Why WWE, Pro Wrestlers Should Form a Professional Wrestling Union

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Why WWE, Pro Wrestlers Should Form a Professional Wrestling Union
WWE owner Vince McMahon, and the employee he said "spouted his mouth off" about forming a wrestler's union, Jesse Ventura.

1. If you want to be a wrestler, you have to be prepared to live every day in pain.

2. If you want to be a wrestler, you need to make sure you have something to fall back on when it ends.

3. If you want to be a wrestler, you have to remember it's not what you earn, it's what you save.

 

Such was the advice given by wrestling superstar Jesse "The Body" Ventura to a 17-year-old Chris Jericho, as recounted in A Lion's Tale: Around the World in Spandex.

 

It came from the experience of a man whose own in-ring career had been cut short due to an unforeseen medical issue. Thanks to a quick wit and colorful personality, Ventura found a second act in the business calling the action alongside fellow commentators Gorilla Monsoon and Vince McMahon.

 

The practicality of the advice also stemmed from Ventura's knowledge that his efforts to unionize the WWE locker room in the spring of 1987 were met with fear, antagonism and ultimately betrayal.

If the Body's experiences had taught him anything, it was that his generation of professional wrestlers were not interested in collective bargaining as much as in every man for himself.

 

"All through your wrestling career, remember, you're an independent contractor. You're paying out enormous amounts in taxes. There's no pension, no health benefits. And the moment you're not making that draw, the promoters couldn't care less about you. You're a piece of meat. I knew guys that had worked hard for twenty years or more and still retired with nothing. Wrestling operated under some of the most unfair working conditions in the country. I don't know how they got away with it for so many years."

Jesse Ventura, I Ain't Got Time To Bleed

 

Historically, no professional wrestler has ever been considered an employee of a promotion, but an independent contractor. According to a 2010 New York Times article, by classifying workers as independent contractors, it frees wrestling companies "from paying health insurance, Social Security and Medicare contributions and unemployment insurance."

 

Scott Levy played the lighthearted preppie Johnny Polo in WWE, but found his niche in the goth Raven, a standout in ECW and WCW

Former WWE wrestlers Raven, Kanyon and Mike Sanders filed a lawsuit against the industry titan over this classification. In 2009, a federal judge dismissed the case because the statute of limitations had expired, and no legal questions regarding the independent contractor status were resolved.

 

In a thinly veiled attack by Linda McMahon's political opponents when the former WWE executive campaigned to be the U.S. Senator from Connecticut, state officials there audited the company for classifying talent as independent contractors. Little was heard of the audit beyond the election cycle, once again leaving legal questions unresolved.

 

Bleacher Report obtained a copy of Kanyon's 2002 WWE contract, and it is revealing the extent of ownership the company claimed, reaching even into death.

 

Clause 11.2 states, "This Agreement will be terminated by WRESTLER's death during the Term, with no further compensation due WRESTLER's heirs, successors, personal representatives or assigns."

 

Does this mean had Kanyon passed away while under contract, WWE could have produced a Kanyon DVD and not been obligated to share the proceeds with his family?

Kanyon reached fame in the WWE by asking, Who better than Kanyon?

Even more alarming, clause 9.12 (c) ensures the promoter cannot be sued or held liable if the wrestler is seriously injured or dies, "whether caused by the negligence of the PROMOTER, other wrestlers or otherwise."

 

Though this is a "work for hire" contract, it still requires the wrestler to seek the promoter's permission to appear in other works, such as films or product endorsements. The wrestler then needs to pay the company a 10 percent management fee, while "all monies earned by WRESTLER from such Permitted Activities in a specific Contract Year shall be credited against the Minimum Annual Compensation for that Contract Year."

 

In other words, had Kanyon appeared in a permitted project outside WWE, whatever he would have earned would have been deducted from the $100,000 the company was paying him over 52 weeks.

 

The contract states that the wrestler has to provide all costs for their costumes, props, etc., but has no claim to the intellectual property.

