The WWE has recently filed a lawsuit against Shane McMahon, claiming that he “abused his authority” and breached the company’s trust in granting him control of certain business interests. The key question is whether this case will have any impact on future cases where employees are granted stock options or shares by their employers?
“Indy wrestling” is the term used for professional wrestling promotions that are not under WWE’s umbrella. “Indy wrestlers” are independent contractors, and thus do not receive the same benefits as their WWE counterparts.
1. THE WWE HAS BEEN SUEDED BY THOUSANDS OF WRESTLERS FOR CONCUSSIONS AND UNFAIR CONTRACTS.
More than 50 wrestlers sued World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) in July 2016, alleging that the company had recklessly endangered its performers by concealing the dangers of head injuries, misclassifying wrestlers as “independent contractors,” and neglecting its own Talent Wellness Program (including neurological testing/the concussion protocol).
Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Road Warrior Animal, Paul Orndorff, “Mr. Wonderful,” Chavo Guerrero Sr., Chavo Guerrero Jr., King Kong Bundy, Marty Jannetty, Sabu, Mark Jindrak, and referees Dave and Earl Hebner were among the claimants.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that wrestlers have sought retribution from the WWE. Scott Levy (as Raven), Chris Klucsarits (aka Kanyon), and Mike Sanders, three former WWE wrestlers, sued the company in 2008 over their independent contractor status. (The whole complaint may be seen here.) They believed they were entitled basic insurance and retirement benefits, given their fulltime (and then some) hours and the exclusivity of their WWE contracts.
However, due to the statute of limitations, the court dismissed the case the next year. The WWE has a reputation for being impenetrable in court, with the exception of Jesse Ventura, who won $800,000 in 1991 for unpaid royalties (more on him later).
The NFL agreed to a $1 billion settlement with 20,000 former football players who, like the 50 wrestlers who sued the WWE over concussions, believed their company had deceived them about the dangers of repetitive brain trauma. The significant distinction is that those players were full-time NFL workers, not independent contractors, and they had evidence that the league had concealed and minimized the hazards.
Still, the 2016 WWE claim was fashioned after the NFL one (as was the NHL concussion case), and if the court rules that the statute of limitations does not apply, as the plaintiffs allege, the wrestlers may be able to get some redress for their many health problems and massive medical expenditures.
Whatever the outcome of this lawsuit and others, the WWE’s treatment of its wrestlers must improve. It’s a matter of life and death for them.
2. ANDREW “TEST” MARTIN AND CHRIS BENOIT HAD CTE.
Many people blamed WWE star Chris Benoit’s tragic double-murder/suicide on “roid fury,” a steroid-induced wrath that, according to a 2014 research in the medical journal Addiction and the famous 2008 documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster*, is most likely a fiction.
“There’s no unanimity in the medical profession that this problem of ‘roid anger… really exists,” Dr. Julian Bailes, co-director of the Brain Injury Research Institute, told ABC News.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, co-director of the BIRI alongside Dr. Bailes, is the world’s top authority on CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). (He was the subject of Will Smith’s 2015 film Concussion, in which Alec Baldwin portrayed Dr. Bailes.) Chris Benoit’s heinous deeds, according to Dr. Omalu, were fueled by the innumerable punches to the brain he sustained throughout his 22-year wrestling career.
A diving headbutt from the top rope was one of Benoit’s hallmark techniques. He informed Chris Nowinski, a professional wrestler and medical doctor whose career was cut short by brain injuries (along with Daniel Bryan, Corey Graves, and Christian), that he had “more concussions than he could count.”
Jonathan Coachman, a WWE announcer from 2003 to 2008, says he had “between 10 and 20 concussions” during that time—roughly 2-4 each year.
Nowinski, too, remembers battling “terrible headaches and being in a fog every night.” He formed the Concussion Legacy Foundation after retiring from football, and through it he has worked with Dr. Omalu.
Following Benoit’s suicide, Dr. Omalu analyzed his brain and claimed it matched that of an 85-year-old man with Alzheimer’s. Benoit was 40 years old at the time.
He also examined the brain of Andrew “Test” Martin, a former WWE wrestler who died of an opioid overdose at the age of 33. Martin, too, had CTE symptoms.
