In the coming years after the coronavirus pandemic is over, the World Wrestling Entertainment will reflect on April 2020 with a sense of nobility. The company will tell you it was there for you when no one else was, entertaining you when others wouldn’t. The WWE will say it went out — despite the risks — and put on a show to keep you distracted from the health crisis outside that’s killed hundreds of thousands worldwide and the financial one that will likely impact the next years of our lives, if not the rest of them. The WWE, which excels at rewriting its own history again and again, will undoubtedly attempt do the same about the past month.
More Pro Wrestling:
- An Unbearable Descent Into Hell: WWE As An Essential Business
- Fanfyte 11: Tag Team Doubles
- The Owen Hart Police Report Is a Chilling Reminder of WWE’s History with Worker Safety
The truth is April 2020 was a disaster — one that, of course, the WWE will try and rewrite. The company laid off a slew of its workers and blamed it on the economic impact of the coronavirus while sitting on hundreds of millions in reserve. At the same time, the largest pro wrestling company in the world pushed the workers it had left to continue showing up to put on live shows — again, despite the risks. The pressure led one employee to submit an anonymous complaint to the state of Florida while the fans who still decided to tune in watched first-hand what the employee was complaining about: wrestlers on their screens continued physically interacting with one another in what’s already one of the most intimate work settings on the planet. With a viral pandemic quite literally hanging in the air and hiding in the fluids flying in and out of the human body, the WWE asked its wrestlers to step into the ring — a 16×20-foot disease trap — because the “show must go on.”
COVID-19’s Impact on Pro Wrestling Continues
It’s been more than three months now since the pro wrestling world was first impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. In February, promotions like DDT and New Japan Pro-Wrestling began cancelling events but most didn’t anticipate the worldwide shutdowns we’d see in March. Or that throughout April, while most of the rest of the world sheltered in place, some U.S.-based promotions would still challenge the pandemic and continue running live shows without crowds.
Why Does It Matter?
We know the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically altered lives across the world, and pro wrestling couldn’t avoid its impact either. Its spread was too late to impact this year’s Wrestle Kingdom, but we saw how dramatically it altered WrestleMania at the beginning of this month. In what’s already an unprecedented situation around the world, professional wrestling — as we typically know it — was also put on pause. While Ring of Honor, NWA and Impact have suspended shows for the foreseeable future, WWE and All Elite Wrestling are still defying health officials’ expert advice by continuing to film shows. Even as they continued, WWE felt the virus’ impact too — whether through their own employees contracting the virus or their own moves to lay off hoards of employees in the name of an economic crisis. But nothing, despite any efforts, felt the same in April.
Thank you All, Rusev out!
— Miro (@RusevBUL) April 15, 2020
WWE Lays Off Slew of Wrestlers & Staff Amid the Pandemic
On April 15, two days after being deemed an “essential business” by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the WWE announced it would lay off dozens of on-camera talent and a number of behind-the-scenes staff. The list of names being laid off or furloughed included wrestlers like Hall-of-Famer Kurt Angle, Rusev, Zack Ryder, Heath Slater, Sarah Logan, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows, and more — all names pro wrestling fans have become familiar with over the years and some, like Angle and Ryder, forever altered the pro wrestling business in their careers.
Why Does It Matter?
The move was dumbfounding to fans, critics, and wrestlers alike — especially given that the same day the WWE announced its layoffs, it announced it had $500 million in emergency reserves and that the company would see a “cash flow improvement of $140 million” due to pausing the construction of its new headquarters. Its April 15 layoffs would give the WWE “an estimated monthly savings of $4 million,” the company said. “Expectations for WWE’s corporate behavior are just as low as expectations for its match quality, story freshness, and exciting week-to-week developments,” our fearless editor LB Hunktears wrote last week in an honest look at what fans should expect from the pro wrestling business. But the fact is, the WWE — the company and the brand of wrestling — hasn’t left anyone with much to expect in recent years. Much of the company’s shortfalls have come with how it treats its employees.
At Tuesday's Orange County Board of County Commissioners meeting, a #WWE employee named "John" submitted public comment they're being "forced to work" TV tapings despite stay at home orders. Says he's unable to speak out and feels he will be fired if he approaches his higher-ups. pic.twitter.com/UJTvX1RGc7
— Jon Alba (@JonAlba) April 21, 2020
Employee Complains: “WWE is Forcing Me to Work”
The Orange County Board of County Commissioners received a complaint from a person who identified themselves as a WWE employer, requesting the local government shut down the WWE’s TV tapings in Orlando, Florida. “My employer, World Wrestling Entertainment, aka WWE, is forcing me to work the TV tapings for its weekly shows despite home orders for coronavirus,” the anonymous complaint read, the reading of which during the county commissioner’s meeting went viral on social media. “I am unable to speak out as I need this job and I know I will be fired if I approach my higher-ups.”
Why Does It Matter?
Outside of its CEO possibly having helped cover up a murder and one of the company’s most prominent stars committing others, it’s an arguable debate that the WWE may have never looked worse than it did in April — laying off a large group of its employees and, according to one employee’s official complaint, forcing the rest its workforce to continue showing up in the midst of a global pandemic that’s killed more than 230,000 people worldwide. In Florida alone, more than 1,200 people have died from the virus by the end of April. Wrestlers, fans and critics have long been aware of the WWE’s poor treatment of the majority of its workers: classifying wrestlers as contractors and avoiding giving most of them health insurance policies, asking performers with an already physically demanding job to do so on an arduous schedule that leaves people shocked when they hear about it. And when an emergency set in, the WWE showed this past month that it would sooner cut ties with members of its beloved “WWE family” than it would offer them security from its designated “emergency” relief fund.
Oh Yeah… WrestleMania
Despite a pandemic illness that’s spread through person-to-person contact, the WWE went forward with WrestleMania 36 over two nights of pre-filmed matches on April 4-5. We’ll be fair: no one predicts a pandemic, they can only react. In that sense, you can’t help but to feel for those who missed out on what likely would have been career-, maybe even life-defining moments they came so damn close to. Edge returned after pro wrestling was so unfairly taken from him due to injury. Drew McIntyre, who was once fired by the WWE, become the company’s top champion and had to share one of the most triumphant comebacks in pro wrestling history with an empty training gym, some cameras, and a handful of his coworkers. But none of it should’ve happened in the first place, no matter how devastating it is on a personal level for those who saw their long-deserved moments of redemption dashed.
Why Does It Matter?
Even keeping that heartbreak in mind wasn’t enough to distract viewers from the cloud of the coronavirus pandemic. Fans, critics, and some working the show themselves have repeatedly cried that this isn’t the time for pro wrestling — no matter how reliant we’ve been on its entertainment for years. A routined reliance on something like that often grows into genuine care and concern for the well-being of the parts that make up the whole. It’s why fans flood sites like Reddit and Twitter with their obnoxious complaints about segments they don’t like, or share their far-stretched fantasy bookings that’ll never happen, or craft the most heartfelt, in-depth thoughts on pro wrestling that go well-beyond the concern they’ve placed on maybe anything else in their lives.
I’m there, too. Pro wrestling is based on making you care about people you don’t know — the wrestlers, the announcers, the ref, the other fans. People who care about pro wrestling care about the people who help make it. So, of course after two nights of watching in horrible concern, when McIntyre lifts the WWE Championship for the first time and Edge celebrates what otherwise could have been one of the most iconic in-ring returns in wrestling’s storied history, my mind doesn’t focus on the story being told through my screen. Instead, I’m worried about whether that’s McIntyre’s own sweat dripping off his body and whether he’ll be OK.