 

In a 2010 Howard Stern radio interview, Ventura asked, "How are they self-employed when you're signed exclusively, you can't work for nobody else, they tell you when and where you'll work? They can totally control your life... And yet they call you an independent contractor. How has the government allowed them to get away with that for 35 to 40 years?"

 

Professional wrestling isn't the only industry using the independent contractor classification as a way to cut costs, and those corporations deserve equal scrutiny.

 

The end result is the same: it's the American worker who pays, it's the American worker who suffers, and it's the American worker who needs to stop being taken advantage of.

 

"I'm a big advocate for a union in wrestling. I don't think that wrestlers will get any type of support until they get a union. I look at every other sport, whether its lacrosse or even the rodeo, they've all got a union. I think that it is long, long overdue that the wrestlers have one. I think that any wrestler that says they don't need a union is just a sheep that doesn't have enough brains to know they do need a union."

Bret Hart, 2007 interview by Eric Cohen

Though McMahon and Ventura have had a tempestuous business relationship over the years, the Body has been welcomed back to referee SummerSlam, host Raw, and be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

 

Though the independent contractor classification has been the precedent, Jeff Hauser of the AFL-CIO told Bleacher Report, "just because workers didn’t have a say in the past doesn’t mean that working people shouldn’t have the chance to bargain collectively on behalf of common interests in fair wages and reasonable safety standards. The wrestlers are putting themselves at significant physical risk and should have input into how their workplace operates.

 

"Wrestlers, like autoworkers or NFL players or public school teachers, are stronger united in a union than divided by management."

 

That was precisely the problem faced by Jesse Ventura in 1987. The former Navy SEAL waited for the best time to strike, and found it in the weeks leading to WrestleMania II. WWE had invested millions in publicity.

 

As detailed in his autobiography, Ventura attempted to convince the locker room it was the prime opportunity to force management's hand—nobody would wrestle unless the company allowed them to unionize. He also reasoned the other unions would support the effort and lock down the show if necessary, "But nobody wanted to risk it."

Ventura wrote that for Hogan "to pretend to be friends with [the locker room] while going behind our backs and telling Vince everything we said, and to ultimately stop us from unionizing, which would have made life better in countless ways for all of us, is pretty sad."

 

When Ventura received an irate phone call from his boss, Vince McMahon, the employee used the opportunity to present his case, "'This is not to fight you, Vince. This is about me and all the other wrestlers who have to pay four or five thousand a year for health care. If we're in a union, we can buy it in bulk and save a lot of money.' I went on to tell him all the reasons why unionizing would help us. But he argued and threatened and we basically got nowhere."

 

Years later in a deposition (Ventura successfully sued WWE for not being forthright about videotape royalties, to the tune of $800,000), McMahon admitted that he was made aware of the union rumblings from his most popular wrestler, the headliner of the first nine WrestleManias, Hulk Hogan. Writer David Shoemaker succinctly summarized, "It's hard to imagine a more blatant example of a top star protecting his status by sabotaging collective action."

 

The New York Times surmised "wrestling culture is infused with a tough-minded individualism." That might be, but it is also rife with wrestlers such as Hogan who made a hardscrabble effort to earn a place on the cards, and, once there, held on to their spot with an iron grip—just as the previous generation had done.

 

Former superstar Dawn Marie told Bleacher Report in an interview last year, "It's a family, but we always have to be competitive."

 

Feeding into that competitive fury is the paranoia that no one wants to cross the promoter who holds their livelihood in the balance. Though the New York Times is generally considered America's paper of record, it was reported that while researching their piece about Linda McMahon's Senate run, "Many current and former wrestlers declined to speak on the record for this article, expressing worry that they would anger the McMahons."

 

"Workers should be able to get together, form priorities and bargain collectively," said the AFL-CIO's Hauser. "Without unions, there can be a race to the bottom— workers getting ahead by their willingness to expose themselves to ever greater risks for less pay."

 

Only a very small percentage of professional wrestlers are the ones earning a six-figure-or-more WWE salary, and are able to participate in the company's pro-talent programs, such as "regular seminars to help wrestlers pick appropriate health insurance plans and manage their finances," or having the company pay "for treatment of injuries that they sustained in the ring," according to the Times article.