3. THEY ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE’S WITH THIS PROBLEM.
“With Andrew Martin being the second example, the WWE and the sport in general have to question themselves, ‘Is this a trend?’” Dr. Bailes stated in a 2009 Outside the Lines piece. Jumping from 10-foot ladders and smashing people with tables and chairs, according to research, is plain unhealthy for the brain.”
In response, the WWE questioned the tests’ “reliability,” adding:
Mr. Benoit’s brain, according to Dr. Omalu, resembled that of an 85-year-old with Alzheimer’s, which makes one wonder how he would have made his way to an airport, much alone remembered all the techniques and knowledge necessary to perform in the ring.
The vehement rejection of such words is remarkable. When Benoit killed his wife and children and then hung himself on a weight machine with Bibles next to their corpses, the WWE appeared to imply that he was of sound mind.
Benoit, Chris Kanyon, Mike Awesome, Sean O’Haire, Crash Holly, Tojo Yamamoto, Yukon Eric, “The Renegade” Rick Wilson, and Kerry Von Erich are among the 20 wrestlers who have committed suicide. Many people suffered from depression and other mental illnesses as a result of CTE. Before Chris Nowinski died, Kanyon reached out to him, stating he’d experienced at least 12 concussions and that they had affected his mental health. “I wouldn’t be shocked if Chris [Kanyon] had CTE when he went away,” Nowinski says.
Former football players like Junior Seau, Andre Waters, and Terry Long—all of whom exhibited evidence of CTE and its resultant mental illnesses, and all of whom committed suicide—belong in the same category as Kanyon and the other names above.
Many people may associate Benoit’s conduct with O.J. Simpson, who Dr. Omalu has claimed he would “bet [his] medical license” has CTE, a disease that might explain Simpson’s violent behavior and suicidal thoughts.
One of the claimants in the concussion case, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, was accused in 2015 with the 1983 murder of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino. However, a court determined in June 2016 that Snuka was mentally incompetent to stand trial. Snuka had no idea what year it was or who the current President was. (He’d be assessed again later that year.)
Given the mental condition of Snuka, Benoit, and Martin, as well as the never-ending spate of business fatalities and suicides, it’s no surprise that wrestlers like Mick Foley, Kevin Nash, Rob Van Dam, and Chyna (R.I.P.) have all committed to give their brains to research once they die away.
4. CONCUSSIONS CAUSED DANIEL BRYAN TO RETIRED.
The WWE, like the NFL, has updated its concussion protocol in recent years. It has outlawed deadly moves like as Tombstone Piledrivers and headshots with a chair. Before returning to the ring, wrestlers with concussion symptoms must pass an ImPACT test and be cleared by physicians. (For example, after sustaining a concussion at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view in May 2016, “Certified G” Enzo Amore was out for three weeks.)
Daniel Bryan, the underdog-turned-top dog, was one superstar that the WWE doctors refused to approve. Bryan, 34, stunned the world when he announced his retirement at the height of his powers in February 2016. With tears streaming down his beard, he told the crowd:
I’d already suffered three concussions in the first five months of my wrestling career. I would suffer a concussion every now and again for years after that… It adds up to a lot of concussions when you’ve been wrestling for 16 years.
“Perhaps my brain isn’t as well as I thought,” Bryan, who has allegedly had seizures as a result of his repeated head traumas, continued.
“You can’t record them all,” Bryan subsequently told ESPN’s Jonathan Coachman of his 10 “documented” concussions. Daniel Bryan, like Chris Benoit, was known for launching himself headfirst from the top rope.
The WWE should be commended for telling Daniel Bryan “No” and implementing a concussion policy similar to the NFL’s (if only for PR reasons). However, issues remain concerning the protocol’s goal and effectiveness, as well as the competence of the company’s physicians.
5. THE MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF THE WWE DOESN’T THINK CTE IS THAT BIG OF A DEAL.
Dr. Joseph Maroon, the WWE’s Medical Director, is well-known for downplaying the frequency and seriousness of CTE. (In the film Concussion, he is portrayed by Arliss Howard; it is not a favorable depiction.) He describes the situation as “over-exaggerated,” claiming that riding a bike or skateboard is riskier than playing football. Though Dr. Maroon made the correct decision in the case of Daniel Bryan, it’s difficult to assume that he will take injuries and CTE as seriously as he should in the future.
