WWE Being Sued For Concussions By Former Stars? Really?

I remember watching World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) — then the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) – as a kid with my father. I was always struck with how incredibly acrobatic and in some cases, dangerous the stunts were, and I remember thinking at times that if I’d ever signed on to do something so risky, my mother would have had my hide. Heads were being smashed into turnbuckles, or off the mat itself, and I remember thinking that these wrestlers would have had a significant headache by the time the match was done.

Flash forward two and a half to three decades, and I’m still struck by the sheer acrobatic skill demonstrated by these WWE wrestlers. Even the bad guys are heroes to so many kids and adults, but now, the cost to these WWE heroes — in the form of devastating concussions — is taking its toll. I understand that there are still those individuals that would argue that wrestling is fake, but with the numbers of WWE wrestlers who have gotten injured, whether it’s through concussions, knee injuries, or back injuries, it stuns me that anyone would still even want to make that argument.

It stuns me more that former WWE wrestlers have stepped up to sue their former employers for the concussions they sustained. While I know I’m simplifying things, I believe that would be like me signing on to be a cop but saying I only want a desk job because it’s too dangerous on the streets. Whether the storylines are scripted or not, I would think that the moves that the WWE has their players go through on a daily basis would indicate there is the risk of wrestlers sustaining concussions.

Take “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, for instance. The retired Fijian wrestler, according to Fox 10, was found mentally incompetent to stand trial in June for the 1983 death of his girlfriend. His lawyers have argued that the mental incompetence is, at least in part, due to the concussions and other head injuries he would have sustained in the ring. Snuka is among the parties named as plaintiff in the lawsuit, which names over 50 retired professional wrestlers with the WWE, including “King Kong Bundy,” Chris Paillies, according to the Toronto Sun.

To be sure, the WWE is not the only organization being sued by former “players” in their sport. Organizations which have faced complaints of concussions over the last several years include the NHL and the NFL, and both organizations have been sued by their respective players. Toronto Sun reports that in April, a federal judge upheld a settlement between the NFL and thousands of former players that could end up in a payout of $1 billion across all players identified in the lawsuit.

However, WWE wrestlers, just like other sports participants who might end up getting concussions, should be reasonably aware that there are possibilities that they could sustain brain injuries as a result of their choice of sport. That said, WWE wrestlers are arguing through their attorney that because the WWE involves very scripted and specific storylines, the organization is responsible as a whole for the injuries received by their wrestlers.

For their part, the WWE said they did not believe they were at all responsible for the injuries that their wrestlers have gone through.

“This is another ridiculous attempt by the same attorney who has previously filed class action lawsuits against WWE, both of which have been dismissed,” said a statement released by the organization, according to Fox 8 Cleveland.“A federal judge has already found that this lawyer made patently false allegations about WWE, and this is more of the same. We’re confident this lawsuit will suffer the same fate as his prior attempts and be dismissed.”

Would it be incomprehensible that an organization like WWE would put its own interests at the forefront and effectively use their wrestlers as paid entertainment regardless of the cost to them? Not entirely; there are likely organizations in the world that does not believe in treating their workers with the respect and dignity they deserve. Certainly, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, one of the legends of the WWE, has not been shy about voicing his opinion about the organization for which he worked, according to Tech Times, but there does not appear to be any comment from The Hitman regarding the lawsuit. The legendary wrestler acknowledged that perhaps the WWE believed that because he’d been around wrestling his entire life — his father was Stu Hart, a Canadian professional wrestler who founded Stampede Wrestling and the wrestling school “The Dungeon” — he was more than entitled to his opinion, according to WrestleZone.

“We don’t have any kind of obligation in that regard,” he said of questions whether his opinion of WWE might have an impact on his relationship with the organization. “Whereas Steve Austin maybe has to be a little more careful about what he says or certain guys like Mick Foley maybe. They’ve got TV shows with the company. I am not sure what their positions are either but for me I always speak freely. I speak my mind. If we are doing a podcast like this I don’t want to waste anyone’s time just suckling up to WWE and trying to praise everything they are doing when I don’t really love it. My biggest criticisms of WWE have been mostly at the writers.”

The lawsuit against WWE regarding their potential culpability as far as brain injuries like concussions are concerned was filed Monday, July 18. It’s not so much that I have any particular issue with the WWE wrestlers suing over their concussions and other brain injuries; I just believe that to sue WWE over receiving concussions is never going to work out well for these wrestlers, who are now struggling with a range of health issues. Why didn’t they save today to take care of themselves for the future? Or, if the WWE is culpable, why are they not taking better care of their talent in order to ensure longevity and continued good publicity for their organization over this concussion flap? I just don’t get it.

[Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images]