The storied career of Edge, famous for high-risk moves, came to an abrupt end in 2011 when doctors said he could no longer safely compete.

 

For most wrestlers, they truly are independent contractors, trying to make a living night by night and promotion by promotion. That aspect of the industry has little changed since Joe Jares, a sportswriter and son a professional wrestler, wrote in 1978, "Wrestlers, who have no International Brotherhood of Amalgamated Bodyslammers to negotiate for them, tend to think in terms of 'territories' rather than alliances."

 

In spite of the patchwork nature of the wrestling world, Hauser is confident a union is possible. "Multiple production companies in film and TV don’t deter strong unions, and wouldn’t pose a hurdle to collective bargaining in the wrestling industry."

 

The Screen Actors Guild told Bleacher Report that "a key benefit of a labor union... is the unique opportunity for a freelance workforce to earn a pension and qualify for health insurance coverage.

 

Protecting one's spot may be attractive in the short-term, but the physical toll of the wrestling business is immediately felt and carries long-term repercussions.

 

Yes, there is something to be said for personal responsibility, but plumbers and electricians are no less individuals for membership in unions that will help them in retirement.

 

Sometimes, wrestlers can be their own worst enemies, holding on to antiquated notions of pride and toughness. In his 1978 book Whatever Happened to Gorgeous George?, Jares noted, "Like pro-football linemen, wrestlers have a code of conduct that calls for stoic acceptance of injury and pain."

 

In an interview on Busted Open, wrestling superstar Matt Hardy said, "Not only do they want you to work, but the mentality is if you can work, you do work. I think that’s stuck in the old ages. I think they have to get a point where guys are given time off or are forced to take time off."

 

Time to heal was the reason former WWE Superstar John Morrison told the UK's Sports Vibe he took a sabbatical from the company. "I was starting to accumulate injuries faster than they were healing… neck surgery, and a lot of nagging injuries; shoulder, knee, ankle... I decided that time off is my best option."

 

Former wrestler turned advocate Chris Nowinski with Sports Legacy Institute co-founder Dr. Robert Cantu

As concussion issues rocked the NFL recently, forcing that union and that industry to reexamine safety standards, professional wrestlers are being made to work while hurt. Such was the case with Mark Henry. The strongman reached a career high on WWE SmackDown in the latter part of 2011, stepping up to his role as a monster heel and being awarded the World Heavyweight Championship.

 

Henry suffered a severe groin injury during the Dec. 12, 2011 Raw telecast. The injury worsened throughout the week, but he was still forced to compete. Jason Powell, publisher of ProWrestling.net, reported, "The majority of the creative forces in the company wanted to give Henry an easier schedule for a few weeks to let the injury heal. However, Vince McMahon is said to have made the call to book the title change and was described as being less than sympathetic regarding Henry's injury."

 

There was a time former wrestler Chris Nowinski would have agreed with McMahon's man-up attitude, until his WWE career was ended due to a concussion. He told Busted Open, "The idea that I was going to sit out for a headache while we got guys out there with broken bones, guys out there with fused necks, guys out with much more pain than I am, looking at me and going, 'Okay, we have to adjust the card tonight, because you have a headache?' That was the conversations that were had... We all thought guys with concussions were soft back then, I did, too."

 

Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu founded the Sports Legacy Institute in 2007 to study the effects of brain trauma resulting from sports. In line with the locker room attitude, WWE Superstar Randy Orton was skeptical of concussion issues until he developed them.

 

Nowinksi recalled a meeting with the "Viper" in 2010, during which Orton "started talking about his concussion experiences and he was like, ‘Gosh, I didn’t know it was that bad.' He is an advocate for himself now to take time off and so it’s interesting to see this turn."

 

WWE even broadcast the fact that a concussion was the reason Orton was absent from some of the March 2012 programming.

 

Rocker turned wrestling promoter Billy Corgan's forward-thinking Resistance Pro is working alongside the Sports Legacy Institute to make concussion screenings part of their protocol. He told ESPN, "Injuries are nothing to be ashamed about. They happen, but you have to support the talent and not just look the other way."

