As the WWE preps for its biggest event of the year, John Oliver attacked the organization over perceived abuse of wrestlers, including denying them health benefits, unfair contracts, and more shady practices.
Update (2:48 PM ET): The WWE has issued a statement in response to John’s segment: John Oliver is clearly a clever and humorous entertainer. However, the subject matter covered in his WWE segment is no laughing matter.
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.
Original: With WrestleMania 35 taking place on April 7, John Oliver saw no better time than now to take on the WWE for what he argued was a lack of concern over the wrestlers’ health and long-term healthcare. During the March 31 episode of Last Week Tonight, John criticized WWE’s Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, 73, for “shield[ing] himself from responsibility for his wrestlers’ welfare” through shady business practices. The WWE signs wrestlers to exclusive, long-term contracts that don’t allow them to work for any other organization, even though the organization classifies them not as full-time employees, but as “independent contractors.” This designation, as Oliver pointed out, means the wrestlers don’t qualify for annual paid leave, pensions or health insurance.
“While the character Vince is an assh*le, it’s important to know that the real Vince is also an assh*le,” John said (h/t The Hollywood Reporter). “Many fans legitimately hate him because while the WWE has made him a billionaire, many wrestlers say he’s treated him terribly.” John cited a study that revealed the average rate of death among WWE Superstars in their early to mid-fifties – “an alarmingly high 20%,” according to Forbes – is much higher than that of NFL players. He emphasized this by showing clips that announced the tragic deaths of Eddie Guerrero (age 38), Randy “Macho Man” Savage (58), Chyna (46) and most recently, “King Kong” Bundy (61). Considering that the WWE pulled in $930.2 million in revenue last year, Oliver accused the company of prioritizing profit over its workers’ health.
John Oliver did note that the WWE has implemented some changes over the past few years, like banning chair shots to the head and adopting a concussion protocol, but argued that these “underwhelming” steps aren’t enough. “Remember, [wrestlers are] still responsible for their own health insurance, and while the company says it pays for addiction treatment for former wrestlers, that doesn’t really address the underlining issues that get them hooked on pain medication in the first place.”
“Even the NFL, for all its massive faults, now offers players health reimbursement accounts and have established a legacy fund for older players who may be dealing with health issues,” John said towards the end of the segment. “And when you have lost the moral high ground to the fucking NFL, you are morally subterranean.”
This segment is not the first time that John Oliver has attacked the WWE, as Forbes notes he blasted the organization for continuing to work with Saudi Arabia following the disappearance and allegedly state-sanctioned murder of Washington Post columnist (and critic of the Saudi government) Jamal Khashoggi.