“>In a jaw-dropping interview on The Art of Wrestling podcast, former WWE Champion CM Punk—who, like Daniel Bryan, retired early for his health—said that the WWE medical staff allowed him to wrestle with concussions and other serious injuries despite his pleas for treatment. Punk said that post-concussion syndrome brought him to his knees after many matches, “and I’m either puking for real or I’m just dry heaving because I don’t have anything in my stomach. I have no appetite. I don’t know what is up and what is down. I can’t sleep. I can’t f***ing train.”
Punk alleges that he slid towards the corner of the ring and informed the doctor he was concussed at the 2014 Royal Rumble—not coincidentally, his last bout in the WWE—and that the doctor simply replied:
(The doctor in issue, Chris Amann, filed a defamation lawsuit against Punk and podcast host Colt Cabana, demanding $1 million in damages.) That lawsuit was supposed to go to trial in June 2016, but it was apparently resolved before then.)
Punk also said (in a stronger/bluer tone) that the WWE’s concussion test is a joke, claiming that he passed it despite the fact that everyone knew he was concussed. He thinks the WWE’s and NFL’s much-hyped concussion policies are really public relations stunts: “WWE does nothing to safeguard the wrestlers; they do all they can to protect themselves.”
“Of course, the WWE’s concussion policy is dictated by PR concerns,” writes wrestling writer and podcast host David Shoemaker (aka The Masked Man). And that is precisely why the NFL is doing it as well.”
Given the daunting task that the WWE throws at its performers, as well as their position as Independent Contractors, it’s difficult to disagree with Shoemaker or Punk.
(Part 2 may be found below.)
6. WRESTLERS DO NOT RECEIVE TIME OFF UNLESS THEY ARE INJURED.
Wrestlers go on the road for 300 days a year and spend 250-275 nights flinging their bodies around the squared circle and smashing them into the mat—indefinitely. Wrestlers, unlike football and hockey players (the two sports most directly linked to brain trauma), do not have an offseason.
For nearly half of the year, football and hockey players put their bodies and minds through hell, which many experts and fans consider excessive, if not harmful. Wrestlers collide all year, and they don’t stop until they’re gravely wounded and need time off, or (bigger picture) until they retire, which many can’t afford to do in earnest. (The starting salary is roughly $35,000.)
Mick Rouse questioned superstars Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, “How do you prevent your body from falling apart?” from the continuous grind, in the August 2015 GQ story “How WWE Wrestlers Stay Fit on The Road.”
Seth: That’s virtually impossible. It is impossible to recuperate. We give it our all, but our season isn’t over yet. I haven’t spent any significant amount of time at home in the last three years. In the last three years, the longest time I’ve spent at home has been four days. And that’s correct.
Roman: There is no such thing as a recovery procedure. There isn’t such a thing, in my opinion.
Three months later, at a live event in Dublin, Ireland, then-WWE Champion Rollins destroyed his MCL and ACL. (He was deprived of his championship and had to sit out for nine months.)
Roman Reigns was banned for 30 days in June 2016 for breaking the WWE’s wellness policy. (Reigns made his comeback just in time for the Battleground pay-per-view.)
After tearing his MCL, PCL, and meniscus in a WrestleMania match with the Undertaker, CM Punk told the Art of Wrestling that he believed to himself, “This is the only way I can get time off.” To obtain time off, I have to kill myself.”
Offseasons are critical for an athlete’s recuperation and for limiting the amount of brain damage they receive over the course of a year or career. In the OTL piece, former WWE wrestler Dawn Marie estimates that many wrestlers get 5,000 strikes (or “bumps”) every year on the conservative side. “Oh, my gosh,” she cries through sobs. “I’m curious as to what’s going on in my head right now.”
By instituting an offseason, the WWE could substantially limit the quantity of strikes, perhaps sparing performers’ brains and lives. According to David Shoemaker, Vince McMahon could do so without offending fans, delaying stories, or losing money.
The corporation might also safeguard its workers by recognizing that they are employees and providing them with the insurance and retirement benefits that they need.
WRESTLERS ARE CALLED “INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS” IN 7.
Although Scott Levy (Raven), Chris Kanyon, and Mike Sanders had their 2008 lawsuit dismissed, they were correct: WWE performers are full-time workers by any reasonable standard. They work five days a week, and due to a non-compete contract, they can only work for WWE. When you include in travel and promotional events, wrestlers dedicate much more time (and energy, and heart) to their professions than those of us who complain about Carpal Tunnel from the luxury of our swivel chairs.