 

Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka

Corgan also stated that he suffered concussions while playing youth sports,"and know what it feels like and to have someone say 'Just rub some dirt on it, and get back in there.'"

 

For many wrestlers, working hurt is more than just a matter of outdated professional pride, it is a matter of financial security.

 

"The vicious cycle is this: they get injured, they don't heal, because we're on the road 275 days a year where we're working and active, and they go back and they work on injuries, over injuries, over injuries, and a lot of times that leads to taking pills,"said Dawn Marie.

 

"That's where a lot of substance abuse occurs," she continued. "They're trying to mask an injury so they can continue to work. That's if they're active, with a company. Or, they're working on the indies and they're working on injuries on top of injuries, and they're not taking the time to rest, because this is the only way they know how to make a living."

 

In 2008, Dawn Marie founded Wrestler's Rescue, a charitable organization that aims to assist retired wrestlers in need. Last year she began her campaign to raise funds to aid Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka.

 

She said the 68-year-old hall of famer "knew he needed his ankle repaired a long time ago, and they were going to put a steel rod in there. Now, he has insurance, Jimmy, but he doesn't have the six months to sit out and heal. His bills come in, so he continued to work over and over, and it's just this vicious cycle."

 

If Kanyon's WWE contract is any indication, working hurt is also apparently a matter of job security.

 

The contract states the wrestler will be docked percentage points from their minimum annual compensation if "unable to wrestle for eight (8) consecutive weeks due to an injury suffered in the ring while performing services at PROMOTER's direction."

 

A later clause in the contract states:

"In the event that WRESTLER is unable to wrestle for eight (8) consecutive weeks during the Term of this Agreement due to an injury suffered in the ring while performing services at PROMOTER's direction, PROMOTER shall have the right thereafter to terminate this Agreement or suspend WRESTLER without pay."

Lou Thez used his television notoriety and championship starpower to give back to ailing wrestlers like his idol Ed "Strangler"Lewis

 

If wrestlers don't work hurt, they don't eat, and there is currently nothing in place to counter that self-fulfilling destruction.

 

"It doesn't behoove promoters to have wrestlers who know what their rights are."

Jesse Ventura, I Ain't Got Time To Bleed

 

The wrestling business has always been a promoter's game. Before WWE leveled the landscape, the top organization was a loose confederation of territories called the National Wrestling Alliance.

 

The first chapter of Shaun Assael and Mike Mooneyham's Sex, Lies and Headlocks paints the scene when six territory bosses gathered in an Iowa hotel to form the NWA in the summer of '48:

 

"They all had problems keeping talent and avoiding bidding wars. Perhaps they should consider formalizing their ties. Surely they could see the money that could be made if they agreed to share their headliners, unite around a single champion, fix the wage scales, and blacklist any wrestler who refused to toe the line. Of course, what he was suggesting sounded an awful lot like a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890..."

 

The authors mention how wrestlers such as the legendary Lou Thez always had to stay one step ahead of the cabal:

"He knew that one of the best ways to keep from being cheated was to make friends with the athletic commissioners in the towns he played, since they were the only ones who would give him straight answers about the number of tickets that had been sold. Thanks to those relationships, he frequently got 10 percent of the take for each show he worked. (An average wrestler was lucky to get a paycheck, let alone a percentage.)"

 

New York promoter Jack Pfefer had a notorious reputation for swindling the talent. According to Jares' book, when Herb Freeman went to the office to collect his Madison Square Garden payoff, "Pfefer slid the check over to him, face down, and had him endorse it, then paid him $1,500 in cash. However, the check was for $2,500."

 

Legend has it that Hans Steinke, who holds one of wrestling's longest winning streaks—a thousand matches in succession, was so infuriated by Pfefer's chiseling, that he dangled the promoter by his ankles outside the office window overlooking Times Square until fair payment was met.

 

Another New York promoter with a dicey reputation was Toots Mondt, a former vaudevillian who had hitched his wagon to Vince McMahon Sr., parting with the NWA on good terms in 1963 and forming the World Wide Wrestling Federation.

