in wrestling who tried to condemn what I said about Impact and they were Moose and Larry Dallas," Levin continued.
"There's a lot to be said for your circle of friends being a representation of who you are. But there's also a lot to be said about the people who don't like you being an indicator of who you are. If those two people are going to discredit me, then I think I'm in pretty good company. The tone deafness of Moose, who is known for having a domestic violence incident and it's known that he is in Impact because of the fact that other companies will not touch him because of his history. The fact that he would come out and try to discredit my claims… to quote a tweet I saw, there's a difference between being a company man and a man. And I don't mean that in a sense of toxic masculinity or any expectation of that. I mean in terms of being a human, that is wrong. Anyone who would just discredit like that without knowing has no decency, no integrity and they should be ashamed of themselves."
There's often little to gain, professionally, by speaking out. Levin revealed why he decided to come out about his termination.
"I put out the story because I was so incredibly moved by the courage of all these people speaking out even if it was against their own self-interest. I'm sure there's a very small percentage speaking out for the wrong reason," Levin said, before adding that it's a statistical certainty that 2-4 percent of people make false claims.
"That leaves the overwhelming majority of this being people who were legitimately hurt and legitimately scared. So many people want to paint with a wide brush and say it's being done for attention or being done to advance your career. That is the most ignorant thing I can possibly think of. Now, don't get me wrong as I believe we do need to trust these people speaking out and do what we can to verify it. But at the same time, speaking out isn't something that improves your career. I sat on my story and I'm still sitting on other things for months because so many people – and not in a malicious intent – in practical reality said, 'If you speak out about what happened here, it's gonna make you look unprofessional and un-hirable.'
"I've worked 13 years, my entire adult life, to try and make a living in pro wrestling and I'm very aware of the fact that there's this standard that referees shouldn't say anything. You should just shut your mouth and you shouldn't bring attention to yourself. And I knew that me speaking out is going to make me un-hirable in a lot of people's eyes. But I just couldn't live with myself anymore knowing that this place is abusing people. I know about it and I could say something and maybe that will help someone to decide to not let it happen to them or to a friend to the best of their ability because you can't always prevent these things. Or, to be cautious about going in there or anything like that," Levin stated.
"And I don't wanna paint the entire company with that brush because there's so many good people there who mean well, whether they're in the office or the locker room. I think a lot of them are unaware of it and maybe some of them are scared. But I decided that if there's any company that would blackball me for speaking the truth against predators and abusers, then I wouldn't work there. I would go insane with the guilt of enabling them by continuing to do business with them."
Levin then went into detail about the abuse he endured which led to him speaking out and ultimately being terminated.
"I feel very conflicted talking about my story because I don't want to make this about myself. The movement is about much more than me and I'm only tangentially connected at best but there are some things that are contextually important to understand," stated Levin. "That is that I was at Impact for two years and the last, maybe, year of it, I think that anyone who's spoken to me on any deeper personal level, because I'm a pretty introverted person, can testify that I was miserable.
"You'd think I'm traveling the world and doing my dream job so why would I be miserable? But there's this systemic abuse and degradation where it got to the point every month I was dreading when the tapings would come because I was constantly reminded, 'You're a referee and because of that you're a second-class citizen and you're replaceable.' It just gutted my self-esteem and sense of self-worth. I kept picking up as many jobs at Impact as I could do – additional duties beyond refereeing such as helping with production."
Levin said he was often called in early or asked to stay late for tapings to help produce. He also spent his free time shopping for props and while he would be compensated for the purchases, he would be met with disdain for asking to be paid for the time he spent buying them.
"People would come up to me who I hadn't even spoke to about things saying, 'Oh, I heard you got a lot of heat with the office.' What would get me heat – we had a conversation about me writing for their website because they wanted more voices from talent. I said, 'Sure, just a heads up – I'm happy to contribute this free of charge if it's gonna boost everything with the company. But I just wanna know, am I being paid?' Then, there's all this talk of, 'Why would you ask for that? That was wrong of you.' Then this executive and that executive think you should just be thankful for the opportunity and you should just do it," said Levin.
"Listen, if they don't wanna pay me because they can't, that's one thing. But to have absolute disdain because, in a business, someone asked money for work – things like that were just putting me on edge. I was constantly being reminded, 'Do more or you're gone. Do more or you're gone.' I think anyone who has worked with me knows how industrious I am. I'm not someone who will glide by with the bare minimum as I'm a workhorse. Whether I'm on the road or at home, I do everything I can to keep busy with projects – with writing, researching, helping out at shows and any was possible. That's something I always endeavored to do. It really messed with my head that I'm doing so much. I'm doing so much more than even I do at other places and still I'm being told it's not enough."
Levin eventually brought his grievances to an executive and confronted him directly.
