Monday, December 1, 2014

No Safe Havens

CM Punk's allegations are disturbing even if they're not surprising
Photo Credit:
By now, everyone has either listened to the latest Art of Wrestling or has read any number of recaps and editorials stemming from CM Punk finally breaking his silence about his walkout from WWE. While the truth is that Punk can come off like an absolutely miserable human being and that each story has at least two sides, nothing that Punk relayed to Colt Cabana and his audience really comes off as shocking or unbelievable. WWE is a company that has abused the independent contractor label ever since it went national. Its history of misogyny and homophobia might be more easily concealed if it didn't bubble onto the on-screen product as much as it has since the mid-'90s. It is the company that sent Owen Hart to his death out of negligence and then dared to take his widow to court because she didn't want it to exploit his image. However, despite the egregious blemishes on its face, the company has always had a reputation for paying well and taking care of its wrestlers when they got hurt or sick. Punk's allegations about payouts and more horrifically, the treatment of a cyst in his back that turned out to be a staph infection scuttle even those positives for the country's leader in pro wrestling.

The staph infection thing is the most bothersome of the lot because it shows that the Wellness Program is more than likely a sham, and that WWE can't be trusted to take more than marginally better care of its workers than noted sweatshop company TNA does. No one can get into wrestling in an in-ring capacity and expect to come out unscathed, but one would think that a company like WWE that brings in the revenue it does would allocate a generous portion to making sure the men and women on whose backs Vince McMahon has built his empire can stay in optimal shape. If a WWE-employed doctor cannot identify a common wrestler malady like a staph infection (or maybe even intentionally misdiagnoses a staph infection), then how can anyone trust those doctors to administer a rigorous Wellness Program that helps the roster at large?

Then again, maybe I should have taken the hint watching how WWE's in-ring action is trending back towards the more risque. The Wellness Program was enacted in the wake of the grotesque final weekend of [REDACTED]'s life, and a huge reason why his brain was wracked with CTE was because he took and gave way too many German suplexes and because he did a brain-rattling flying headbutt as a finisher. For a few years, more "dangerous" moves were phased out, and granted, the main offender - unprotected chairshots to the head - are still reputed to be punished with fines. But why on earth is Cesaro allowed to bring back the chained German suplex spot again? Why was Daniel Bryan greenlit to do the flying headbutt from the top? And even in the wake of [REDACTED] AND after Bryan's career was put in jeopardy thanks to neck trauma, why on earth is Bull Dempsey allowed to do the flying headbutt as a finisher? Furthermore, if years of doing a regular leg drop from normal height has turned Hulk Hogan into a shell of a man physically, why the fuck is Fandango still using the guillotine leg drop from the top?

Again, no style in the ring is completely safe; even World of Sport-style mat grappling runs the risk of things like staph infections, which WWE has proven it cannot notice or that it doesn't fucking care about. But some moves, styles, and spots have red flags, red flags that are being ignored and blown by with frightening disregard. Of course, worker health is not of anyone's concern in the corporate world. No matter how many companies are bound by OSHA, many of these corporations treat safety as a nuisance rather than a priority. My day-job company is rare in its focus on safety, and of the clients for which I work, only a handful really enforce any kind of stringent safety policy. Normally, it is I who has to remind clients that safety comes first. So, if companies mandated by OSHA have problems following regulations, what makes anyone think a company that flaunts its abuse of the independent contractor label which means it doesn't have to follow OSHA would give a flying shit about its human cattle?

Granted, it shouldn't have taken Punk speaking up to shed more of a critical eye on WWE's shitty business practices. Hell, Alberto del Rio has been saying similar things since he's been fired, and for whatever reason, he's been ignored. Basically, everyone who's been released from WWE since time immemorial who's had a gripe about the company or individual workers with influence (hello, John Cena!) has been summarily ignored as bitter, a failure of a fourth estate which is tasked with keeping the theaters which it covers on their toes. The wrestling industry can't be full of places where workers feel unsafe or put on. If a wrestler can't get proper medical care, a relatively safe working environment (well, as safe as a wrestling company can be), or fair pay with WWE, then it's time to shut the fucking American wrestling industry down and take up a new hobby. I hear whittling has minimal risk as long as you know proper knife technique.