On Monday, over 50 former WWE wrestlers and performers including Animal of Legion of Doom, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, referees Dave and Earl Hebner, Sabu, Marty Jannetty, and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, filed a lawsuit against the company claiming they received “long term neurological injuries during their tenure with WWE.” The class-action lawsuit accuses WWE Chairman Vince McMahon of classifying wrestlers and performers as independent contractors to avoid injury liabilities.
The lawsuit also states that the WWE failed to do its duty and describes The Booking Contracts as an “unconscionable scheme.”
“Yet, instead of upholding its duty to its employees, WWE placed corporate gain over its wrestlers’ health, safety, and financial security, choosing to leave the Plaintiffs severely injured and with no recourse to treat their damaged minds and bodies. WWE refused to provide health insurance to its employees, employee benefits, and payments to Social Security…
“These contracts were drafted by WWE and its army of attorneys to restrict and abolish all of Plaintiffs” rights and to fraudulently misrepresent and deceive both Plaintiffs and the federal government… The Booking Contracts are nothing more than an unconscionable scheme to save money in violation of public policy and the legal rights of the Plaintiffs.”
The list of plaintiffs is a virtual who’s who of professional wrestlers of time long past. Wrestlers like Smash of Demolition, Shane Douglas, Slick, Butch Reed, Ahmed Johnson, Adam Bomb, King Kong Bundy, Chavo Guerrero, and many other recognizable names including the late Axl Rotten (being represented by the Axl Rotten Estate).
Jimmy Snuka was recently charged for the 1983 murder of his girlfriend, and as NBC News reported, the wrestler was ruled incompetent to stand trial.
“The defense argued that Snuka suffers from dementia, partly due to the head trauma he suffered over a long career in the ring. A prosecution expert said Snuka’s brain shows normal signs of aging and suggested he might be feigning symptoms.”
Many of the aforementioned wrestlers had lengthy careers with the WWE like Chavo Guerrero (Eddie Guerrero’s nephew). Guerrero wrestled for the company for ten years and collected many championships during his stay with the WWE. Many of the plaintiffs, like Guerrero, Sabu, and Marty Jannetty, are currently wrestling on the independent circuits.
Some may find it perplexing that wrestlers like Axl Rotten and Sabu are among the plaintiffs as they both had extremely brief careers with the WWE. Aside from being an occasional jobber in the mid-90s, Axl Rotten was officially signed to the WWE in 2005 and made only a few appearances. Sabu wrestled for the WWE for one year (2006-2007) before the company gave him his release. 411Mania reported on the supposed reason of why Sabu was released from the company.
“Sabu showed up at the Smackdown/ECW taping tonight several hours late and without his ring gear. He was then told to go home and immediately released. Sabu was originally scheduled to face Kevin Thorn on ECW on Sci-Fi tonight and plans had to be changed after he was sent home.
“The latest word is that after finding out that he was scheduled to lose to Thorn, he claimed he had a neck injury. Some believe that Sabu showed up to the taping late on purpose, knowing he would be sent home, because he has not been happy with how he is being used. This is apparently not the first time he has shown up late and/or without his gear recently.”
In addition, Axl and Sabu’s fame came from wrestling in extreme matches (like barbed wire and thumbtack matches) for other organizations like Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and Juggalo Championship Wrestling (JCW). WWE eventually purchased the rights to the ECW name and the rights to air their matches, but both wrestlers performed for ECW for seven years prior to the purchase, and built their careers and reputations on being excessively violent. Sabu’s nicknames include “The Suicidal, Homicidal, Genocidal, Death-defying Man,” and “The Houdini of Hardcore.”
Axl and Sabue wrestled in matches that were so violent, like the King of the Death Matches Tournament in Japan, that the WWE doesn’t allow those types of matches within the company. When WWE used barbed wire in the past, the wire was fake or was simply there as a prop, but that’s not the case in other wrestling federations. In 2005, Sabu wrestled for Total Nonstop Action (TNA), and in typical Sabu fashion, he was involved in an extreme match called the Barbed Wire Massacre.
(Warning this video is contains extreme violence and graphic images.)
Like the WWE, the NFL and NHL have also undergone similar class-action lawsuits. In April, the NFL paid out over $1 billion in a settlement to thousands of former football players. Concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) are definitely issues among pro-athletes, and the issue shouldn’t be ignored. CTE is defined as a degenerative disease caused by repeated blows, or a severe blow, to the head.
Currently, there is more awareness and knowledge of the trauma that concussions cause compared to the past. The WWE has taken steps to reduce possible concussions, for instance, wrestlers are no longer allowed to hit each other in the head with a steel chair. If a wrestler appears to be legitimately hurt during the match, the contest is immediately stopped so the wrestler can be examined. Recently, during the May WWE Pay-Per-View Payback, wrestler Enzo Amore was knocked unconscious during the match and the contest was immediately stopped. The NFL has also implemented rules to minimize concussions and the damage they can cause, including, the “eye in the sky.”
“To assist the medical teams on game day, there is now an ‘eye in the sky,’ a certified athletic trainer sitting in a stadium box who watches the game and television replays to scan the field and look for players with a potential head injury who may require assessment by the medical staff.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t that long ago when companies like the WWE and the NFL didn’t have these policies in place. The argument is whether the WWE had knowledge of these conditions, and if they were neglectful to their wrestlers and performers. Professional athletes choose their career and assume the risks that come with that career, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be left on their own to face those consequences.
It will be up to the court to decide if this current lawsuit against the WWE is legitimate. The Washington Post reported that this is not the first time the WWE has been sued, and the company released a statement claiming the lawsuit is “ridiculous.”
“This is another ridiculous attempt by the same attorney who has previously filed class-action lawsuits against WWE, both of which have been dismissed. A federal judge has already found that this lawyer made patently false allegations about WWE, and this is more of the same.”
[Images via WWE]