John Oliver takes on WWE

Samuel Ogali, Courier Staff

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Earlier this week, on comedian John Oliver’s HBO program “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver devoted an entire 23 minutes talking about the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and in particular, criticizing the organization for the way it has treated its wrestlers by not guarenteeing basic health and retirement benefits. Full disclosure, I‘m a huge wrestling fan and love professional wrestling or sports entertainment, as the WWE likes to call it. But after watching this detailed and well explained segment from Oliver, I have to admit he makes very valid points on why WWE has been flawed and still continues to be flawed.

In the beginning of the segment, Oliver expresses his admiration for pro-wrestling and the WWE, and how entertaining and astonishing it is to watch. Oliver talks about wrestler’s he grew up watching like Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Stone Cold Steve Austin and the most outlandish moments that took place in the ring and outside the ring. But as Oliver started to reminisce, the segment started to become more serious. Oliver showed wrestlers who had died prematurely and didn’t even live past their 30s and 40s. According to FiveThirtyEight, pro-wrestling death rates outrate the NFL and even the general public. But most particular, Oliver casted skepticism over the man who has profited the most from these wrestlers throughout the years, WWE CEO, Vince McMahon.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, pro-wrestling was split into territories throughout the U.S., like Mid-South Wrestling and Georgia Championship Wrestling; that was until McMahon bought out or crushed his competition, and after the acquisition of World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 2001, WWE has been the most profitable wrestling organization in the world. But Oliver’s main concern with WWE and McMahon is the way wrestlers are being treated. McMahon has signed all of his wrestlers as independent contractors, which means they’re not required to receive health benefits, retirement benefits or even paid family leave; yet, Oliver rebuffs such a claim since the wrestlers are practically treated as employees by the company.

The wrestlers are prohibited from wrestling for other promotions, have to abide by the WWE’s requests and signed to exclusive contracts- everything that contradicts what an independent contractor is. Even former WWE wrestlers criticized the WWE and McMahon for its practices like Bret “The Hitman” Hart and former Minnesota Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura, who actually tried to form a union in the 1980s but was quickly prohibited by McMahon himself.

McMahon has been called out by wrestlers who have worked for him who have prematurely died in the past, but has not casted himself as partly responsible. It’s even gotten so bad that wrestler’s like Roberts have had to use funding websites, like GoFundMe and Indiegogo in order to pay for their medical expenses. These wrestlers are treated as employees but are simply signed as independent contractors in efforts to maximize costs as much as possible and that’s wrong.

So why is Oliver going after the WWE now? Well this Sunday is WrestleMania, the company and quite frankly pro-wrestling’s biggest pay-per-view of the year. Oliver hopes wrestling fans who he believes hold a tremendous amount of power, will bring signs to the event or start chants that will demand that the wrestlers will be signed as employers and be given basic benefits like any employee should. A lot of these wrestlers have sacrificed so much for the business, it’s unfair to have them fend for themselves and unfortunately die prematurely.

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