 

According to Thez (in Assael and Mooneyham's book), Mondt would "go through wrestlers' envelopes in the office and take out fives, tens and twenties, saying, Ah, that's too much for this guy or that one. You couldn't trust him with a dog's dinner. The whole operation was being controlled by a thief."

 

Controversy would cut through a much different version of that same promotion years later. The event was Survivor Series 1997. Bret Hart, whose contract was expiring, was the WWE Champion. WWE owner Vince McMahon wanted Hart's opponent, Shawn Michaels, to win the title, but Hart disagreed on the basis that his contract gave him creative control of his character. McMahon agreed and told Hart the finish would be a no-contest and the title change would take place at another venue.

 

Immortalized in the documentary Wrestling with Shadows, and repeated on WWE television for years after the fact, McMahon marched to ringside at the point in the match where Michaels held Hart in the poisonous irony of Hart's own submission hold, ordered the bell rung, match done and Michaels declared the new champ.

Bret Hart, wrenching a headlock on brother Owen, stated in 2007 that he was an advocate of a professional wrestling union. His 1997 contractual battles with WWE became a public spectacle. Later, he would lose his career and almost his quality of life to concussion-related injuries.

 

It wasn't the first time a wrestler had been screwed by a promoter, but never before had it been done so publicly and so brazenly. Whatever his justifications for the desperate act, the moment crystallized McMahon's lowest point, when he had finally caved in to the pressures of keeping WWE afloat.

 

The incident haunted Michaels for years, who was blasted with chants of "you screwed Bret" whenever he wrestled in Canada. That night, a disgusted Undertaker reportedly confronted McMahon and made him talk to Hart.

 

He did.

 

Hart slugged him.

 

In his first book, Have a Nice Day!: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, Mick Foley remembered being so shaken by what had transpired that he left the company for a brief period in protest and, as of that evening, wasn't sure he'd be coming back.

 

Strip away all the emotion, however, and Survivor Series 1997 boiled down to a contract dispute. A wrestler had creative control, and the promoter didn't honor his side of the bargain.

 

Had Hart been a member of a professional wrestling union, McMahon would have been held accountable to more than just the wrestler he was sitting across the table from. For instance, working on behalf of actors, the Screen Actors Guild holds "employers to their agreed upon terms thus ensuring... that working for our signatory companies will provide [union members] the benefits both parties have agreed to."

 

However momentarily cathartic giving McMahon a shiner was for Hart, a union could have provided a recourse, such as SAG's directive "that if the employer fails to follow the agreed upon terms... claims on [the employee's] behalf will be filed and pursued against the employer."

 

Currently, all of the necessary resources and wonderful organizations that are helping wrestlers are focused on health and wellness issues, not contractual issues—some of which might affect what risks the wrestlers subject their bodies to.

Part 1 of 2 of DON'T BLEED ON ME, a documentary chronicling Devon Nicholson's claims that Abdullah the Butcher allegedly transmitted Hepatitis C to him during a cage match, and the effect on his life since.

 

Devon Nicholson asserted to In Your Head Wrestling that hall of famer Abdullah the Butcher used a razor blade to cut him without permission during a cage match. Apparently, Hulk Hogan has tweeted Abdullah did the same to him in the early 80s. Hogan had no recourse then, just as Nicholson didn't in the current era.

 

Unfortunately for Nicholson, he cites that cage match as the source where he contracted the infectious disease Hepatitis C, a health condition which has all but blacklisted him from employment in WWE and TNA—though Nicholson is confident no one would be at risk as long as WWE sticks to their no blood policy.

 

A similar situation happened on SmackDown in 2005 when Randy Orton's father, "Cowboy" Bob Orton, had returned to the WWE to help his son's feud with the Undertaker, which culminated in a Hell in a Cell match at that December's Armageddon.

 

The elder Orton reportedly informed WWE officials that he had Hepatitis C, but was nonetheless instructed to participate in the mega-cage match, and bleed at the hands of the Undertaker—who had no idea he was going to be exposed to and possibly contract the disease.

