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The Power of the Pin: Pro wrestling’s state of the union and WWE's role

Vince McMahon and WWE recently issued an edict to their talent regarding Twitch and other third party media platforms
Vince McMahon and WWE recently issued an edict to their talent regarding Twitch and other third party media platforms
Ryan K Boman
CONTRIBUTOR
Modified 06 Oct 2020, 01:43 IST
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In what seems like a battle that's as old as dirt, pro wrestlers have always clashed with promoters, the WWE included.

Like cats and dogs who end up living in the same house, they seem to be natural enemies. And somehow, they must find a way to co-exist while still being instinctively at odds.

That eternal struggle surfaced again last week as the WWE hounds have snapped back against their talent in a very 21st century kind of way: Prohibiting them from using other forms of media to individually promote themselves for profit. 

As posted by SportsKeeda's Lennard Surrao on Oct. 2, reports surfaced that the company would be taking control of its Superstars’ accounts on Twitch and similar third-party platforms. The missive from Vince McMahon was that since the wrestlers’ personas were promoted by WWE, and (technically) their intellectual property, they should be under the thumb of the company, as well:

"Some of you are engaged with outside third parties using your name and likeness in ways that are detrimental to our company. It is imperative that these activities be terminated within the next 30 days (by Friday October 2). Continued violations will result in fines, suspension, or termination at WWE's discretion."

There wasn’t much WWE talent could do about it, but accept this decree.

That’s when the talk of individual rights and federal regulation started to creep in, including the idea that McMahon may be violating labor laws by taking this much control of his independent contractors’ lives. It wasn’t just the Internet Wrestling Community who took notice, either. The issue even caught the attention of former Presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

In many ways, Yang is striking close to a couple of topics that have been twisting in the wind for decades. How much control should a company have over people who they don’t actually consider to be full-time employees? And, at an even deeper level, is this the ultimate sign that professional wrestlers, particularly in the WWE, finally need to band together and form a labor union?

Can WWE talent eventually unionize?

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Most people who have been involved in the industry will tell you that proposition is impossible, and that you could never get that many egos in that many different companies to actually work together for a common cause. Media members seem to be torn on the matter. Some idealists believe it could happen, while the curmudgeons tend to douse the fire as soon as the discussion is started.

When it comes to fans and observers, there are also two, distinct sides on this issue. On the one hand, there is the faction of followers who cite the risk factor of wrestling. They point out that their favorite stars constantly put their bodies on the line, with virtually no guaranteed medical benefits. 

They also factor in the tremendous amount of time and effort that performers put in outside of WWE's squared circle. Those 10 or 20 minutes in the ring don’t nearly factor into the number of real hours that wrestlers actually commit to their craft.

Not only is their punch-in at the arena considered part of the job, but so are many of their so-called off hours that involve a lot of work and effort. There's a lot of miles and maintenance that go in to what they do as WWE Superstars.

Call it the Three T’s: Travel, Training, and (of course) Tanning.

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On the flip side of that argument, another portion of the audience will counter that every wrestler knows what they are signing up for when they enter the business. It’s a dog-eat-dog world where only the strong survive, requiring lots of pain and sacrifice. And, the athletes are very aware of that.

But, if they achieve the ultimate level of success by reaching the WWE, there is wealth and fame on the other side of the rainbow. The chance to travel the world, come home to a big house, drive an expensive car, and eat lots and lots of free catering.

In other words, WWE's working conditions — while difficult — still don’t exactly fall to the level of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

Add in the fact that even some nationally-televised promotions would likely go bankrupt trying to cover the financial costs and demands from organized labor, and it becomes a "be careful what you wish for" type of proposition.

At the end of the day, the thought of professional wrestlers being protected under the umbrella of an all-powerful union (while definitely for the best) is highly unlikely. It's been brought up dozens of times throughout the sport's history, only to be stricken down by skepticism, or trounced by totalitarianism.

With so much money, logistics, and different personalities involved, unionization in sports entertainment seems like an awfully daunting task. 

And unfortunately, one we probably won’t see anytime soon.

Published 06 Oct 2020, 01:43 IST
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