The NFL concussion lawsuit is creating ripples within the sports industry. Professional hockey players followed up with a lawsuit against the NHL and now, World Wrestling Entertainment (“WWE”) is finding itself a target in a similar lawsuit. A potential class action lawsuit hit the WWE in early 2015, led by three former WWE wrestlers, Russ McCullough, Ryan Sakoda, and Matt Wiese. Most WWE wrestlers were not informed by the organization of health consequences of repetitive head trauma. Until recently, these athletes were struggling to understand why they were suffering from anxiety, memory loss and/or depression.
For decades the WWE has subjected its wrestlers to extreme physical brutality for pure entertainment and big pay days for the owners of the organization. However, the organization ignored the variety of medical problems resulting from “scripted fighting,” including brain damage, which they knew, or should have known affected its athletes. The WWE neglected to provide proper care for its wrestlers by forcing them to obtain their own private health insurance, claiming they were independent contractors. Wrestlers commonly sustain serious injuries, including spinal cord injuries, concussions, broken bones, and even death. Additionally, once an athlete retires from the ring he is not eligible for workers’ compensation, disability or unemployment benefits.
Like the NFL’s façade to eliminate the consequences of repeated concussions, the WWE has implemented ImPACT (Immediate post-concussion and cognitive testing), which has been part of its Talent Wellness Program since February 27, 2006. However, like every organized sport, the Wellness Program is implemented by the WWE’s private doctors. In other sports like football, players have to be released by a physician to return to play. However, when diagnosed by a private doctor chosen by the athlete, the results are dramatically different. The athletes may utilize the Talent Wellness Program, but must provide their own health insurance. If the WWE wanted to take care of their athletes, they would provide a comprehensive health insurance plan, which would allow them to seek further treatment outside the WWE’s medical staff if necessary.
Last October, WWE wrestler Billy Jack Haynes filed a lawsuit claiming “egregious mistreatment of its wrestlers for its own benefit, as well as its concealment and denial of medical research and evidence concerning traumatic brain injuries suffered by WWE wrestlers.” The lawsuit lists several dangerous moves that are “scripted” by the WWE, which include the “Brain Buster,” a front facelock combined with a vertical suplex in which the victim lands head first and many other moves that involve direct hits to the wrestler’s head.
As of now, the WWE is attempting to block lawsuits from its former wrestlers claiming to suffer from traumatic brain injury due to concussions in the ring because it exceeds the three-year statute of limitations. Furthermore, the WWE is alleging that the claims are fraudulent because there haven’t been reports by current or former wrestlers claiming traumatic brain injury, dementia, or any other types of injuries similar to those occurring in the NFL until now. As new developments and awareness of traumatic brain injury increase, these former wrestlers seem closer to receiving compensation that is long overdue.
The WWE would cease to exist if it weren’t for their athletes going into the ring, following a script to drop one another on the head, or getting slammed in the face with a metal chair. The WWE’s net worth is $750 million—more than enough to provide proper compensation and health care benefits for their athletes.