Wrestling star Adam “Edge” Copeland abruptly announced his retirement on Monday’s edition of Raw. Eight days earlier he had successfully defended his “world championship” at WrestleMania. The next day Copeland, 37, had an MRI for a chronic neck injury, and it confirmed that he risked becoming a cripple if he continued to perform.
Copeland (whom I’ve never met) seems smarter than the average pro wrestler, and I both applaud his move and wish him the very best.
But let’s pause a moment on the information that Edge had spinal fusion surgery eight years ago. He is one of a number of WWE performers who have undergone this expensive and risky procedure. Unfortunately for the illusion that this company takes care of its “independent contractors” regardless of the letter of its legal obligations, the history shows that WWE makes this investment only for its perceived top tier of stars.
As I reported last August, mid-card wrestler Charlie Haas was injured in January 2010 and had an MRI that revealed neck damage. WWE medical director Joseph Maroon – now in hot water for his concussion management and skewed research on behalf of the National Football League – dismissed Haas’s concerns without even examining him. According to Haas, Maroon said the disk herniation the wrestler had had independently diagnosed was a run-of-the-mill “stinger.” Haas had been advised to consider fusion surgery if physical rehab didn’t take, but before he could even reach that point, WWE released him. Haas now wrestles for another group, Ring of Honor.
One thing the Haas anecdote exposes is the bankruptcy of the arguments of WWE’s defenders with respect to wrestlers who fall on hard times or even die young, but are no longer on the company roster at the time of their medical and financial declines.
The other thing all this shows is that WWE “sports entertainers” must be classified as employees, not independent contractors. Vince McMahon and company may have gone out of their way to foot the medical bills of his son-in-law Triple H – and of the late Chris Benoit and Andrew Martin (who would have chronic traumatic encephalopathy at their times of death), Stone Cold Steve Austin, and others. However, the illegal and one-sided structure of WWE contracts does nothing for Charlie Haas and the hundreds of others whose daily work builds a billion-dollar brand.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, at the federal level, and Connecticut Labor Commissioner Glenn Marshall, at the state level, need to do something about that.
See “Treatment of WWE Performer Charlie Haas Is a Study of Linda McMahon’s Character,” August 18, 2010, https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/treatment-of-wwe-performer-charlie-haas-is-a-study-of-linda-mcmahons-character/.