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Don’t blame Zelina Vega for the lack of a wrestler’s union

As was the case when reports first broke that she was on her way back to WWE, reaction to Zelina Vega’s re-debut on SmackDown last Friday (July 2) included a fair amount of commentary about her exit from the company last fall.

You know what happened. WWE banned its independent contractors from third-party engagement platforms like Twitch. Nevertheless Vega persisted, and was fired for it. She tweeted her support for unionization, and had a dialogue with Screen Actor’s Guild President Gabrielle Carteris. Entrepreneur and loser of elections Andrew Yang pledged his support.

Then... nothing else happened. Yang was never mentioned as a Labor Secretary candidate after Joe Biden became U.S. President, something that was key to his talk of regulating pro wrestling’s employee classifications. WWE started monetizing their talent on services like Cameo, AEW made sure we know they don’t, and it doesn’t seem to have noticeably impacted either’s business. Now, Vega is back working for WWE, after a rumored apology but no change in the company policy she took a stand against.

Some fans see her decision, and smaller steps like deleting her pro-labor tweets, as a betrayal. A percentage of those fans are probably lashing out at her because they feel betrayed; presumably that’s the root of the “hate comments and awfulness” Vega’s husband Tommy End said she got after reports of her return first hit in May.

A lot of people in the wrestling community would like to see wrestlers organize, and for a union to lead to things like company-provided health insurance, an off-season, or guaranteed post-retirement support. That all the buzz around the topic last fall seems to have once again led nowhere is disappointing. And it’s easier to focus that disappointment on one person - Zelina Vega - than an entire industry & system.

But that’s where the blame lies, with the pro wrestling business (including management, and bigger stars who could force company action), and the laws & policies that allow it to hire wrestlers as independent contractors.

Vega alone couldn’t change pro wrestling. Forming a union is a collective action. It can be a risky one, too. The sacrifice Zelina was willing to make - losing her dream job - doesn’t seem to have been enough to convince others to take the next step.

That’s disappointing, if not unpredictable. But it’s not her fault, and continuing to refuse to do what she’s always wanted to do won’t change anything. If you need to blame someone or something, there are lots of people and entities worthy of that assignment.

Zelina Vega isn’t one of them.

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