A common meme that floated around after Kurt Angle and Daniel Bryan, the general managers for Raw and Smackdown respectively, interacted on Monday night was imagining a dialog where Bryan asked Angle how the hell he was able to get WWE to clear him to wrestle. If long-term quality of life is the prevailing factor, neither should risk being in the ring, but both of them badly want to be. Should it be their decision to make or is it WWE’s duty to save them from themselves?
Kurt Angle was called upon in a pinch to replace Roman Reigns at TLC last month. For a little while, it seemed like they were rightfully guarding him from physical spots. It couldn’t have been 30 seconds after three of my friends and I talked about that on our text chain that Angle went through a table. Deadspin’s David Bixenspan made a compelling case that, with the multiple broken necks Angle has suffered and never had fully surgically repaired, he could legit die in the ring on this type of bump:
Angle is the captain of Raw’s Survivor Series team later this month, and if he doesn’t badly hurt himself there, in all likelihood has at least one grand finale left in him for a WrestleMania where there’s a real story built around the match.
Daniel Bryan has had too many concussions to count. WWE made a big deal about impelling him to retire from the ring in early 2016, and has spent the ensuing time period almost teasing him about not letting him do what he loves. Most prominently, there was the above legitimately tense segment with The Miz on the now-defunct Talking Smack. Just this Monday, the lights went out, and Bryan was “attacked” by his former tag-team partner Kane and “taken to a local medical facility to undergo further evaluation.” (Not really.)
Bryan has said repeatedly that he wants to return to the ring. “Wrestling is [my] creative outlet,” he said recently. “I always think of it in terms of music. You’re not always going to be a huge rock star in music, but musicians can play until the day they die. With sports, it’s different. You can’t always do it until the very end, and that’s a hard reality of sports. The blessings wrestling has given me have allowed me to find some new passions, but it’s really hard when you’ve got that first love and nothing really replaces it.”
Complicating matters on whether WWE should sanction the risk of long-term brain damage in the ring is that Bryan’s wife Brie Bella just gave birth to a daughter in May. Nevertheless, Bella said this week that she “100%” supports her husband wrestling again.
It’s a genuinely nuanced question about what WWE should do, and they seem to have drawn a line that bodily health risk is something they can bear more than mental health risk (though, would former ECW legends like Tommy Dreamer and the Dudley Boyz, who have competed in WWE since Daniel Bryan’s forced retirement, really be able to pass the rigorous brain tests that Bryan failed?).
What do you think? Does WWE have a responsibility to save these performers from themselves, or should the American tenets of individual liberty and freedom let them choose to risk their own long-term health to do what they love?