In an appearance on Booker T’s Hall of Fame Podcast, former WWE star and announcer Alex Riley was asked if he’d ever consider returning to WWE in a commentating position. Riley responded in the negative and then transitioned to a surprising topic; unionization in wrestling. Booker asked Riley to elaborate on that and Riley began by talking about his vision for the business with a union.
“I’m not here to say that I have it all figured out,” Riley said. “However, I love the business of sports entertainment. I love the people, I love it. In that vain, they need, and I’ll say this, the WWE management is fantastic. They’ve done so much, it’s a real, it’s the NFL. The thing, when I was watching it at home, the WWE compares, and I’m going to speak about WWE because I’ve never been to AEW (and I hear they’re fantastic as well), they compare themselves to the NFL, the NBA. Those people have unions. That’s just the facts of it. The entertainment business in the United States of the America is the number one export. We are the United States of America. We are free thinking, we are free believing and we are free speaking. We lead the world in that system. When it comes to that system, that’s why we lead the world in entertainment. It’s open thought. Whatever the slang is for it, it’s a real thing.
“And I really feel the art of sports entertainment is one of the most beautiful, artistic platforms of expression that we have. I believe that it’s going to be, if it isn’t already, the future of American programming. It’s lasted longer than anything. We have AEW now, we have WWE, we have Reality of Wrestling. I was speaking to you yesterday about the Monday Night Wars. How exciting were the Monday Night Wars? I know I didn’t have a cell phone in my hand during the Monday Night Wars, I know I was tweeting, I know wasn’t on Instagram. I know my eyes were locked in and glued onto what was happening. And then you said the other day about WCW. And somebody had to go. I don’t want anybody to go. I want sports entertainment to be a pinnacle structure of programming for the United States of America for forever. Why would it not be? Why does one company, and I know they were battling for business and that was part of that generation. One of them had to go. But if it can be in a way where we’re all working together and we’re all evolving through television together, I think that’s the best way to utilize that business. I just do.”
Booker later asked Riley to expand on why he felt unionization was right for the wrestling business. Riley elaborated that he felt it would help give the talent a stronger voice, and also would give the wrestlers below the superstars more of a chance to make money and succeed.
“First of all it would give the talent a stronger voice,” Riley said. “That’s number one. So that just goes without saying. If things would be more balanced. I’m not trying to negate the fact that the person drawing the money at the gate gets the money. You give the star the money. That would make no, logical sense. But the people that are supporting, the people that are trying to climb and replace the star. Give them feet to stand on, give them something to push off of. Give them a pay structure and a belief system that allows them to stand on two feet and go after the main guy. New stars right? People that can stand on two feet, have a family.
“I spent ten years in that business, and I gave my life to it. And anyone who says otherwise, I’d have to have a conversation too. I worked my ass off there, I’m proud of my work I put in there. I really am. There needs to be a platform for the people that are not the stars, to stand grounded on two feet, know that their job is secure and reach as high as they can for the brass ring. I don’t want to get too much into contracts right now and the way they’re structured. It’s not for me to speak of right now. But I believe there is space in there to unionize, to allow for a more grounded, more opportunistic playing field to aim to replace the star in a fair, equal way. If you’re working for AEW, if you’re working for Reality of Wrestling, if you’re working for WWE, you should go there knowing you could be the next guy. You know what I mean?”
Riley and Booker would go onto debate unionization before Riley went went on to compare wrestling to the NFL and the NBA. Both sports organizations that have players unions, which Riley believes helps protect the professionalism of both leagues. Ultimately however, Riley wants to be a voice on this issue, even if he isn’t necessarily the main one.
“What I think it does, and again, I’m here as a voice,” Riley said. “Maybe not the voice but certainly someone that sides with…you know the star is protected right? Let’s be honest about the business. The star is protected. The three stars, four stars, and you know they’re probably going to hate me for saying it but whatever, they’re protected. But the guys that are trying to be the stars, I’m speaking to them. I’m speaking to the hundreds of people that are there who have no idea what’s going on and whether or not they’re going to make it. And it’s not fifty of them now, it’s a hundred of them. And I’m just trying to balance the understanding of what I believe a sports organization provides. I have been close to the NFL. I didn’t play in the NFL, but I have been close. I have been in those locker rooms. I have been close to the NBA. There is an understanding there of professionalism and I believe the union helps protect that.
“And again, we’re not dealing with the NFL and we’re not dealing with the NBA. We’re dealing with a moving, evolving, entertainment organism. I understand that, I understand it’s different and I understand a lot of things are dictated by, call them real storylines. And I’ll be honest with you, you know as well as I do, they are. Some of those things out there, they’re as real as it gets. And god bless the genius at work that does that, because that’s what makes it, that’s what makes it what it is. The realer it is, the better it is. You’d be a fool if you’re watching sports entertainment to think what’s going on out there isn’t real. Because a lot of times, those are real issues handled on live television. And I’m not trying to take away from that. I believe that’s what makes our product better than anything I’ve ever been involved in. Because it’s real drama, it’s real issues with grown men and grown women, and they’re being worked out with microphones on live television. And in that understanding of what it is, my voice is only here to help if I can protect that. Because I love that business, I always love the business, you know I love that business. And I just want to express myself in a way that I believe could help some of the guys that also love that business.”
You can watch the full interview below.
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit The Hall of Fame Podcast and provide a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription