WorldWrestlingEntertainment, Inc. (WWE) has announced it will commission its own study to investigate the lasting health consequences of the near-daily head injuries suffered by its in-ring officials. The announcement comes in the wake of growing concern across the sports world that serious brain damage can be conferred on a professional athlete as a result of even a small number of concussions.
At a press conference announcing the study, John Laurinaitis, WWE’s Executive Vice President, Talent Relations, said it was important that the company undertake its own investigation before any specific action was taken to address the issue:
“As a concerned employer, and a responsible corporate citizen, we have an obligation to understand the health risks our profession poses to our officials. That being said, we want to make sure we don’t just make a bunch of knee-jerk changes simply because this has been a hot issue in the media lately, or because we have some blood-spattered folding chairs. By commissioning an independent study, we can be sure we have all the facts, without the conjecture.”
Even in the rough and tumble world of sports, refereeing professionalwrestlingmatches is a uniquely dangerous trade. In fact, getting through a single match without being knocked out cold is a rarity for a WWE official. On any given night, referees must avoid traumatic contact with not only the in-ring combatants, but from managers, other wrestlers not involved in the match but with a vested interest in its outcome, and intoxicated, projectile-hurtling fans.
"I think it's a big step forward," said veteran WWE referee Mike Chioda. "In 2009 alone, I was knocked unconscious over 450 times. And that was a goodyear. So yeah, I’d like to know the impact this is having on my health, and I’m happy the company is looking into it.”
In addition to the possible long-term health risks, Chioda says the concussions can also have a tremendous impact on the quality of an official’s job performance.
"Look, it stands to reason that, when I'm lying there in a crumpled heap on the mat, I can't follow what's going on in the match. And when your entire role is to maintain fairness and order between two guys who are out to cause serious bodily harm to each other, that’s a problem. I can’t count the number of matches I’ve reffed where one guy is just dominating his opponent, then all of a sudden [the opponent] throws him directly into me and, boom, I’m out. I'll come to God knows how long after, and now the opponent is lying over the guy with a steel chair lying right in the middle of the ring. Even if I've got my suspicions as to what happened, I can't call what I didn't see, so I have to count the three. And when this happens three, four-hundred thousand times, it starts to hurt the integrity of the sport."
Laurinaitis said that the WWE has hired Dr. Ira Casson, who recently resigned as co-chair of the National Football League's panel on head injuries, to head up its investigation. The company hopes to receive the results of the study sometime in early-to-mid 2024.
As for the WWE’s efforts to determine the lasting effects of concussions on wrestlers themselves, Laurinaitis said he “thought we had a veterinarian write a memo on this back in the mid-90s”, and thathe would “see if he could track down a copy when I get back to the office. I may have accidentally shredded it with the steroids research."