John Oliver, the British comedian at the helm of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, lambasted the WWE in the 31 March 2019 edition of his show.
An erudite and insightful speaker, Oliver has taken on political, corporate and economic issues with razor-sharp humour and his approach to WWE was no different where he called Vince McMahon’s approach “morally subterranean.”
Focusing on the independent contractor status of WWE employees, despite the exclusivity of the same talent to the organisation, John Oliver delivered a twenty-three minute diatribe, attacking the oft-reported premature deaths of former talent, declining health of those in the job and the lengths that WWE goes to keep its workers on the road with no off-season. Without union representation and signed to long-term contracts – some running for decades – as independent contractors, Oliver argues that this denies WWE talent access to common employee benefits. In essence, regardless of how much they’re paid or how important they are to the business, the talent has to take unpaid time off, invest in their own pension and health insurance.
He highlighted reported clauses in historical WWE contracts that included immunity for the company against blame in the event of injury or death even when caused by WWE’s own negligence. He reflected upon what it means to be an “independent contractor” and the lack of responsibility that the employer of the contractor has in regards to health care. Whilst there were references to the much vaunted Wellness Policy, Oliver made it clear that the annual medical and reactionary nature did little to help talent maintain their health or minimise health issues in the first place.
He explored the early deaths of many of the talent, some of whom died due to their over-reliance on medicine to keep going, the declining health that meant that stars of days gone by had to continue to work in a physically demanding environment just to make ends meet and the methods that WWE doctors used to convince talent that they were fit enough to work.
The news spread far beyond the usual outlets for wrestling news, reaching as far as Bloomberg and The Guardian with the former reporting that share prices fell by 2.9% in wake of the Last Week Tonight, no doubt the catalyst for WWE to respond in the way that they did.
WWE, via Hollywood Reporter, responded to Oliver’s claims stating “John Oliver simply ignored the facts. The health and wellness of our performers is the single most important aspect of our business, and we have a comprehensive, longstanding Talent Wellness program” and going as far as inviting Oliver to WrestleMania.
Oliver has called for fans to make themselves heard, to tell WWE what they think about the maltreatment of the stars entertain them every week of the year, but will that be enough? Chants and signs at WrestleMania will certainly make a noise, especially on the live broadcast where the chants can’t be edited or muted without taking away from the atmosphere of the show, it may also buy some column inches.
The real way to hit WWE is in its bottom line. Whilst the social media reaction to John Oliver’s show has been hot, going beyond words is the only way to do this. The question is, though, are WWE fans that concerned that they would cancel their WWE Network subscription and stop buying WWE products until things change?