 

Thankfully, he didn't, but it is shocking WWE would put the Undertaker, Randy Orton and everyone at ringside, from crew to fans, at risk.

 

This past February, an Indiana wrestler named John Levi Miller made headlines for filing a lawsuit against a promoter in which he claimed he was kicked in the groin by an opponent who wasn't properly trained. Miller said his opponent went off-script and rather than do the agreed finish, kicked him in the crotch in an attempt to score the victory.

 

Promoter Sam Cosby told the Louisville Courier-Journal "that the facts mentioned in the suit are erroneous because Miller finished the match and won it, as scripted."

 

Nevertheless, Miller is without health insurance, owes more than $20,000 in medical bills, and is seeking compensation "for medical expenses he may incur."

 

"The problem starts with the fact that they're not organized and they're not unionized... They're performers. They should have health insurance and they should be protected."

Tribute video to wrestlers who passed away in 2010

Darren Aronofsky, film director

 

A professional wrestling union would help standardize the industry.

 

The adult entertainment industry requires blood tests before performers interact as a stopgap to the spread of communicable diseases. Likewise, if promoters want wrestlers to blade, they should pay for the wrestlers' blood screenings beforehand, and for safety and liability purposes, need to share the results with all participants involved.

 

To avoid a situation such as the Miller case, wrestlers need to agree on a basic, supervised training period from an accredited school before a wrestler has the right to be called a "professional."

 

There needs to be the understanding and appreciation for what Jesse Ventura wrote: "The prime directive of wrestling is to protect your opponent as you would protect yourself. It's their living, just as it's yours."

 

Ventura also wrote, "There's no acting or training in the world that can teach you to wrestle pain free."

 

It is for this reason that all parties in the physically intensive world of professional wrestling, with its uncommonly high early mortality rate (even in his book 30 years ago, Jares proclaimed, "The death toll is a long one."), need to come to terms with the fact that human bodies require rest.

 

In 2010, Booker T. was quoted in the New York Times, "Every other sport has off seasons. But with the W.W.E., it’s brutal. It’s taxing, mentally and physically."

 

Two year later, Matt Hardy echoed those sentiments during his Busted Open interview, "[W]hat I would love to see change in the wrestling business is to just have an off season, because I think guys need time off to heal. I think that would really help slow down the injury process, because once you're hurt, if you’re on a WWE schedule, the only time you get off is if you have surgery."

 

This is one of the imperative issues a professional wrestling union must fight for. Each wrestler needs an "off season" and the union would be tasked with implementing this in contracts across the board and figuring out a pay structure within those contracts for talent during these rest times.

Tribute video to wrestlers who passed away in 2011

 

Not every NFL player is a household name, but they're somehow able to make the rent during the off season. The AFL-CIO's Jeff Hauser explained, "as the NFLPA showed, it’s possible to have a strong union fight for a significant minimum salary but allow for substantial differences in pay while advancing health and safety standards."

 

Professional wrestlers need a union to help address the costs of their unique medical demands, not only physically, not only in dealing with addiction, but in treatments for mental and depression issues, as well.

 

Bret Hart observed that some of his colleagues' discouragement and depression came from adjusting to new careers and lives out of the spotlight. "You used to be a star and now you're working at Denny's or something."

 

Some depression issues may be physical manifestations brought on due to the hard-hitting nature of the sport. More and more studies are being done about the effects of the degenerative brain disorder chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on amateur and professional athletes in contact sports such as this one.

 

The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine has "identified CTE in 17 of 18 deceased contact sport athletes, ranging in age from 18 to 83. Based on these findings, there is grave concern that CTE affects far more athletes than previously believed."

 

In an article about the murder/suicide of wrestling great Chris Benoit, ABC News reported

"The Sports Legacy Institute has studied the brains of four NFL players who committed suicide, and found — in their opinion — that the players' brains were badly damaged, resulting in a dementia that, doctors say, looks similar to Alzheimer's. They speculate that the dementia, itself, may cause suicidal tendencies, and, possibly, even homicide."

