John Oliver Breaks Down the Troubling Health Issues Within the WWE
Wrestling is better than the things you like.
Last night, John Oliver tackled an issue I hadn’t expected on his show, but I’m glad will be getting more mainstream attention: the health issues within World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE).
For over a decade, wrestling was a huge part of my life. I watched Smackdown every weak, begging my mother for cable so we could watch Raw. I eagerly picked up PlayStation game after PlayStation game, and despite my fear of explosions, I saw wrestling live four times with my mother and brother.
Just recently, at SXSW, I attended “The Women’s Evolution in WWE and Beyond” panel, which was headed by Charlotte Flair, Stephanie McMahon, and Paul “Triple H” Levesque. To say I was giddy would be an understatement. Yet, I also know very clearly in my mind the incidents that made me stop watching: the deaths of Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, and the treatment of Chyna.
The life expectancy for wrestlers is criminally shorter than the average person, and even NFL athletes, which isn’t surprising considering the rate of injury and head trauma. I remember neck injuries being a major issue for one of my favorite female wrestlers growing up: Lita.
Oliver also brings up the complete control that Vince McMahon has over the industry that he pretty much built, including his “playing the villain” role, which included him saying “my nigga” to John Cena in the early part of his “thug life” era, in front of Booker T.—A scene I did not recall, but will not soon forget.
The segment explains how, because of a lot of legal maneuvering, the WWE athletes are considered “independent contractors” even though they’re signed exclusively to the WWE. However, because of that label, they are “exempt from … most discrimination and occupational safety laws” and “don’t get paid annual leave, retirement pensions, and health insurance.” Considering the physical labor they put in, it seems cruel to the highest order to only give them health insurance for injuries that happen in the ring, when their work leads to health issues over time.
This year, Chyna was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame, finally honoring the importance of her career and legacy in wrestling, and for the first time, a woman’s championship match is going to headline WrestleMania. That is a huge deal, and I’m so excited that female athletes in that area are being fully recognized.
It also indicates that change can happen if fans and media push for and it. It has been shown that the WWE can make improvements—some that Oliver mentions—but they are not enough and are not going to help the longterm ramifications of this hard life.
Hearing Roddy Piper, my mother’s favorite wrestler growing up, say that he got back into the ring because there is no exit plan for him and he doesn’t expect to make it to 65 to collect a pension breaks my heart, because he was right. He died at 61 years old, one the greatest heels the industry has ever had.
We have to actively be not okay with this continuing to happen. Not all wrestlers are going to be able to make the switch from this life to film the way The Rock and John Cena have, so we need to make sure that we support and care for these people out of the ring just as much as we do when they are jumping off and breaking their bodies on tables, ladders, and chairs.
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