After The Spotlight Dim’s: Wrestlers Battle for Their Lives
When you think of pro wrestling, you think of athletes, in the prime of their lives, who entertain you with feats of strength, high flying moves, and good old fashioned grappling. However few people think about the injuries, surgery, illness, and lack of resources most wrestlers have access to.
Professional wrestling is not a high paying gig, unless you are at the top level in WWE. Many of the wrestlers you see on TV, make $100,000 or less, with almost all of the women earning far less than their male counterparts. In this article, former WWE talent, Tyler Rex talks about what WWE talent really earns when you look at their expenses.
“It [pay] was getting crappy when I left, and the guys I’ve talked to now say it’s beyond crappy,” Tuft said. “People assume you once you’re on TV you make a load of money and drive Lamborghinis and stuff, and that’s just not the case. Here’s a perfect example: I hate to spill my salary on the internet, but when I left I got a bump to $100,000 a year. But a third of it goes to road expenses. The only thing they pay for is your flight. You pay for your own hotel, and car, and food. Could you imagine trying to eat out five times a day? As a body guy, you have to maintain your physique and that means eating five times a day. Spending all your money trying to maintain that? Good luck. Then Uncle Sam takes 20%-30%. You guys do the math and see how much I walked away with, which was next to nothing. I was making more money fresh out of college as an engineer fresh out of college in an entry level position than being on TV.
More than 60% of many WWE stars pay is already gone before they spend a dollar. Wrestlers at this level are expected to maintain a specific look, so they spend money on gym memberships, tanning, ring gear, dietary supplements, not to mention having to pay for health insurance, and other medical related expenses. They are also not employees, they are contracted as “Independent Contractors”. This classification leaves them in a much higher tax bracket than other athletes, as they must pay into unemployment, much more than they would if they were a employee, personal insurance premiums that are extremely high, and workers comp is not available to independent contractors at all. If you are hurt on the job, you are responsible for all bills incurred.
Forbes laid it out in this article stating:
An employee only has to pay the employee part of FICA, Medicare, etc. An independent contractor must pay the higher self-employment tax. …
So by listing wrestlers as independent contractors, this actually allows WWE to abuse these peoples rights. The Economic Policy Institute sums it up nicely here:
Independent Contractor misclassification undermines worker bargaining power, for both workers who are misclassified and the directly employed workers alongside whom they work. As noted, misclassified ICs are not covered by basic labor standards, particularly laws affecting work hours and compensation. It is therefore easier for employers to enforce bargains on work hours and compensation for the self-employed that not only deviate from the workers’ compensation agreement but also result in effective hourly wages below the federal or state minimum and in actual work hours that go beyond 40 in a week, which under the FLSA would require premium pay. It is also easier for employers to renege on a compensation agreement, to pay cash “under the table” (i.e., unreported on a 1099-MISC tax form), or to shortchange workers on agreed compensation. These vulnerabilities of misclassified workers—and the fact that some employers exploit them—have a ripple effect on directly employed wage workers in these workplaces, hemming in their ability to bargain for higher compensation and to resist standards violations by their employers.
And it is far worse for wrestlers who work mainly on the independent scene. These athletes don’t make 6 figures, in fact many have a hard time holding down 5 figures, and usually have other types of employment to supplement their wrestling careers, and many do not carry the proper insurance to protect themselves in case of a major injury. They simply cannot afford it based on how much they get paid to perform.
So what happens to those who have no contracts, no savings, who lack the proper insurance, when they can no longer wrestle due to injury or sickness? They rely on us. Their fellow wrestlers, their fans, their friends. Many of these folks have little to fall back on, and some honestly have worked in wrestling for so long, they have no other options, and are too sick or injured to work. Just last month Billy Reil wrote about Sabu needing hip replacement. Just today I found out Rico Constantino, is extremely unwell with complications from head injuries, amongst other afflictions and also has a fundraiser going.
These are just a couple of examples of those who put their bodies and lives on the line for our entertainment, and now are facing an uphill battle to pay for the expenses that stem from their injuries from working as professional wrestlers. There are many more, and sadly there are many who lost their lives to health and wellness problems that stem from putting your body through hell for others entertainment, and for the promoters wallet. We need to recognize these issues and create a greater understanding around what we can do to support these folks, while at the same time putting pressure on the bigger companies to provide healthcare, disability insurance, and pensions for their “talent”.
If you care about wrestling, and claim to “love” the sport, then its time to show support for those who have put everything on the line to entertain you, and realize its not all glitz and glamour. Its a lot of Blood, Sweat and tears, combined with liniments, pain pills, physical therapy, and surgery.