For those that haven’t seen it, John Oliver went off on WWE, namely Vince McMahon on his show “Last Week Tonight”. It was a well-produced piece that centered around the idea that Vince is an a$$hole, making money off his “independent contractors” (WWE Superstars) while not giving them many of the benefits of being an actual independent contractor.
The piece went viral among the wrestling community and there are plenty of fans who have weighed in.
I’m a fence-sitter on this one. There was good, bad and ugly that came out of Oliver’s tirade and it left me asking questions. Unfortunately, the questions weren’t just about WWE and how Vince treats his performers.
The Good: John Oliver Made Some Excellent Points
In many ways, Oliver was right. WWE should not be allowed to get away with calling their performers “independent contractors” when they often aren’t permitted the same rights as many independent contractors would be. WWE Superstars are on exclusive contracts and are not permitted to wrestle for other promotions (unless given the green light by Vince himself).
Oliver also points out that WWE performers don’t have health insurance and benefits that often come with the status of being employees and we have seen cases where WWE has cleaned their hands of certain performers when the lifestyle of being a wrestler can and has often contributed to a higher need for these services.
I just recently finished three different interviews about wrestlers and their hardships while doing some research on the 350 Days documentary that is coming out tomorrow. I spoke with director Fulvio Cecere, The Genius Lanny Poffo and Greg the Hammer Valentine. While none of them blamed WWE directly for the problems they and other wrestlers faced, it was clear the mileage and lifestyle of being a performer took
The Bad: Oliver Misled His Viewers In Many Instances
The downside of the segment is that Oliver was not able to tell his story without twisting a few things.
Notice above a photo of Enzo and Cass. Neither of these two were in the produced piece by Oliver, but they might as well have been. Oliver intentionally included performers who have a beef with McMahon, many of whom no longer do (but he didn’t mention that or conveniently left it out).
He included past performers like Bret Hart, Jesse Ventura, CM Punk and others to hammer home his point. If this
This isn’t to say that only saints should get the benefit of the doubt, but the piece would have been better had it admitted there may be more to the story.
Oliver heavily promoted words from stars like the late Roddy Piper. Piper said WWE has a great entrance plan but a terrible exit plan. In many cases, he wasn’t wrong and what Piper meant by that is WWE performers make great money, they live a glamorous lifestyle but they get hooked on dependencies and often can’t break the cycle, being forced to work long past their prime years. What wasn’t mentioned was that this may have been the case years ago, but it’s not nearly as big an issue today as it was back then. Still an issue, just not as heavily as it was because wrestlers are better business people and take greater care of themselves today than they’ve ever done in the past.
No, WWE’s Wellness Plan isn’t perfect but it is there. And, while it hasn’t helped everyone, it has helped some.
While Oliver showed Jake Roberts reaching out to fans for financial aid, he neglected to show the many times WWE reached out to and offered help to Roberts before he blew every chance WWE had ever given him. Yet, Roberts will still tell you he feels very much like he’s part of the WWE family. Oliver didn’t mention WWE helping names like Scott Hall or others who were entered into their rehab program and made it through successfully, many of whom are now working in WWE’s system to this day. He didn’t talk about guys like William Regal who would give his life for WWE because Vince helped him when he didn’t have to or the countless others who Vince went to bat for but we often don’t hear about because WWE doesn’t dangle it in front of everyone like
I agree… on the surface, Vince seems like kind of an a$$hole. He probably is, in many respects. But, there are people who love him. That shouldn’t be ignored.
I don’t know the ins and outs of how the Wellness Policy works, nor am I privy to conversations about health benefits, helping performers and how WWE deals with medical issues, but one thing that was clear to me from watching this Oliver piece is that things were left out. And, his call to have wrestling fans raise their voice and make a point works better if you don’t insult them by leaving out things they’re sure to know about WWE.
The Ugly: Oliver Was Often Out of Line
There are two things I’ll take from watching this piece. First, I’m more interested than ever about what help WWE does actually offer its performers and with how many times talent have reached out to social media recently to air their grievances — Naomi, Rusev, The Revival, Sasha Banks, Lana, and yesterday, Tyler Breeze — are just some of the
However, when Oliver went off on Roman Reigns being booed and then decided to add that he looked like a pedophile out for a jog because he constantly has wet hair, he lost me. Had he really needed to insert a joke there, it might have served Oliver better to differently pick his target considering Reigns just came back after leaving for a few months; months WWE gave him when they realize he was sick with lieukemia.
Simply put, there was no need for Oliver to go there and it weakened his argument.
At the end of the day, Oliver did what he wanted. He got people talking about Vince McMahon’s treatment of his stars. The stock prices took a hit (which will affect many wrestling fans Oliver said he loved), there will be fans who try to get signs into WrestleMania and we might even hear chants tonight on Raw. That said, his video is pretty hard to find online now (not sure why HBO has taken it down) but it’s something many of the media outlets and WWE Universe are talking about.
Oliver is right. There is an issue here that needs addressing. Yes, WWE is paying more money than ever to its performers but if they are contractors, they should be treated as contractors.
What will be interesting to see is just how many of the wrestlers agree with Oliver. With AEW and other promotions now offering better money and other options beyond WWE, Vince may be forced to change things up if he’s at all worried. That leverage is far more powerful than anything Oliver could have said.
Unless, of course, all wrestling promotions are the same. If so, whether a wrestler signs an exclusive with AEW, WWE, Impact or otherwise, is it not the same across the board in the industry? I don’t know the answer to that question considering I’m not privy to what kind of deals guys like Kenny Omega, Pac and Chris Jericho have signed with AEW. But, if those contracts are exclusive, should the industry not have been Oliver’s target? Or, does AEW offer a much better benefits package?
My guess is, AEW is offering full benefits to very few people they have signed as employees. The rest of their talent have signed as independent contractors who will only receive assistance from AEW if they are injured in an AEW ring, which is also WWE’s policy. Does that change anything?