For ten months, a man who once sparked World Wrestling Entertainment with his against-the-grain attitude had ceased to be, appearing only in other media as a mild-mannered civilian. The only character assassination this man was willing to discuss in that lurch was Lizzie’s ‘look at the flowers’ execution on The Walking Dead. That changed on Thanksgiving Eve.
The most damning statements of Punk’s lengthy diatribe came against WWE doctor Chris Amann. In the past, the name George Zahorian spun off into a punchline from in-the-know fans; the Allentown-based Zahorian, under the guise of acting doctor on behalf of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, was convicted in 1991 of distributing steroids at television tapings to WWE talent throughout the 1980s. Zahorian also testified at Vince McMahon’s 1994 trial.
Bret Hart asserted in his book that steroids weren’t the problem; pain-killers were the true ruination of the lives of wrestlers. Regardless, what Zahorian did earned him several years behind bars, whether he felt he was ‘helping’ the boys or not.
If you’re the type that feels steroids improved baseball because more home runs equates to more excitement, you can carry a torch for Zahorian. Taking up for Amann based on Brooks’ claims will prove much more difficult.
According to Brooks, several months before the Royal Rumble, he went to Amann with concerns over a lump on his back, which the company doctor diagnosed as a fat deposit. Brooks also claims Amann refused several requests to have it excised from his body. Gradually, the lump hardened and swelled, becoming painful. At the Rumble, Brooks asked once more for it to be removed and Amann wouldn’t budge, claiming he had a match to work.
Once Brooks walked out on the company, he claims that eventual spouse AJ Lee recommended a doctor from Tampa, who diagnosed the lump as MRSA, a bacterial infection that resists certain antibiotics. According to Brooks, the infection was cut out in a horrifically painful procedure. The doctor who treated Brooks apparently told him that performing his physical slate for three months, while going untreated, could have certainly killed him.
The Center for Disease Control attributes 10,800 deaths a year in the United States from MRSA staph infections. That number is touted as being higher than the annual number of AIDS deaths in the country.
If the claims are true, then that’s some staggering incompetence from Amann, who shoulders the burden of caring and treating performers who, as an expectation, put their bodies on the line. Curiously, if Brooks is right and Amann refused to remove the infection because the Royal Rumble match was centered around CM Punk lasting close to one hour, I’d ask if Amann’s treatment of wrestlers is in any way influenced by his superiors. I doubt very much that Amann sits in on booking meetings and gains a bias from them. (“Look, Bray, we could treat that fracture in a week; you have to finish this program with Cena. But I could try taping it….”)
Silly as that sounds, there’s no viable excuse for why Amann didn’t probe deeper (literally) into Brooks’ back lump, unless he’s grossly underqualified for his job, in which case WWE should consider who they have treating their performers. If Brooks had died from the infection, that’d be a bigger PR disaster for the company than a concussed veteran offing his family outside McMahon’s jurisdiction.
It begs the question if this has ever happened before. Brooks’ personal ethics involve straight-shooting without fear of reprisal; he doesn’t have it in him to wave the company flag with a false smile at the expense of personal joy. Are there cases where a more shy wrestler grinned and bore it while the company didn’t put his best interests in mind?
Ex-wrestlers will cry, “The wellness policy is a joke!” but nothing seems to change on the surface, outside of chair shots to skull. And there, Brooks claims the concussion baseline test is garbage, saying that he sustained a concussion in the Rumble match and inexplicably passed an exam the following day, hours before leaving the company.
Hannibal Buress viciously went after Bill Cosby during a comedy set, and his remarks opened up some ugly wounds from women claiming the comedic pillar sexually assaulted them. Buress’ credibility has never been questioned; he was simply reiterating grievances that were already a matter of record, but momentum against Cosby rolled downhill, gathering moss.
As the name CM Punk resonates more with wrestling fans than your typically timid grappler, this has potential to be ugly. If WWE is, in any way, influencing a doctor’s judgment for selfish reasons, or if they’re employing a doctor that is putting the patients’ lives at risk, irreparable damage could be done to the brand. The NFL, an entity far more powerful than wrestling, is at least dented not only by the violent conduct of certain players, but their attempt to cover up the issue of concussions and CTE sustained over the years. People still watch football, sure, but the league can’t really afford much more ill press.
If the claims inspire others to share possible horror stories of medical mistreatment, that’s a Pandora’s Box that would take a long time to lock down.
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