Joining the ranks of the National Football League and National Hockey League, the World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. is the latest sports organization to face litigation over brain trauma by its former athletes.
On Monday, about 50 retired wrestlers, performers and referees filed a lawsuit against the Stamford-based company claiming they were not told about the lifelong neurological issues that stem from years of concussions both in and out of the ring.
“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,” the complaint said. “The WWE knows that its wrestlers including the plaintiffs are at great risk for these diseases such as CTE that can result in suicide, drug abuse and violent behavior that pose a danger to not only the athletes themselves but their families and community, yet the WWE does nothing to warn, educate or provide treatment to them.”
The plaintiffs include Joseph “Road Warrior Animal” Laurinaitis, Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, all of whom suffer from cognitive difficulties including memory loss, headaches and dizziness.
The lawsuit claims that most head injuries are the result of specific moves that are “scripted, controlled, directed and choreographed" by the company — like the "body slam" a wrestler is picked up and thrown to the ground or the “piledriver” where a wrestler is turned upside down and dropped head first to the mat.
Former referee Dave and his twin Earl Hebner have also been named in the complaint. Dave has Parkinson’s disease.
“This is another ridiculous attempt by the same attorney who has previously filed class action lawsuits against WWE, both of which have been dismissed,” WWE said in a statement. “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.”
The complaint was filed with the federal court in New Haven, Connecticut.
The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Konstantine Kyros, said WWE’s business model kept the wrestlers from learning their rights under laws — such as the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act that governs occupational health and safety in both the private and government sector.
“These wrestlers don’t have medical benefits. They’re independent contractors,” sports law expert Daniel Wallach told Bloomberg news. “They completely fall through the safety net. They’re in worse shape than retired professional football players or retired hockey players. They’re the most disposable athletes in the sports and entertainment business.”
Various research studies and reports have proved that repeated head trauma could lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a degenerative disease discovered in the brains of several former professional athletes.
Unfortunately, CTE can only be diagnosed after death.
Banner/thumbnail credit: WWE/Handout via REUTERS