It’s interesting, because Linda McMahon was in the Trump administration, but to mention WWE and their practices politically seems a bit off-putting to many fans. Well we are going there today. You see the McMahon’s have run the WWE in a very political manner. Even when Linda was coming under fire during her senate campaign, WWE had campaigns to defend her. So, while I know that politics and your entertainment might not mix, this is important to bring up.
What Needs to Be Talked About
As mentioned, many times, WWE wrestlers are not employees, but rather independent contractors. Yet WWE puts restrictions on them like they are employees. Yes, your employer might have rules that you can’t work for a competitor or do various other things. My employer has the right, and does, to ask me to sign a paper each year reporting what I’ve done for extra money, if I made over $1,000. If someone hired to do a speech, or any other thing, that might compete with my contract to my employer. With that said, wrestlers are not employees, they are independent contractors. Which then means in theory, they should be able to take all the side gigs they want.
As many have argued, plumbers, electricians, and many professions are independent contractors. If you watch the Spider-Man movies from the early-2000’s, Peter Parker was an independent contractor. Meaning outside of Peter going to another newspaper and selling his pictures there, JJ Jameson really didn’t have a say what else Peter did. So, if Peter wanted to deliver pizza, he did. In WWE, the amount of control they have is beyond what a independent contractor should have. CM Punk tells the story that Slim Jim asked him to do a commercial, but WWE interfered. Now if WWE was an employer, yes, this is appropriate. But as an independent contractor, Punk should be able to do business outside the world of wrestling however he sees fit.
The World of Entertainment
Of the last 4 movies Tom Hanks has put out, one was with Universal Pictures, one was with Pixar/Disney, and two were with Sony Films. In Hollywood, those three are part of what is called the “Big 6” of movie studios. Disney, Warner Bros., Columbia (now Sony), Paramount, 20th Century Fox (now owned by Disney), and Universal competed for decades for box office dollars. With that said, actors could work between the studios, choosing to work with Disney in one film, the join a Warner Bros. project the next. Actors were truly independent contractors who were not beholden to a studio to work on projects. While Robert Downey Jr. played Tony Starks for 11 years under Marvel Studios, he still did the Sherlock Holmes series with Warner Bros., and Tropic Thunder for Paramount.
I mention this because WWE tries to pass themselves as entertainment, and their performers are just like actors. Vince McMahon likes to think of himself as the wrestling Walt Disney. I would imagine that makes Hulk Hogan his Mickey Mouse. And at first, WWE did work like Walt Disney in some ways. When Hulk Hogan did films, he often did them with Hollywood studios, and Randy Savage had his own deal with Slim Jim that went with him to WCW. They acted like independent contractors. But, after Savage did take Slim Jim to WCW, and later the Rock left WWE for Hollywood, it was said Vince wanted more control over his wrestlers. And I can see that, you spend money and TV time getting these performers over, you want to see return for your investment. What can be the solution?
The Yang Gang Solution
It seems interesting how much traction Andrew Yang got in his run for president. I’ll be honest I think what struck me is exactly who joined his movement. The Yang Gang tended to be very male, much younger, they leaned left, but they weren’t leftist like the Bernie Bros. I think in 2016, they would have picked Bernie over Hillary, but they found a nice cozy place in the center of the left-wing spectrum with Yang. Yes, they are a very niche group that isn’t a dominate voting block that candidates fight over. But most I’ve talked to know A LOT about the issues and can talk in great length about solutions to our nation’s problems.
With that said, Andrew Yang himself targeted something many of his supporters watch, WWE wrestling. Yang recently said if Joe Biden wins, he would create a National Labor Relations Board lawsuit against WWE. This is a HUGE departure from the Trump Administration, which had Linda McMahon in an office which would help WWE.
Wrestling is clearly on the ballot in 2020. There is no question about it. It all comes down to, who do you support? Do you support the wrestlers, or do you support the office? For the last 35 years, Vince McMahon has been allowed to give WWE wresters harder restrictions, yet not provide health care. Yes, WWE will pay for expenses if an injury happens in the ring, but wrestlers are to provide their own health insurance, life insurance, and pay taxes out of their own pockets. This is partly why Jim Ross preferred that wrestlers graduate college first. Now if a wrestler is happy being a contractor, then that’s fine. But they should also be able to enjoy the freedom that comes with that. They should be able to make money on the side, if they are not competing directly with WWE.
This can go in one of two ways. One is the WWE talent get to enjoy the benefits of being independent contractors. This may also include creating a wrestler’s union or the talent join a union. Or if Vince wants to keep control of his talent, then they become full WWE employees. When Steve Jobs led Apple you never heard of the engineers who did all the work. You know why? Because they were employees of Apple and Apple had the right to keep their talent inhouse. But this is control Vince desires, but not at the cost of health insurance. But his he’s afraid then he might have to deal with one thing…
A Union. You see, it looks like Andrew Yang is coming to make sure WWE wrestlers can keep their other income lines flowing. Wrestlers will stay independent contractors; except they’ll be independent. And if this happens, Yang suggest they join a union. A union has many benefits. If you look at the Screen Actors Guild, many actors have insurance and other benefits, and they are still independent. Tom Hanks still can float between studios for projects, but he also has his benefits. If wrestlers from WWE, AEW, ROH, and Impact come together, they could get the independence they need well also joining to pay for their benefits. A union might be the missing piece to finally make wrestling great again. Of course, it would require wrestlers join. Though wrestlers in 2020 have a much different relationship with each other than in 1986.
Vince McMahon can try all he wants, but eventually this will break one way or another. The control WWE has over its talent is unheard of for independent contractors. I do think Vince will fight hiring his talent as employees. This leaves the only option of freeing up the restrictions that currently exist. That wouldn’t happen without a fight. And a fight it would be.
But in the end, I think any court would find that WWE is treating its talent unlawfully. Eventually if a wrestler wants to do a Slim Jim commercial, they’ll be able to directly work with Slim Jim. There must be a change. Honestly, even if Trump wins re-election, the wrestlers might still be motivated enough to start challenging Vince. There is no better time for change than the present. I personally hope that each wrestler joins this type of movement, and we see wrestlers start to get the benefits they need.