I begin by pointing out that the old and honorable sport of professional wrestling is not fake, as pencil-neck geek critics always charge. The term “fake” might better be applied to Major League Baseball, where travel is by chartered plane and life is luxurious 24/7. The minimum salary is $507,500 and even crummy players who should be waived out of the big leagues are bigger rock stars than most actual performers of music.
But I digress. There is nothing fake about pro wrestling, where big bodies are tossed around the ring by other big bodies and being struck in the back with a folding chair (hopefully perfectly flat, a practiced technique) is an occupational hazard. The proper term is “scripted,” because promoters determine winners and losers to advance the soap opera.
Now more than 50 former wrestlers are suing World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., seeking compensation for damage caused by head injuries. The WWE fired back with a statement noting previous attempts along these lines have gone nowhere. From Reuters: “The complaint was filed on behalf of … plaintiffs who have performed with the WWE or its predecessors since the 1970s, including Joseph ‘Road Warrior Animal’ Laurinaitis and Paul ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Orndorff. It accused Stamford, Connecticut-based WWE and Chairman Vince McMahon of intentionally classifying wrestlers as ‘independent contractors’ rather than employees as a means to avoid liability under applicable worker protection laws.”
The “independent contractor” argument is old hat and unlikely to fly in a real court (try the business-busting NLRB). But buried in the filing is another point that would seemingly not apply to other pro sports involved in this kind of litigation. From the Bloomberg story: “Unlike other sports, WWE matches involve specific moves that are ‘scripted, controlled, directed and choreographed’ by the company, the suit says. The head injuries are a direct result of those moves, which include the ‘body slam’ and ‘piledriver.” … A ‘body slam’ is a move in which a wrestler is picked up and thrown to the ground, and a ‘piledriver,’ once popular but now largely banned, involves turning a wrestler upside down and dropping him head first to the mat.”
Hmmm. Maybe things have changed drastically, but my assistant tells me that in the old days the wrestlers were given the plotline and left to their own devices to keep the crowd interested. “Building the heat” was both knack and skill. The referee relayed messages. When the in-house announcer sensed the crowd had moved on, word was passed to wrap up the match in 30 seconds or so. (“Hey, the last time the babyface tried that pin technique the heel busted out of it. Why not this time?”)
A sports lawyer explained to Bloomberg why this lawsuit is likely to be tossed and described wrestlers as “the most disposable athletes in the sports and entertainment business.”
So pro wrestling shows will continue to be performed by manly men who take physical risks. That’s as opposed to a certain pro sport that has gone totally high school when it comes to sliding into home plate and second base.