A handful of professional wrestlers have teamed up to take down their competition; except this time, the battle is in the courtroom and not the squared circle. We all know professional wrestling is scripted, but the injuries and physicality involved is very real. Ryan Sakoda, Luther Reigns, and Big Russ McCullough have filed a lawsuit against World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), seeking damages related to injuries sustained in the ring, harsh working conditions and lack of physical care. The wrestlers are claiming that WWE management, under the orders of CEO Vince McMahon, forced wrestlers to put themselves in unsafe environments, partake in dangerous activities, and perform through injuries. Claims go as far to say that some wrestlers were punished, removed from TV/storylines, or publicly embarrassed for attempting to prioritize their own health.
Brain damage and concussion-related lawsuits in American sports have been prevalent over the last few years, however the occurrence in professional wrestling is new. This specific lawsuit mentions deceased wrestler Chris Benoit, who experienced multiple injuries to the head over his 20+ year career. In 2007, Benoit strangled his wife and crippled son as they slept before hanging himself in his home. Investigators found large amounts of anti-depressants and pain-killers in the house, and a doctor was quoted as saying an autopsy of Benoit’s brain resembled “an 85 year-old man”. Eddie Guerrero, Curt Hennig, and Mike Alfonso are other examples of wrestling veterans who struggled to find ways to cope with injuries and often turned to drugs and alcohol, contributing to their deaths (heart failure, overdoses, suicide). In recent years, WWE and other professional wrestling federations have turned away from the violent and dangerous actions in the ring, such as hitting other opponents in the head or requiring them to fall from height, both prominently using wooden tables, ladders, and steel chairs.
Professional wrestling has always been a controversial topic, as the industry returned to prominent in the late 1990’s. Vince McMahon gave a clamoring group of young, male adults exactly what they wanted; controversy, sex, and most importantly, violence. Many professional wrestlers who rose to the top have careers in the entertainment industry, including Hulk Hogan and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Unfortunately, for every success story (Stone Cold Steve Austin, who came up through the violent era in wrestling and is now hosts a series of TV shows), there is a tragic story (Macho Man Randy Savage, who died in a car crash after having a heart attacked induced by steroids and pain killers while behind the wheel). WWE has built an empire on content and recurring payments, fueled with action and interesting stories. The fact of the matter is this; Vince is smart enough to realize that this concussion lawsuit should not see a judge, and he will likely settle out of court.