Wrestlers are categorized as independent contractors, according to an esoteric structure that CM Punk has equated to indentured slavery. (When wrestling companies were regional, having an IC status made sense.) This translates to:
- Wrestlers are not represented by a union.
- They may be dismissed whenever they choose.
- They are responsible for their own insurance coverage.
- They must file and pay taxes in each state where they work (which is almost all of them).
- They must cover their own travel costs. (It’s worth repeating: wrestlers travel around 300 days every year.)
- They do not have a 401(k) or any other kind of retirement plan. (With one exception: Vince McMahon’s yearly drug treatment offer, which he has said is for “Two words: Public. Relations.”) He’s a nice man!)
A professional wrestler is in need of health insurance, retirement, and general protection. For their devotion, they crush their bodies and brains into oblivion, leaving them with crumbs at the end of the day—if they even make it out alive.
Chris Kanyon has bipolar illness and depression, which were most likely brought on or aggravated by CTE. He effectively terminated his wrestling career and exacerbated his mental health difficulties by suing the WWE (and losing). Kanyon penned an apologetic statement to his family in 2010 and overdosed on pharmaceuticals in his Sunnyside flat. He was 40 years old at the time.
His death was never confirmed by the WWE.
8. THEY DO NOT FORM A UNION.
The WWE likes to stress that it will compensate for injuries caused in the ring—but only while the performer is under contract with the company. What about five, 10, or twenty years from now?
Many wrestlers, like football and hockey players, irreversibly injure their bodies and brains by doing what they love. Knee and back ailments, drug misuse, brain trauma, and depression are all difficulties that do not go away after the tights are removed. They loom even bigger and darker over retirement in many instances, such as Jake the Snake Roberts, Scott Hall, Kanyon, and others.
Darren Aronofsky captured that fact beautifully in the brilliant Oscar-nominated film ” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>The Wrestler (2008), in which Mickey Rourke’s Randy “The Ram” Robinson struggles to cope with (or even survive) life after wrestling. The Ram lives in a trailer, scraping by on odd jobs, autographs, and smalltime shows, wrestling against a doctor’s advice. He plays an 8-bit videogame to relive the glory days, and battles nasty addictions he acquired on the road. It’s a powerful film, one that embodies so many of the industry’s demons, and one every wrestling fan should watch. (See also: The Resurrection of Jake the Snake.)
Following the premiere of The Wrestler, Aronofsky unsuccessfully lobbied for wrestlers to be accepted to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), stating:
I believe the issue stems from the fact that they are not organized or unionized. That is the fundamental issue. There’s no reason these men aren’t in SAG, after all. They’re as much, if not more, film performers than stuntmen. They’re performing and doing stunts in front of a camera, and they should be protected.
In 1986, WWE star (and eventually governor of Minnesota) Jesse “The Body” Ventura attempted to organize a union in order to get such protection.
What’s the end result? Hulk Hogan snitched on Ventura to Vince McMahon, and McMahon threatened to fire him since he couldn’t find enough wrestlers to join the cause.
9. ANY WRESTLER WHO ATTEMPTS TO FORM A UNION WILL BE FIRED.
Today, the tale would be the same. The system benefits the best performers, like as John Cena, The Rock, Triple H, and Brock Lesnar, who earn millions of dollars each year. They refuse to join a union since their interests do not coincide with those of the center and bottom of the card. Why would they seek to level the playing field by working fewer hours for more money?
This is why big-name wrestlers like John Cena usually avoid or even discourage unionization while they’re still in the ring. (Rest his soul, retired legends like Bret Hart and Roddy Piper are a different story.) Hogan informed McMahon of Ventura’s union ambitions in order to protect the system that had made him famous.
There is just too much at risk for the rest of the men to seek unionization. McMahon threatened to fire The Body if they didn’t change their ways. Because of their litigation, he put Raven and Kanyon on a no-fly list. He’d do the same to any current wrestler today who dared to defy the system. It has the potential to terminate their careers, and professional wrestling does not adapt itself well to other fields.
Wrestling Inc. asked Ventura whether he still believes wrestlers should form a union, and he said:
Absolutely! What could be more backwards than that? … For me and my family, I had to pay for our own health insurance. It was going to set me back $5000 every year. Perhaps if we had a union, that amount might be reduced to $2000 per year. There is power in numbers. You could be able to retire. In 1990, I took a chance and sued Vince, which I won. He continues to give me cheques every three months. He has to compensate me for whatever appearances I make.
