In 2017, Donald De La Haye’s D1 NCAA scholarship was voided over YouTube monetization, now WWE is threatening similar actions against its employees over third party concerns. Le Haye’s story sparked national outrage and exposed the greed and oppressive nature of an organization intent on keeping a clean image. Will the pro wrestling conglomerate face the same media backlash for its oppressive labor regime?
In a corporate email obtained by f4wonline originally sent on September second, WWE informed recipients that, “…You are engaged with outside third parties using your name and likeness in ways that are detrimental to our company. These activities must be terminated within the next 30 days.” This caused many fans and experts to speculate on exactly which services could render wrestlers, commentators, and personalities personae-non-gratae. Everything from, Instagram, youtube, twitch, and cameo were all considered a liability due to the vagueness of the letter.
The Public Statement
The social media buzz generated enough noise to force WWE to respond. On September fifth, WWE commented on the controversy with a simple one-paragraph press release:
The Continued Fallout
The press release did little to quell the heat WWE was taking from fans, workers, and even former U.S. Presidential candidates like Andrew Yang, who said in an interview earlier this week,
“They’re (WWE talent) putting their lives on the line, or their health on the line, their family life on the line, all the time. They made Vince McMahon a billionaire, and then the fact that he’s still being so heavy-handed about their ability to make a simple buck on Cameo just struck me as so absurd, and ridiculous, and wrong.”
Yang also said about if workers for WWE should be treated as independent contractors or employees that “ If you’re going to control all these aspects of a wrestler or a performer’s waking life, then you should take some responsibility too for that person’s bigger picture.” It was the third party application Cameo that has become the biggest sticking point for WWE brass. According to Dave Meltzer, talent would still be able to monetize Twitch and YouTube as long as the performers were using their names, not so for Cameo.
Cameo allows for personalized messages to be read by celebrities and influencers alike. Dozens of performers were using the service, from champions to commentators. They charged anywhere from 20 dollars to hundreds of dollars depending on the WWE superstar. If WWE does not allow Cameo, the company is protecting more than just their own “intellectual property” they are claiming ownership talent themselves.
WWE’s message may have sparked outrage but more than anything it appears to have the desired effect on its workers for the most part. Many superstars have already made their Cameo unavailable to the public or changed their appearance like Sasha Banks simply going by “Mercedes Motivation”, or Tom Phillips adjusting his to just “Tom”. The company’s actions have received very little pushback from most major news sources and even less from current talent.
Only Saraya-Jade Bevis, known in WWE as Paige, publicly commented on the WWE’s transgressions with a simple “nope” on twitter after the story became public. With seemingly no ethical boundaries and no overseeing body holding WWE accountable for their labor actions. The Stamford Connecticut based and publicly-traded company will face no repercussions or even investigations for their continued “exploitation of these characters.”
Since the Donald De La Haye story, media and activists have pressured the NCAA to change the way their athletes can use their stardom. Starting in January 2021 athletes in all three divisions will be able to use their name, image, and likeness for monetary purposes. This action was ratified unanimously by the NCAA Board of Governors. If the same progress is to be expected from WWE, it must come from external forces, not internal.