 

Benoit's father Michael, in an effort to discern how Chris could transform from a devoted family man one week to someone who would suffocate his wife and child the next, donated his son's brain to the Institute, where it was discovered "molecular sections of Benoit's brain showed the same results as the other athletes who had all committed suicide."

Christopher Klucsarits - January 4, 1970 – April 2, 2010

 

Though WWE labeled the concussion explaination "speculative", Michael Benoit, Nowinski, and even longtime friend and colleague Chris Jericho in his most recent book, all cited Benoit's strange behavior prior to the tragedy, which was consistent with the behavior displayed by the other deceased athletes.

 

Regardless, what we learn from the Benoit deaths, as well as the suicides of fellow professional athletes, is that there needs to be a program in place where a friend, or a group of friends and family in an intervention, can tell a wrestler, "You're acting erratic, you need help, call this number."

 

According to the Times, Kanyon tried to enter WWE sponsored rehab in 2008 because he "was suffering from depression, which he had battled for several years after being dropped from the W.W.E. roster because of injuries." WWE informed Kanyon's lawyer "that the rehab program is for substance abuse not mental health issues."

 

On April 2, 2010, Kanyon—Chris Klucsarits—took his own life.

 

The WWE's rehab program is a necessary and important step in helping the company's former employees adjust to life outside of the wrestling world. As the industry leader, WWE should take such proactive steps.

 

But it is just as important for the wrestlers themselves to take ownership of their industry and start creating similar programs to help one another, to fill the gaps in the system so that a person suffering as Chris Klucsarits suffered has a place to get the help they need.

 

Writer David Shoemaker cited John Cena's 2007 appearance on Larry King for the following: "According to Cena, the question of unionization 'won't ever be answered, because I don't think it'll ever be asked.'"

 

But in 1987, Jesse Ventura did have the courage not only to ask it, but to pursue it. The landscape of the industry has changed in that generation of years, but have the practices?

 

"Collective bargaining is a democratic process among the workers and forces employers to address their employees' top priorities."

Jeff Hauser, AFL-CIO

 

"Solidarity" was a Polish trade union that blossomed into a movement during the 1980's. It destabilized the Communist regimes, ultimately leading to the downfall of the Soviet empire. Decades later, it was a source of inspiration for protestors during the Arab Spring.

Some of the priorities a professional wrestling union would address:

 

I. Health and Wellness

A. Bulk healthcare for physical issues

B. Pension benefits

C. Workman's compensation in case of injury

D. Bulk healthcare for mental issues

E. Institute an industry-wide, mandatory "off season" for every wrestler

    1. Determine off season scale based on age and years in the ring

F. Standardization of working conditions

    1. Cleanliness and safety of the ring mats, the ring and wrestling area

    2. No blading without consent

    3. No blading without current negative bloodwork results for all participants

    4. No unprotected shots to the head from a chair or other object

G. Wrestlers will only perform with fully trained professionals, and have the right to refuse to wrestle anyone who cannot provide a valid union card

H. Require active wrestlers to undergo heart and concussion screenings every two years

 

II. Training and Union Membership

A. Establish a system of accreditation for wrestling schools and wrestling school instructors

B. Standardization of wrestling school curriculum, hours and skills required for graduation and apprentice period in order to earn union membership

 

III. Contractual issues

A. Institute an industry-wide moral rights clause stating that a wrestler has the right to refuse without penalty an unreasonable gimmick or an unreasonable physical risk

B. Set the floor for basic rates of pay in small venues, large venues, non-WWE broadcast appearances, and WWE contracts

C. Establish merchandise and image usage royalties for either deceased wrestlers' spouses or next of kin

 

IV. Legal

A. Establish a legal fund or a system of arbitration in the event signatories fail to honor their contracts, as well as for member-to-member disputes

 

"I have a tendency to take the business personally because it's my life and it's the life of of my daughter and my son and has been the life of my family."

Vince McMahon, quoted in Sex, Lies and Headlocks

 

Many wrestlers would echo Mr. McMahon's sentiments.

 

And it is for them, and their families, and for the next generation of wrestlers, and their families, that a professional wrestling union must—at last—be forged.

 

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