(Note: This was a huge victory for The Body.) Internet subscriptions, VOD, TV licensing, commentary, and voiceover work do not pay royalties to wrestlers.)
Health insurance and retirement plans should be available to all full-time workers, even if their occupations put their bodies and brains through a whirlwind. The WWE, on the other hand, clings to its antiquated system, eating up and spitting out its talents.
Look no farther than the obituaries for evidence.
WRESTLERS DIE OFTEN AND EARLY.
Wrestling fatalities have inspired a weekly column, a poetry book, and a slew of films, blog entries, video tributes, and websites (including this one). The industry’s constant fatalities have sparked various studies that add to the increasing amount of research that backs up these ghostly stories. Their findings are bleak.
“Are Pro Wrestlers Dying at an Unusual Rate?” wondered FiveThirtyEight in 2014. The death rate among wrestlers aged 35-45 is five times higher than projected based on actuarial estimations, according to the research. It’s also far greater than that of other athletes, who die at a lower-than-expected rate.
However, although the FiveThirtyEight analysis was eye-opening, it most likely underplayed wrestlers’ mortality. The study’s participants were “all WWF wrestlers who are/would be younger than 60 in 2014, and who made at least 20 pay-per-view performances between WrestleMania I in 1985 and… 2002—for a total of 203 in total.”
What is the significance of this? A wrestler was considered successful if he or she made at least 20 pay-per-view appearances. Wrestlers that matched these requirements earned substantially more money than the usual (through royalties and goods in addition to their contracts), allowing them to afford better medical care, rehab, therapy, and other treatments, so extending their lives.
In other words, by concentrating on wrestlers who appeared in at least 20 pay-per-views during this time period rather than the majority or all of the WWF roster, FiveThirtyEight skewed the data in a manner that reduced the death rate among wrestlers. Early death was five times greater than projected even back then.
According to the BBC, a University of Eastern Michigan study indicated that approximately 80% (49) of the 62 wrestler fatalities studied happened before the age of 50. Nearly a quarter of the cases (24%) happened before the age of 40.
The results of USA Today were much more troubling (emphasis added):
The expenses are prohibitively expensive. According to Keith Pinckard, a medical examiner in Dallas who has monitored wrestling deaths, wrestlers have mortality rates that are seven times greater than the general population in the United States. They are 12 times more likely than other Americans aged 25 to 44 to die from heart disease, he says. Wrestlers are also 20 times more likely than pro football players, another physically demanding job, to die before the age of 45, according to USA TODAY data.
While there is no authoritative database of wrestler deaths, RIP Dead Wrestlers has compiled a comprehensive list of industry fatalities going back to Yusuf Ismail (aka Youssouf Ishmaelo) in 1898.
More than 200 wrestlers died between 2006 and 2016, according to RIP Dead Wrestlers, including well-known names such as Chyna (1969-2016), Rowdy Roddy Piper (1954-2015), Dusty Rhodes (1945-2015), The Ultimate Warrior (1959-2014), Viscera aka Big Daddy V (1971-2014), Doink the Clown (1957-2013), Paul Bearer (1954-2013), Macho Man (1954-2013), Doink the Clown Randy Savage (1952-2011), Chris Kanyon (1970-2010), Umaga (1973-2009), Andrew “Test” Martin (1975-2009), Brian “Crush” Adams (1964-2007), Chris Benoit (1967-2007), Sensational Sherri Martel (1958-2007), Bad News Brown (1943-2007), Mike Awesome (1965-2007), and Bam Bam Bigelow are among the celebrities who have passed away (1961-2007).
In the United States, the average lifespan is 79 years. None of the wrestlers listed above reached the age of 70. The most of them didn’t make it to 60.
Half of them did not survive to be 50 years old.
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The “independent wrestling promotions” are a type of promotion that is not affiliated with any other promotion. They are often considered to be the top level of independent wrestling.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most important thing in wrestling?
A: The most important thing in wrestling is to keep your opponent down, for as long as possible.
What are the basics of wrestling?
A: The basics of wrestling are that wrestlers compete against each other, one-on-one or in a tag team match. Wrestlers use their body to throw and take down an opponent as well as using various moves including strikes and submissions.
What skills do you need to be a wrestler?
A: A lot of different skills are needed. Some examples would be good hand/foot coordination, endurance, and stamina as well as a high tolerance for pain.
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