The following editorial was written by Tyler Treese and does not reflect the opinions of WrestleZone as a whole. We encourage you all to discuss Tyler’s thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this post and follow him on Twitter @tylertreese.
Former WWE and ECW talent Kevin Fertig (better known as Mordecai and Kevin Thorn) made some great points on Twitter this evening after reading one of WrestleZone’s news articles about WWE Co-President George Barrios set to make over $16 million from selling company stock.
Check out his valid points below:
The Real Headline should be Why a Guy that Never Took a Bump and risked breaking his neck has this much in stock and the guys who did do not??? I’m Doing pretty good now but I know a lot of my brothers are hurting and would never want to burn a bridge so I’ll ask?????? https://t.co/3OZksXdLeB
— Kevin "THORN" Fertig Realty (@TheKevinFertig) September 28, 2018
It got me thinking, and he’s correct. Instead of professional wrestlers working towards a stable 401k or retirement plan, they’re often left wondering what they can do after hanging up their boots. It’s already difficult to transition to a 9-to-5 when you’ve been working a non-traditional job for most of your professional life, but it becomes even harder when your body is banged up from years of punishment that came at the sake of entertaining fans.
It’s easy for someone outside of the business to talk about wrestlers being irresponsible with money (which is definitely a factor with all athletes in general), but they also don’t realize how quickly their savings can be gone due to medical bills. WWE only traditionally pays for injuries that happen during their events for contracted talent, so a veteran needing to get long-term damage done needs to finance it themselves. This is no small task as even with insurance a hospital stay can drain someone’s finances, let alone someone that is deemed uninsurable due to their professional past. WWE, to their credit, does help former talent with rehab treatments for addiction.
As Kevin Fertig mentions, if there were better plans in place for professional wrestlers, we wouldn’t see GoFundMe fundraisers on a nearly weekly basis. It’s a shame that the people whose blood, sweat and tears have formed this industry aren’t treated better. The most obvious solution is for professional wrestlers to unionize (which is already a standard practice in Mexico) and demand to be treated as actual employees for the company. Currently, they’re deemed independent contractors, which beyond not giving the workers standard benefits (or bonuses such as stock options) also makes tax time a more complicated issue than it should be.
It’d be one thing if WWE wrestlers were treated as actual independent wrestlers that could come and go from the company as they please, pursue any sponsorships and deals that they please, but that isn’t the case. WWE talent are under strict contracts that make them exclusive to only one company, they have to have matches that are laid out by agents hired by the company, and have to conform to specific regulations. That certainly sounds like an employee to me. Some former talent have been openly critical of these restrictions, and CM Punk famously was frustrated about how he couldn’t have in-ring sponsors but Brock Lesnar could.
On the flip-side, those that work for WWE behind-the-scenes and at their Connecticut office are mostly comprised of full-time employees. They’ve got top of the line health insurance, stock options, and more benefits that make the time-intensive work and stressful job worth it for them. There’s no good reason why professional wrestlers shouldn’t have that certainty, especially when WWE is lining up huge Saudi Arabia paydays and television deals worth billions.
One of the few professional wrestlers to really capture what an independent contractor should be is Chris Jericho, and he’s only able to do that due to years of hard work. Truly a trailblazer, Jericho hasn’t been afraid to diversify his brand beyond wrestling, and that’s why he has more leverage than anyone else (beyond Brock Lesnar as long as he’s still able to compete in mixed martial arts at a high level). Jericho doesn’t have to take a bad WWE deal if he doesn’t want to, and he’s worked short-term deals for the past several years until going to a per-date basis. His latest stretch has personified what the label truly is, as he tours the world with his rock band Fozzy, appears at whatever company will pay him the most, and only does what interests him.
Not everyone can do that, though, which means it’s time for professional wrestlers to unionize. Talent have been taken advantage of for far too long, and it should be a choice on their end whether they want to be an independent contractor (like a Chris Jericho) or a WWE employee with the benefits and perks that come with it.