When Andrew Yang gets on your case, you know something’s off.
It was a bad weekend for wrestlers, in that it was an excellent demonstration of how they’re getting screwed by being “independent contractors.” And it’s hard to figure out what that term means, or if it ever should be used, considering what the wrestling companies have tried to take from them just in the past few days.
It all started on Friday, where WWE and Vince McMahon attempted a Friday night news dump. In the internet age, such a thing doesn’t exist anymore and immediately the industry was going bonkers, especially WWE performers. WWE sent a memo to its performers saying that they would no longer be allowed to engage with third-parties, such as Twitch, Cameo, TikTok, and the like.
This caused a seismic fissure in the WWE world, because numerous wrestlers have Twitch channels, either for gaming or something else. Here’s just a sample. What was even more galling is that at first, McMahon and WWE claimed they even owned performers’ real names, and hence performers could not run on third-party programs under those and not their wrestling names, if they were different. This was clearly a cash grab, as WWE wants anything that makes money off their performers to go through their hands first by having their own deals with these third-party platforms.
Naturally, this sent performers and observers into orbit, as well it should. If WWE isn’t going to provide their performers with health care (or travel and accommodations budgets, ), allowing them to perform outside of the company using their name and popularity to make extra money on other platforms seems harmless. But nothing is harmless in McMahon’s world.
This move was all the more callous, as WWE reported its most profitable quarter in its history this summer, thanks to not having to book any venues for TV or house shows while still getting their TV money, along with the set of layoffs they also enacted. Just how much money do they need? “All of it” is the answer, apparently.
The reaction caused WWE to immediately back down or “clarify” as they called it. Basically, WWE said that performers couldn’t use their stage names, but could continue to do things on Twitch or YouTube or wherever with their real names as long as WWE was aware of it.
The whole thing drew the attention of Andrew Yang, who went on CNN to decry wrestlers’ status as independent contractors when they have to put up with stuff like this.
Saturday night, what wrestlers risk in the ring was in clear relief during AEW’s “All Out” pay-per-view. Matt Hardy, a 25-year veteran of various companies, took this horrifying bump during his match with Sammy Guevara. Hardy’s head missed the table, which meant that all it met at high speed was concrete.
It was clear that ref Aubrey Edwards wanted to end the match immediately, but that didn’t happen. Hardy stumbled around for another minute or two after he appeared to be totally knocked out on the floor for a few seconds, until Edwards and AEW had no choice but to end it prematurely. Somewhere in there, the match was restarted, which involved both wrestlers climbing up a scaffold for another dangerous spot. When you’ve been concussed, climbing a metal scaffolding 15 feet in the air is not the proper prescription.
After the show, AEW president Tony Khan claimed that between the match being called off and being restarted that Hardy had passed “concussion protocol” and wanted to continue. Except that it’s hard to fathom what test a doctor could have done in the few minutes that were available. Second, the cameras were on Hardy the whole time, and no one saw any test being administered. If such footage existed, Khan would certainly want to release it to back up his claim.
Hardy spent the night in the hospital, and his wife told the world he did have a concussion and wasn’t exactly thrilled with how her husband was treated by the company. AEW has made noise about being “the wrestler’s company,” hoping to eventually provide health care for its wrestlers, and not making all the same mistakes that WWE continues to make (especially during the pandemic). But the way Hardy’s miss was handled was egregious, dangerous, and probably a host of other “ous’s”. Had Hardy belonged to any type of union, you can bet that AEW would be facing various grievances right now.
If anything, what the WWE/Third Party kerfuffle showed is that when all the wrestlers raise a stink, they can get the company to shift its stance. There’s probably a lesson in there, if they look a little closer.