Gregory Pace/Shutterstock; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Mick Foley (left) and President Donald Trump
Mick Foley would like to say something about his fellow WWE Hall of Famer Donald Trump.
“I do think this is a matter between right and wrong,” Foley tells PEOPLE. “I think that democracy's at stake.”
In recent weeks, the legendary wrestler — who has a history of supporting Democrats and who is not the first wrestler to speak out about Trump, despite WWE's conservative tilt — began prodding his social media followers about why some of them are supporting the incumbent president, whom he called “a threat to the country.”
After CNN and The Washington Post this week shared audio of Trump, 74, acknowledging that he gave misleading public statements about the COVID-19 pandemic, Foley asked his followers: “How you can continue to support this man?”
“I really do feel like future generations are going to study this period of time and wonder how we stood by and let so much go wrong,” he says. “I want to be on the right side of history.”
Foley, 55, says he’ll be voting for Trump's rival Joe Biden on Nov. 3, but he first wants to warn his fans about what he sees as a legitimate danger if Trump is re-elected.
It's a familiar criticism of Trump coming from an unexpected place: the world of wrestling.
Now in the final months before the 2020 presidential election, Foley’s comments, as well as other WWE stars’ statements, contrast with a professional wrestling history deeply rooted in the conservative South — and with WWE CEO Vince McMahon’s public support for his friend Trump.
Saul Loeb/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty WWE wrestler Mick Foley
Leon Halip/WireImage Donald Trump (left) appearing at WWE's WrestleMania 23 show in 2007
Foley, a longtime hardcore wrestler, has worked for the WWE on-and-off since 1996, earning himself a 2013 Hall of Fame induction for his role playing characters like “Mankind” and “Cactus Jack” in the company’s late-'90s heyday.
He was inducted — an end-of-career benchmark for most pro wrestlers — alongside Trump, 74, who was also made a Hall of Famer that year for his celebrity guest appearances on the company’s shows.
A famously risky performer, Foley says he understands the hesitation younger stars might feel about sharing their political beliefs — putting their reputation on the line by possibly alienating fans, upsetting co-workers they need to trust while performing high-impact stunts or even rubbing their employer the wrong way.
Foley says McMahon, the WWE CEO, isn’t a “social conservative” and he believes the wrestling chairman wouldn’t hold an employee’s political beliefs against them.
For example, in 2004, Foley says he felt “there was a really big emphasis” on WWE stars appearing at that year's Republican National Convention and he complained to McMahon. The WWE head then arranged for Foley to make a separate appearance at the Democratic National Convention to make up for the disparity. (Foley gave a speech at that year’s Democratic Youth Conference.)
The McMahons — Vince and his wife, Linda — go back years with the president, who once appeared with Vince in a headlining match at WrestleMania 23 in 2007. In April, Trump named him an adviser on the federal government’s economic reopening plan, calling him “the great Vince McMahon.”
Linda headed the Small Business Administration from 2017 to 2019 and is the chair of the America First Action political action committee, which announced in mid-April that it would spend at least $26.6 million in ads supporting Trump between Labor Day and Election Day.
“I can't knock him for supporting him,” Foley says of Vince, “But I could not feel differently about his friend.”
UPN/Courtesy Everett Collection Mick Foley as his character "Mankind"
JP Yim/Getty Wrestler Mick Foley (left) and Jon Stewart appearing together during WWE's SummerSlam event in 2015
Broadimage/Shutterstock Mick Foley performs comedy at the Improv in San Jose, California, in March 2015
Foley says the politicization of a pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 people in the U.S., and the newly released recordings showing Trump had knowingly downplayed it, led the veteran wrestler to a personal ultimatum — especially after a tense run-in with a group of people outside a South Carolina convenience store who ridiculed him for wearing a mask.
"I said, 'I'm wearing this to keep you safe,' " Foley recalls. "I don't know, we've lost something along the way. And it's been aided and abetted by the president, who seems way more concerned with being re-elected than he does with keeping us safe."
"Deep down," he says, "I need to feel like I'm doing what I can."
“I know the country's very divided and I have a pretty diverse following,” Foley says. “But as things progressed in this administration, I just felt like we were going down a really bad and dangerous path. I just wanted to have some public record for my own children and grandchildren to point to decades down the road to show that their father, or their grandfather, at least tried to do something.”