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World Wrestling Entertainment on Monday hit back against a Sunday segment on HBO’s Last Week Tonight in which host John Oliver criticized CEO Vince McMahon and the organization’s supposed lack of care for its athletes.
Along with clips of wrestlers who have died at a relatively young age, including Eddie Guerrero (at age 38), Randy “Macho Man” Savage (58), Chyna (46) and “King Kong” Bundy (61), Oliver discussed McMahon’s professional wrestling monopoly, which last year raked in $930.2 million in revenue.
“While the character Vince is an asshole, it’s important to know that the real Vince is also an asshole,” Oliver said, noting the segment was being done now because WrestleMania is next week. “Many fans legitimately hate him because while the WWE has made him a billionaire, many wrestlers say he’s treated them terribly.”
On Monday, WWE responded.
“John Oliver is clearly a clever and humorous entertainer, however, the subject matter covered in his WWE segment is no laughing matter,” the organization said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “Prior to airing, WWE responded to his producers refuting every point in his one-sided presentation. John Oliver simply ignored the facts. The health and wellness of our performers is the single most important aspect of our business, and we have a comprehensive, longstanding Talent Wellness program. We invite John Oliver to attend WrestleMania this Sunday to learn more about our company.”
One of Oliver’s biggest arguments in making his case for how McMahon has “shielded himself from responsibility for his wrestlers’ welfare” is that he kept them as independent contractors — as opposed to full-time employees — while making them sign exclusive, long-term contracts. This means they are not allowed to work for any other organization. As independent contractors, the wrestlers don’t qualify for annual paid leave, pensions or health insurance benefits. The HBO host also pointed out there is no off-season for athletes to heal.
“Maybe when wrestlers might work years ago for multiple, different [wrestling] organizations, it made sense to call them contractors,” Oliver said Sunday. “But now that WWE has a chokehold on this industry, it makes just as much sense to call them that as it does to call Jimmy Carter a ‘panty-dropping fuck machine.’ It’s just clearly not true anymore.”
Oliver said that it is the WWE fans who wield the most power when it comes to the business changing its culture, pointing out times in the past when fan outcry has gotten McMahon’s attention and action was taken.
This marks the second instance where Oliver has set his sights on the WWE. In October, he slammed the organization for its pact with Saudi Arabia after the sudden disappearance of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, a vocal critic of its government.
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