"There was a point after the November tapings that I spoke to an executive. I kind of had it out with them because I didn't care anymore and was so hurt," admitted Levin. "I said, 'I'm tired of hearing about what I'm not doing. I'm tired of hearing things get back to me. Do you have an issue with me because if there's a problem with me then I want you to talk to me directly' because they play telephone and that's how they manipulate you."
Levin then discussed how management would try to make him feel scared by telling him that the locker room had issues with him, when that wasn't really the case. Levin told that executive that he didn't like that and that if there were any issues, then he needed to be addressed directly.
"I think this person was caught off-guard because they're a bully. I'll never forget one time, in my very early time at Impact that was show-to-show and there was no guarantee I'd be back for the next one, and I'd always have to ask, 'Am I coming back next time? Should I put that in my schedule?' I remember one time, for days, they were avoiding me at the tapings. At first, they were busy, but then you could tell they were getting off on the fact that I was stressing," stated Levin.
"Then they said, 'Hey, talk to me in catering tomorrow.' I approached them to talk and they just reared on me and got right in my face, and when I say that, the tips or our toes were touching and there was an inch between our noses, and he intentionally violated my space just to have that conversation. I knew what he was doing and knew that he was trying to intimidate me to test me or whatever. It unnerved me certainly but I also knew that if I showed that, then they would get off on that. So, I just acted like it wasn't happening and I was forced to have this conversation nose-distance apart with this person about it. After, I guess I passed their test because they're like, 'Oh yeah. From now on you're good at all our shows.'"
Levin said that ribbing can be fun, but this was just bullying for bullying's sake. He added that there were many incidents of that happening where people try to scare you or make you feel bad.
"When I had that conversation last November about it, I told them how things needed to be direct between us and all that. They said, 'We're really happy with your work output. We'd like you to keep being a part of this team, so on and so forth. Let's reconvene after Thanksgiving and talk about that.' And I said okay, that's fair and thank you. I was surprised because I was honestly prepared to quit that night because I was just tired of being treated that way," revealed Levin.
"Towards the end of November, I got a call from a person saying they were a neutral third-party investigator who was hired by Anthem and was looking into accusations against the Impact executives for sexual harassment and putting employees in dangerous environments. This has been reported on and isn't something I'm making up. If you look through the news cycles of this past summer – last year – you'll see that it was a real thing," said Levin.
"I was asked if I would testify to some of the things I witnessed. I'm not gonna share what I witnessed with you because I don't feel comfortable publicly sharing somebody else's story without their consent. But I said, because this was an investigation, I was really hoping, altruistically, that maybe we could get some of the toxic people out of this company. Maybe it can be a better place because the locker room, generally speaking, was such a welcoming and inviting atmosphere. Obviously, there were some predators who have since been outed in the last few days. But, generally speaking, the environment and the atmosphere was everyone wanting everyone else to be the best possible because we were all carrying the burden of taking Impact from its dark days of TNA to a brighter future. We wanted to all be the people that helped save that product."
Levin mentioned Impact wrestlers who have been outed in the last few days and that list includes Joey Ryan, Dave Crist and Michael Elgin. He was asked if the locker room knew about the history of allegations against those three.
"So, Joey Ryan, no. I'm not gonna speak for everyone as I can only speak to what I knew personally. With Joey Ryan, I knew nothing and I was floored. I was absolutely floored by the fact, from what we're seeing, he's not just someone who sexually harasses people," said Levin. "I was so floored by that. With Dave Crist, it was known that he was a bully and it was known that he was someone who loved drama. But beyond that, I wasn't aware of anything with allegations of sexual assault and wasn't aware of how far it was really going on. I thought he was just a bully."
Levin said that he did shows with Dave Crist but also said they weren't hanging out after shows.
"With Michael Elgin, I knew the rumors of what had happened previously and I didn't know the full story. All I knew of was the rumors and didn't know the full extent of them. You don't wanna judge somebody by the rumors that swirl because anyone can make up a rumor. I don't want that to be taken as me discrediting the Speaking Out Movement. I'm just saying that you need to use jurisprudence in conducting those things and I didn't feel educated enough on the subject to have a decision either way," stated Levin.
He then went into more detail about the investigation call he received from the person he thought was a neutral third party.
"I was called by a woman who said she was a neutral third-party investigator, hired by Anthem, in order to look into allegations of sexual harassment and putting employees in unsafe working conditions, messing with people's contracts and things like that. I told her what I knew, under the guarantee that I would be doing so anonymously and off the record," recalled Levin. "She just said, 'I need to build my case and need to know the context of this.' I said if they find out, they'll retaliate. She said, 'No one will know.' So, I told her everything."
He then spoke about restarting his talks with Impact management about his deal going into 2020 and they ghosted him all the way through the Christmas holidays. The only thing that happened between them saying they wanted to work with him and them ghosting him was the testimony he gave to the investigator.
