REAL ENOUGH

Even pro wrestling is not immune from sport’s concussion crisis

Obsession
Business of Sport
Obsession
Business of Sport

A beloved pro wrestler, Daniel Bryan, retired yesterday (Feb. 8) on World Wrestling Entertainment’s flagship show after being out injured since May. He said back then that he’d had a MRI scan that didn’t look good. Now, he’s revealed just how bad things are for him.

“A week and a half ago, I took a test which said maybe my brain isn’t as okay as I thought it was,” Bryan told an emotional crowd, who have backed him throughout his unlikely rise in the soap opera-ish world of pro wrestling. This propelled him to become the sport’s biggest star—its first hipster world champion, with his small frame, unruly beard, vegan lifestyle, and gimmick-free, nice-guy attitude. He added:

I’ve been wrestling since I was 18 years old and within the first five months of my wrestling career, I already had three concussions. It gets to the point where you’ve been wrestling for 16 years, that adds up to a lot of concussions. It gets to a point where they tell you you can’t wrestle any more.

Bryan’s public acknowledgement of the reason for his departure comes after the NFL put the issue of concussions in the spotlight. It seems like every day there’s another former football star who says he has been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after a lifetime of head injuries.

As Quartz has written previously, wrestling itself has a long and sad history of its performers dying from the physical and emotional strain of performing in a violent spectacle every night.

The WWE itself has been sued by ex-wrestlers—including one called Skull Von Krush—for allegedly ignoring the concussions that gave them serious brain injuries. Perhaps, by using Bryan’s usual honesty about his uphill struggle one more time in the ring, the WWE is trying to change the way injuries are perceived in wrestling—and put another nail in the coffin of the idea that wrestling is fake.

In 2007, Chris Benoit murdered his wife and child (paywall)—the latter with a version of his wrestling finishing move—and then killed himself. One former wrestler, Chris Nowinski, told the New York Times that Benoit was “one of the only guys who would take a chair shot to the back of the head, which is stupid” and believed untreated concussions might have been the cause. Harvard-educated Nowinski left the WWE after developing post-concussion syndrome.

In 2014, one of the WWE’s biggest superstars at the time, CM Punk, quit the company amid allegations of working with concussions and other injuries. This is how he recalled getting hurt during a match:

I roll under the fucking corner and I motion to Doc, I go “I have a concussion.” And he was like “what do you want me to do?” And I just started laughing and I was just like “Doctor, you are one of the most worthless pieces of shit I have ever met in my entire life.”

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