Imp’s WWE Adventure – Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Puts the Spotlight on Vince McMahon

John Oliver

Imp’s WWE Adventure

This was meant to be a pleasantly fun, relaxed, chill column; looking at all the positive aspects ahead of next Sunday’s 35th WrestleMania… damn you, John Oliver!

The manner in which WWE treats its performers has been scrutinised for decades, by fans and wrestlers alike. It’s an issue those who engage with the industry are painfully aware of, on Last Week Tonight those topics were brought front and centre. Everything from CM Punk’s aired grievances, to legends having to raise funds for healthcare, to the rate of former WWF/E wrestler deaths. The company’s dirty laundry has once again become visible for everyone to see, but are we really surprised? Again?

If anything, their refusal to act has led themselves to this point. For how long has the discussion about WWE abusing its workers been going? This isn’t new, some of the clips used during the feature were from the 1990s, often with the wrestlers talking about events from the decade prior. Remember the story of Jesse Ventura trying to help the wrestlers get together to unionise, before Hogan went to Vince and got the entire thing shut down?

Wrestlers have known for DECADES that they deserve better treatment, but when your boss holds ultimate control on the only show in town, what can you do? That said, the industry is now on the brink of becoming such a different place. With alternatives springing up left and right, we’re already seeing the benefits of that with WWE attempting to pick up their game. But how come they’ve been able to get away with this mistreatment for so long?

In one way, this is exactly why the UK has anti-monopoly laws. No one party can control the entire market, otherwise it’s prone for abuse. With AEW on the horizon promising better care for their wrestlers, can you honestly say WWE haven’t questioned their own policies? And that’s before this damming piece from John Oliver, the worst part being that wrestling fans were already aware of ALL of this.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to particularly beat around the bush either, just taking my own sweet time painting the background for the ultimate point. WWE doesn’t become the focus of a piece like this without doing wrong; Vince McMahon has been abusing his workers for decades. He’s abused the power granted from essentially being a monopoly, from being a place countless people dream of ever working and from being responsible for creating the biggest stage in the world of wrestling.

John Oliver

As shown in the feature, WrestleMania is legitimately one of the most financially prestigious sporting events in the world. Even out grossing other high calibre annual sporting events such as UEFA Champions League and whatever the baseball thing’s called – I don’t follow MLB, it’s difficult for us Brits to get excited about professional rounders.

WrestleMania truly has become something remarkable, an absolutely unbelievable stage to get to perform on. A truly unique opportunity for any wrestler contracted to WWE, an opportunity so grand that some wrestlers would give anything to be on that stage.

And they do.

How many days on the road? How many tallies on the bump card crossed off as they tour all over the world? All with the knowledge that once they’re too battered and old to go anymore, they won’t be covered, which hits hardest in their later years; as we’re seeing with the numerous GoFundMe campaigns set up purely to help these former wrestlers afford surgery.

The question has become: is it all worth it? But mine is: why is this a situation at all? WWE commentators constantly mention how their wrestlers put their bodies on the line when they step into that ring, ah so that’s why they’re referred to as ‘Independent Contractors’? Why there’s a clause in their contract removing any blame from WWE even if they forced them to do something that got them hurt?

Really it’s incredible they’ve been able to go under the radar for this long, their policies are complete PR rather than covering the actual necessary care. Are you seriously telling me Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts had to start a GoFundMe and it’s fine he got no help from his former employer? It took Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit’s high profile deaths for WWE to take their Wellness Policy seriously, how many legends ‘had’ to die first?

Not forgetting other clauses such as the No Compete, which attempted to withhold wrestlers from competing until 90 days after their release. A genuine clause that attempted to hold them working, AKA an illegal clause. For all his troubles, Alberto del Rio contesting that clause did so much good for future wrestlers. He proved that clause to be as unenforceable as we believed it should have been all along, but how were they able to put that in contract for so long?

Its incredible Vince McMahon’s avoided any responsibility, you can call it a ‘harsh reality’, but it’s a reality that he created! Look at all the pro-worker policies AEW are looking to implement, you can’t look at what they’re saying and tell me Vince providing long term care for his workers isn’t within his powers.

The anti-union culture of US business is a whole other topic way larger than just WWE, but that doesn’t stop that point that there is a reason said unions exist. They help protect the workers, put barriers in front of potential abuse. Can you honestly say that WWE’s wrestlers are better off, both financially and care wise, in this culture where the idea of unionising is this massive taboo?

John Oliver

Now all this has been brought into question, something that arguably should have happened a long, long time ago without being shadowed by tragedy. In his own comedic manner, John Oliver both praised the on screen work and took down the practices employed by Vince McMahon in order to achieve them.

The weight a piece like this on a mainstream platform holds can be enormous, WWE will be pressured to in some way answer these questions raised on Last Week Tonight. But if history has shown anything, Vince will do anything other than. Deflecting any blame, denying responsibility to any of the hardships suffered by former employees.

This isn’t the first time the McMahon dynasty has been questioned over the treatment of their wrestlers, and it won’t be the last. They’ll change when their hand is forced, but other than that… don’t get your hopes up. It’s more a culture wide issue than a pure WWE one, but companies will get away with as much as they possibly can. Which honestly becomes dangerous in an industry like wrestling where personal harm is likely and the workers don’t have much in the way of protection.

Lastly, I need to mention that there are those in the industry already voicing their desire to change things for the better. Look at one of the more high profile cases in Cody, who after getting into acting has been able to benefit from the healthcare provided by the Actor’s Union and has talked about bringing something similar over to wrestling.

Sure, you could argue he’s doing that to make AEW seem more appealing to potential employees, but if an actual union for wrestlers is born out of it, then who cares? How many people would that ultimately help? Not forgetting how it would essentially force WWE’s hand in how they look at such a prospect.

The business is harsh and wrestlers know what they’re getting into, but why does it have to be? If that’s the case, why the fear of wrestlers unionising? Why not force the promoter’s hand into taking care of the talent they book?

It’s great to see some of Vince’s practices finally questioned under the spotlight, he may not be the only wrestling promoter not caring for his wrestlers, but he’s certainly the one that sets the precedent.

But what do you think? Was John Oliver’s coverage of the topic on point? Do you entirely disagree and believe Vince has done no wrong? Should WWE provide for their workers?

Toodles, chaps.

P.S. Don’t forget, like John Oliver I’m not American and live in a society where ‘Unions’ aren’t a taboo and free healthcare exists, so I’m interested to see the cultural differences with the opinions on this one!

Email Imp – theimplicationsyt@gmail.com

Imp’s on LOP Radio every Thursday with Perfect 10 Wrestling! Last week he previewed this Saturday’s NJPW & ROH Madison Square Garden show: G1 Supercard!

Imp’s most recent columns:
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Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 2: The Ace of the Universe
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