Monday, October 5, 2015

Daniel Bryan at the CTE Crossroads

Will Bryan ever return? Should Bryan ever return?
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Daniel Bryan has been medically cleared to return to the ring by a personal doctor, one who served as the neurologist at the Super Bowl. The doctor that matters, namely WWE's doctor Joseph Maroon, will not clear him because of his concussion history and the likelihood of relapse being greater the more concussions one has. He has said in an interview with IGN that he will go to a third doctor, and he is pushing all his chips onto that square on whether he will continue wrestling or retire.

Frankly, while Bryan has said the private neurologist gave a test more rigorous than WWE's protocol, his association with the National Football League, no matter how fleeting, concerns me because of how much worse that "legitimate" sports league is at handling brain trauma issues among its players than WWE is among its wrestlers.

I don't necessarily regard WWE's concussion protocols to be "good," especially since CM Punk's accusations of him being able to take the concussion test while listening to music on his headphones are a bit too believable. However, the company is at least trying to limit risk and admits that chronic traumatic encephalopathy might just be a problem. WWE's reasoning for keeping Bryan out, to limit its own insurance liability, may feel scuzzy, but at the very least, the end result has the health of the performer in mind even if unintentionally.

Still, most other injuries and sicknesses are understood to a great degree. Doctors know how to set broken bones, repair torn ligaments, and to a degree, treat cancer so that it's not the death sentence that it used to be even 100 years ago. Brain trauma, however, is just beginning to be understood. Scientists and doctors are still learning about how concussions and CTE have long term effects on the brain. Treating it is still in the beginning stages, let alone prevention that doesn't involve "not wrestling/playing impact sports."

I get why Bryan is itching to come back. Wrestling is in his blood, especially at the highest levels of exposure. He lived his dream, got to headline WrestleMania, and now he's among the most notable and famous people in his industry in the world. Very rarely does someone get to be the best in his field AND among the most notable when it comes to pro wrestling. Even though the epilogue was bittersweet, no one can ever take WrestleMania XXX away from him, and those same people can never take that ending away from his fans either.

However, maybe it's time for him to voluntarily step back, as difficult as it is, until the effects of CTE can be better studied. While they have been accumulated through sad means, more than a few football players have had their brains donated to science after their passing. Most notably, Junior Seau, who committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest, explicitly stated that he wanted his brain donated for CTE research. The science may not be there yet, but with research, a breakthrough could be right around the corner.

Personally, if it was a tossup between seeing Bryan wrestle again for a few more years before succumbing to his own bouts of CTE-related depression and seeing him live a full life while not wrestling ever again, I'd take the latter. But I also don't know his body. Fuck, I barely know my body, and even if I think I'm acting in his best interest, it's extremely selfish of me to say what or not Bryan should do. Whatever he does, he'll do with all the information he needs, and he'll live his life the way he needs to live it.

But I just hope that whatever he does, he can stay healthy enough to enjoy his life. Wrestling and brain trauma have gone hand in hand ever since bumping was invented, and unless Bryan goes full #grapplefuck, he won't be able to escape taking them. Hopefully, all the bad stuff that has happened to him over his career has been due to bad luck, and all that fortune is about to change for the better.