The world of professional wrestling can be one of those places where truth actually is stranger than fiction, where sometimes the real-life drama behind the curtain is more intriguing than the performances in the ring. Personal and business rivalries have been more hostile than some of the most famous scripted angles to play out in arenas. However, the recent lawsuit filed against the WWE by nearly 50 former competitors stretches the limit of logic even for the wild genre of sports entertainment.
The lawsuit claims that World Wrestling Entertainment, “placed corporate gain over wrestlers’ health, and in doing so left them severely injured and with no recourse to treat their damaged minds and bodies.”
For the purpose of this discussion, let’s keep that context in mind because that is what this particular legal matter is based on. First, it should be pointed out that this is nothing more than an attempt at a money grab and these types of frivolous lawsuits do nothing to help some of the legitimate cases for injured wrestlers and dilutes the argument for when the WWE could actually help some of its former employees.
Among the names listed in the lawsuit is Terry Brunk, known around the globe as Sabu. As I’ve written before, Sabu may never fully get the credit he deserves for being one of the most innovate performers of his generation and in the process, he inspired many of the stars on TV today. But, one of the reasons that Sabu isn’t a millionaire today is because of his own destructive choices, both inside and outside of the business.
Again, this lawsuit claims that WWE is responsible for Sabu’s injuries, but it should be noted that he was only under contract with the company for a year during the ECW relaunch. How exactly is Vince McMahon responsible for the injuries that Sabu suffered when he worked in ECW, years before he signed a WWE contract? Furthermore, how is anyone else responsible for Sabu’s choices outside of the ring? When Terry Brunk made TMZ headlines in 2012 for nearly overdosing on pain killers prior to the Extreme Reunion debacle, it was his own decision. Don’t get me wrong, I respect everything that Sabu has accomplished in his career and he’s one of my favorite competitors to watch, specifically the stuff from the prime of his career, but how does one year under contract make the WWE responsible for his entire career?
Another random name on the list is manager Slick, who worked for the promotion for over five years until he retired from the business in 1993. Anyone want to explain how Slick was “severely injured” during his WWF run? Does Slick have any recurring health problems today specifically from his time at ringside? Granted, managers have been injured in wrestling, but what pay-per-view did Slick plunge from a scaffold? If Slick had such a dispute with WWE that he has to sue them, why did he agree to appear at the hall of fame earlier this year? Other non-wrestlers include Earl and Dave Hebner, who were fired from the company in 2005 for selling unauthorized merchandise at a pro shop they owned a share of at the time. A reminder here, this legal claim is based on being too injured to “treat their damaged minds and bodies.” How is Earl Hebner too injured when he has worked as a referee for TNA for the past decade?
There are many examples on the list of competitors that worked for other promotions, including Chavo Gurrerero Jr., Bryan Clark, and Ahmed Johnson. All three of those wrestlers worked for WCW at some point in their careers, why didn’t they try to sue Ted Turner? Considering how many involved in the lawsuit worked for many different organizations, why is the WWE the only company that’s being sued? Is it that a potential lawsuit against the WWE is the only wrestling company that a lawyer thinks they can get money from? Shane Douglas and Chavo also worked for TNA, why isn’t Dixie Carter being sued? The bottom line is, as slim as the chances are of anyone getting paid in this whole debacle, the case seems more “winnable” if the WWE is painted as a corporate machine while many of those suing attempt to be portrayed as victims of the business instead of victims of their own decisions.
Don’t get me wrong here, does the WWE structure have flaws? Absolutely, but very few names in the lawsuit have a legitimate claim and those that might have a claim are going to get lost in the shuffle. In my opinion, one of the main things that should change about WWE contract is that the performers SHOULD get health benefits while they work for the company. I don’t know what legal decision allows wrestlers to be considered independent contracts, but clearly they are employees in even sense of the word so they should have access to the same reasonable benefits as workers in any other field.
However, the problem is that certain former wrestlers think that they are owned a living simply because the WWE is a global corporation, but those same individuals often make unwise decisions to get themselves into a position where a lawsuit is their way to make money. For example, Marty Jannetty is on the list, but it has been mentioned in interviews for years that he used substances during his career. Although he isn’t involved in the legal dispute, Ricky Morton of the Rock N Roll Express appeared on an edition of Kayfabe Commentaries’ timeline series and complained about financial difficulties when taking about a low royalty check he received from the WWE. During the same interview, Morton talks about hundreds of dollars worth of drugs that were bought accidentally getting destroyed on a charter flight. Again, the WWE isn’t responsible for someone’s terrible decisions and maybe if some of the wrestlers named in the lawsuit would’ve made better choices during the prime of their career, maybe they would be in a better financial situation today.
At the same time, there are a few cases where it seems like some of the workers could have a legitimate claim for some type of compensation from the WWE. Mark Canterbury, who worked for the WWF as Henry Godwinn, suffered a broken neck in 1997 and was eventually forced to retire because of the injury. Canterbury was hurt inside a WWF ring when he was working for the company and the direct result was that he had to retire so it would be reasonable for his claim to be considered. If nothing else, it would be a nice gesture if the WWE set up some type of assistance for wrestlers that have serious health problems. For example, Kamala is confined to a wheel chair as a result of diabetes and it’s extremely sad so it would be nice if he could get some help to deal with the situation. The difference is if the WWE sets up an injury fund or something similar as a sign of goodwill, it would be their decision to do it and that’s completely different than an attempt to order them to pay for every competitor that didn’t get a main event run while employed there.
I would guess that some lawyers convinced some struggling wrestlers from the 80s that if they put their name on the list, there could be some money in it for them so that’s probably how this lawsuit got filed. Considering that 95% of those involved haven’t been employed by the WWE in years, what do they have to lose? Hypothetically, if they win the legal process, they get a check and if they don’t it’s not as though they are going to costs themselves another run in the company. There are some great performers on the list that had respectable careers so take nothing away from that, but it’s obvious that this lawsuit is a money grab.
The reason that the WWE is being sued instead of Ted Turner or TNA is because the WWE is a global entity and theoretically, there’s more money is on the table for the lawyers that filed the case. It’s ridiculous for anyone to claim that Vince McMahon should pay a settlement to every performer that had a cup of coffee in the WWE. Believe it or not, there are a few jobbers that only worked a few shows on the lawsuit list as well. Again, WWE contracted wrestlers SHOULD get health benefits while they work for the company, but that doesn’t make the promotion responsible for every former wrestler that is struggling today, especially if it’s a result of their own unwise decisions. The bottom line is, nobody is owned a living just because they worked for the WWE for a few years and there are many examples of how important it is to be financially responsible when competitor is in the prime of their career. As mentioned, this lawsuit makes the few legitimate cases get lost in the shuffle and it dilutes the entire situation. Considering that similar lawsuits have been dismissed in the past, that will probably be the result here, but it wouldn’t be surprising if another lawsuit is filed in a few years.