World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is hitting back after John Oliver took aim at the pro wrestling organization

By Natalie Stone
April 01, 2019 06:47 PM

John Oliver is slamming World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) for the alleged mistreatment of its athletes.

On Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, Oliver criticized the organization’s CEO and chairman, Vince McMahon, for not taking “responsibility for his wrestlers’ welfare.” But one day after Oliver criticized WWE, it hit back against his allegations.

“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,” WWE said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE on Monday.

“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,” continued the statement, first obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “We invite John Oliver to attend WrestleMania this Sunday to learn more about our company.”

On Sunday’s episode, Oliver, 41, noted that WWE is “worth talking about” for a variety of reasons, including that it “makes a lot of money” — “Last year it generated a record $930 million in revenue,” he said — and the shocking deaths of numerous pro wrestlers throughout the years.

The episode featured footage of four former pro wrestlers, who all died within the past two decades: Eduardo Gory Guerrero, who died at age 38 in 2005; Randy “Macho Man” Savage, who died at age 58 in 2011; Joanie “Chyna” Laurer, who died at age 45 in 2016; and King Kong Bundy, who died at age 61 in March.

“Wrestlers dying early is a troubling trend,” said Oliver.

“Exactly a week ahead of WrestleMania, let’s take a look at how the WWE does business and how it treats its wrestlers,” he said before taking aim at McMahon. “And before we start, you can’t talk about the WWE without talking about its chairman and CEO, Vince McMahon because he is incredibly powerful.”

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Vince McMahon
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Oliver noted that McMahon, 73, purchased the company from his father and has since overseen it, including eliminating and/or absorbing competitors throughout the ’80s and ’90s — WWE “basically holds a monopoly on the industry,” said Oliver — and scripts for the broadcasts.

“While the character Vince is an asshole, it’s important to know that the real Vince is also an asshole,” Oliver said. “Many fans legitimately hate him because while the WWE has made him a billionaire, many wrestlers say he’s treated them terribly.”

Oliver went on to allege that McMahon has “shielded himself from responsibility for his wrestlers’ welfare. And the main way that he’s done this is actually pretty simple, because what you might reasonably think that the wrestlers employed by him are his employees, they’re actually not. They’re merely independently contractors” and are not able to work for anyone else.

“The lack of a union to advocate for wrestlers means that Vince gets to call all the shots. Because while literally every major sports league has an off season for its athletes to recover, the WWE works its wrestlers year-round, multiple times a week, both on TV and in untelevised so-called house shows. And big stars may be able to command big money for that, but not every wrestler is a big star,” said Oliver.

This isn’t the first time that Oliver has criticized sports organizations for the treatment of its athletes.

In 2015, he took a serious shot at the NCAA for not paying its players ahead of the annual March Madness college basketball tournament.

“There is nothing inherently wrong with a sporting tournament making huge amounts of money,” he said after revealing that that March Madness will net more than $1 billion for the NCAA. “But there is something slightly troubling about a $1 billion sports enterprise where the athletes are not paid a penny.”

Oliver argued that college basketball players are trapped in a catch-22 with the NCAA and that they’re not paid because they’re considered amateurs by the organization. “If it truly is all about the romance of amateurism, that’s fine,” Oliver finished, “Give up the sponsorships and the TV deals, stop paying the coaches and have the teams run by an asthmatic anthropology professor with a whistle.”

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver airs Sundays (11 p.m. ET) on HBO.