Andrew Yang is taking WWE to task for the way they treat their wrestlers.
After a report that WWE was enforcing restrictions on how their talent use third-party apps as income streams, like Twitch or Cameo, there was significant outrage from fans and talent alike.
This statement from WWE attracted the attention of Andrew Yang, a former presidential candidate and high profile politician, who had sharp words for WWE on Twitter and in an interview with Chris Van Vliet.
Andrew Yang, a life long wrestling fan, and high-profile politician who ran for the Democratic Party’s nomination in this election cycle, had some very sharp words for WWE and Vince McMahon upon the announcement that WWE would be cracking down on third-party deals for their interdependently contracted wrestlers.
Yang’s series of tweets, starting with the one above, directly called Vince McMahon out for refusing to classify the wrestlers that work for WWE as employees, despite making record profits, writing,
"“Come on Vince – you’ve already deprived the folks breaking their backs for you of healthcare, security, recovery time, retirement benefits and fair treatment re: licenses and royalties. At least let them make a living off their own names. Many of them need it.”"
Soon after the initial announcement that WWE was banning third party deals, they issued a statement saying,
"“[m]uch like Disney and Warner Bros., WWE creates, promotes and invests in its intellectual property,” noting that they exploit the characters and their likenesses to drive revenue for their product."
While this statement is true, and understandable to a certain extent (as WWE does have the rights to use their copyrighted characters to drive their revenue), the comparisons to Disney and Warner Brothers is inherently flawed. Andrew Yang rightly points out in his interview with Chris Van Vliet that Disney and Warner Brothers do not try and stop actors like Emma Watson from making her own third party deals, and that the actors are represented by the Screen Actors Guild, a labour union that fights for the rights of actors.
WWE wrestlers have no such union. They are classified as independent contractors, but are not allowed to work wherever they want outside of their WWE work, are provided with no benefits, must pay for their own hotels and travel, and do not get comprehensive health coverage. While WWE has since clarified their statements surrounding third parties, where wrestlers are allowed to use their real names to market their YouTube or Twitch channels, they still cannot use Cameo, or other revenue-generating services without informing WWE even if they are using their real names.
While that is a significant improvement from a straight ban of all third party deals, it still leaves a lot unanswered – Can the wrestlers seek out sponsorships using their real names? What if WWE decides that a personal Twitch account is not in the best interest of the company? Will they be treating this on a case by case basis? Are wrestlers allowed to do what they want on their off time?
Yang rightly points out that WWE is not treating their talent like Disney or Warner Brothers treat actors and employees. WWE is seeking to ban the wrestlers from outside sponsorships and deals with Cameo because they are not getting a cut of the revenue.
"Yang says, “On one hand, we have no responsibility for you, but on the other hand, we control your very image, and name in some cases, and you can’t do anything without our say so. In a way, it is inhuman – it’s dehumanizing, saying that you are no longer a human being, but this character.”"
Yang went on to point out that Vince used a fake Razor Ramon and Diesel after Scott Hall and Kevin Nash went to WCW because Vince said he owned the characters of Razor and Diesel, but Yang argues that the character of Razor and Diesel cannot exist without Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.
“Without [Nash and Hall], the characters don’t matter and doesn’t exist.” Yang wants WWE to make a choice: treat them like real independent contractors so they can do what they want on their off time (which they are currently not allowed to do) or treat them as employees and provide them with benefits like any other business, including a wrestler’s union where they are protected and have a union to fight for their rights.
While the mainstream press doesn’t treat wrestling seriously, Yang has promised to keep bringing this forward and that he wouldn’t forget about the issues that wrestlers are facing. Yang is the voice that wrestling fans need in politics, because he is really looking out for the health of wrestlers that we, as fans, have been watching our whole lives. This interview is well-timed, as WWE had another lawsuit dismissed concerning concussions that talent has suffered over the years, claiming no responsibility for the injuries suffered while working for WWE.
What does this mean for the future? It’s hard to say, but with Andrew Yang advocating for wrestlers, this marks a significant change in the treatment of wrestling by politicians over the years, who largely dismissed wrestling because pro wrestling is fake. Hopefully, this will lead to better treatment of the wrestlers that put their bodies on the line for our entertainment.