"I testified in a way that paints the executives in a negative light," admitted Levin. "I had finally had enough and decided that I could bet on myself and didn't need to be at a place that treated me so disrespectfully. So, in late December I messaged a handful of people from the office who I considered friends who I hadn't involved in this just because it was outside of their purview. I gave a very ambiguous message saying I'm thankful for the time I had here and appreciate the friendship and all the opportunities but I'm parting ways."
Levin said that 20 minutes later someone who had been ignoring him made a 39 second call telling him Impact was moving in a new direction and didn't need him.
"I chuckled to myself. It's like, 'Dude, I got the picture. Literally because you guys were too cowardly to respond to me or whatever, I quit. But whatever.' I didn't say any of that but I asked if there was any cause given because I really was curious. They said none that was presented to me and they just hung up. So, I worked there for two years and it ended with 39 seconds and a hang-up phone call. No thank you," said Levin.
Levin was then asked if he knew of any connection between Anthem and the investigator who was supposed to be a neutral third party.
"Journalist David Bixenspan – he did some digging and discovered that the neutral third-party actually [had a relationship] with Anthem," stated Levin. "They worked with them for a long time and they left that position to have a rich person's vacation – to travel the world – and after that they got into some type of public relations business but it wasn't a neutral third-party. It was someone who the corporate executives of Anthem knew and had worked with for a long time and had a long business relationship with them.
"The only thing that I could imagine as any cause for me being treated that way was that they were informed by her what I said. I don't know if she did it directly. I don't know if they were sitting down next to her when I made the call. I don't know of any of the specifics. But if there is another reason or any speculation of why I was treated that way, I can't fathom it and no one else I have spoken to can either."
He noted that Moose would chide him that he wasn't doing his job, but Moose would also always request Levin to referee his matches. Levin said he never once heard an issue regarding his performance other than them always asking him to do more.
Levin was then asked if him speaking out to the investigator was related to issues he had with an Impact executive or an Anthem executive.
"One of the Impact executives is an Anthem executive and I kinda just talked about the entire culture that all of them propagated in Impact," Levin said before discussing the pressures of speaking out.
"There is a lot more I've seen and heard and the only reason I'm very uncomfortable with sharing is because A) they aren't my stories to tell or B) the people that did these things have bottomless bank accounts that – as surprising as many would find – being a writer, referee and student doesn't afford me. There's a lot that needs to be said still. They can make a show out of firing and suspending people all they want but the worst propagators of it aren't the ones in the dressing room. Until those other people are purged from the company, it will never be a safe place."
Wrestling Inc. reached out to Impact Wrestling regarding Levin's claims and were sent the following: "IMPACT Wrestling does not comment on internal matters and denies his allegations."
Wrestling Inc. also reached out to Anthem Sports & Entertainment regarding Levin's claims and were sent the following: "Thank you for reaching out to Anthem in regards to a comment, however, we do not discuss or comment on internal matters. We are aware of what Kris Levin has posted to social media and have no comment other than to deny the allegations he has made."
Independent pro wrestling journalist David Bixenspan was able to obtain internal e-mails that were tied to the origins of Impact's investigation. Based on the e-mails obtained by Bixenspan, he concluded the woman running Impact's internal investigation was named Michelle Hall. Hall also appears to be the woman that Kris spoke with on the phone. Hall had previously worked for current Anthem CEO Leonard Asper as the "Senior Vice President, People" at a company called Canwest from 2004 - 2010. You can view Hall's LinkedIn profile confirming this here.
Based on emails I've seen—provided by a 3rd party, not Kris Levin—and other research I've done, I can back up Kris's assertion that the "independent" investigation was actually conducted by a longtime associate of the Aspers (she worked for CanWest for the last 6 yrs it existed). https://t.co/SSMVvE3Rkk— David Bixenspan (@davidbix) June 19, 2020
Following the e-mail statement that we received from Anthem regarding Kris' allegations we got one more e-mail from Anthem. This e-mail simply said "FYI" and had three people cc'd on it: Ed Nordholm (CCO of Anthem/President of Impact), Frank Tanki (GM of AXS TV) and Michelle Hall. Hall does not list Anthem as a current employer of hers via her LinkedIn page, but we felt it's worth noting that both she and Nordholm had "@anthemse.com" e-mail addresses. The e-mails that Bixenspan obtained also featured Michelle Hall with the same "@anthemse.com" e-mail address.
You can following Kris Levin on Twitter @RefKrisLevin. All transcriptions for this post were done by Wrestling Inc.'s Ross Kelly. Kris' full interview aired as part of today's episode of our podcast, The Wrestling Inc. Daily. Subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as it's released Monday - Friday afternoon by clicking here.