Less than a week before their annual showpiece event, WWE faced a monumental PR problem unlike any they've faced in the past. John Oliver, speaking on his show Last Week Tonight and to an audience of over 4 million viewers, publicly called out the company's working practices and specifically went after Vince McMahon.
Delving deeper into the finer points of WWE Performer's contracts than any mainstream show arguably ever has, Oliver took WWE to task for the way it classifies, manages and protects its talent in 2019. The entire segment is excellent but this in particular stands out.
“The shocking thing... is the extent to which he’s shielded himself from responsibility for his wrestlers’ welfare. And the main way he’s done this is actually pretty simple because while you might reasonably think that the wrestlers employed by him are his employees, they’re actually not. They’re merely independent contractors.”“Independent contractors working in a monopolized industry largely free from meaningful oversight who are able to be fired at any time, you wind up with huge potential for unsafe conduct. Even the NFL, for all its massive faults, now offers players health reimbursement accounts and has established a legacy fund for older players who may be dealing with health issues. When you have lost the moral high ground to the f***ing NFL, you are morally subterranean.”
For context - as somehow not all WWE fans are really sold on this idea - the number of stars who have died at early ages as a result of problems associated with their time in the company is eye-watering. Eddie Guerrero (38), Chyna (46), Macho Man Randy Savage (58), Rick Rude (40), Lance Cade (29), the British Bulldog (39), Crash Holly (32), Owen Hart (34), Chris Kanyon (40), Yokozuna (34), Brian Pillman (35), Umaga (36), Andrew “Test” Martin (33).
While the circumstances surrounding these incidents are vastly different, they can all be traced back to WWE in some capacity. Either as a result of injuries sustained in the company, or simply a lack of adequate aftercare for departing talent. When asked directly about these deaths Vince has always said (often angrily) that it's not his responsibility.