Lack of respect, low pay, lack of medical care, lousy and degrading treatment on television (Mr Russo: We all know the attractive, popular girls all laughed in your face in high school because you were a dork. But please, get over it and stop subjecting us all to your women-hating issues)... Yes, the emerging stories about the hideous treatment of the TNA Knockouts are sad ones indeed. But Shannon “Daffney” Spruill's story seems to be the saddest one of all. I have to admit: when I reported them, I thought the stories of embarrassing side jobs and an inability to afford to go to house shows (while champion, no less!) were about as bad as it got in TNA. However, I now realize Madison and Taylor may have had a relatively easy of it compared to Daffney- a young woman who, as I will discuss, has faced outrageous and inhumane treatment at the hands of America's number 2 wrestling promotion in the last 2 years. Indeed, the fact that Daffney has taken legal action should come as no surprise to anyone. The only real surprise may be that she didn't do it sooner.
Announcing she was through with TNA after her profile was taken down, Daffney wrote this on her Facebook and Twitter pages:
“Yesterday my picture was taken down off of the TNA roster page. My contract expires today and TNA did not renew it. I do not know if it has anything to do with it, but I've filed a Workers Comp claim against them for injuries I've sustained in the ring and my lawyers said to not go into anymore details.”
Interestingly, Daffney’s announcement that she had filed a worker’s comp lawsuit against TNA came less that two weeks after I wrote this article. Her announcement made TNA’s Head of Talent Relations Terry Taylor’s email response to my query about the company’s refusal to pay for medical care appear even more fraudulent than it already was (“Where is your source for this?” he’d asked, ignoring the piles of sources, interviews and reports confirming that TNA had an extremely poor track record when it came to paying hospital bills.)
The lawsuit stemmed from the litany of injuries Daffney had suffered since she joined TNA in late 2008 as the dire Governor Palin character for an awful angle with The Beautiful People (thankfully, Daffney was allowed to ditch the gimmick after a few months and return to the enjoyable Harley Quinn-like goth character she was known for towards the end of WCW’s run.) It’s a grisly list by any standards: a serious concussion at Bound For Glory 2009 after she was chokeslammed from the ring apron by Abyss onto a barb-wire board, another concussion in her program with Tara after she got clobbered on the head with a toolbox, and then a deeply bruised sternum, a severe stinger and yet another concussion in the now infamous try-out, dark match for indie wrestler Miss Betsy after a botched sunset flip.
Some claimed Daffney was just bitter because TNA had stopped using her. (Dave Meltzer contested this on the F4W board, noting: “My understanding was she filed the claim and then stopped being used, not the other way around.”) And, of course, many TNA defenders (yes, they still exist) would point to the fact that no-one forced Daffney to take these bumps, and if she was stupid enough to volunteer to take them it was her own fault. However, as I noted in my article about the working conditions in TNA, it is common for TNA wrestlers to face pressure from management to take high-risk bumps and/or work hurt. Indeed, rather than happily volunteering, it seems many wrestlers are talked into these dangerous stunts. Had this happened to Daffney, I wondered? Interestingly, shortly after the working conditions article came out, I was contacted by a current TNA employee (who shall, of course, remain nameless). While noting I had “hit the nail right on the head” on several things, he claimed I had overlooked some issues, notably Daffney’s case. I asked why is he was so willing to talk so honestly and negatively about TNA. He responded: “Because the company needs to change to grow, and if the company can’t see the truth, maybe an enlightened fan base can help change the company. TNA fears greatly for their public image.” Noble enough, I thought. This long-term employee then proceeded to give me a staggering account of Daffney’s first major injury at Bound For Glory, confirming my worst fears about Daffney and TNA:
"Daffney was asked to do the spot to which she would go through a table full of tacks. She was hesitant to take the spot. Terry Taylor assured Daffney that she would be fine that she would be taken care of. After a lot of convincing from both Terry and Vince Russo, who was telling her how important the spot was for the feud that was going on, Daffney goes through with the spot and was injured. Following the injury she is treated at the hospital and taken via ambulance. Worse still is that Spike wouldn’t let TNA air the spot on Impact. They refuse to air it on their policy of violence towards women. To put a cherry on the top of this story, a huge bill from the hospital would follow for Daffney.
TNA and Daffney went back and forth for several months about TNA not paying the bill. There were emails back and forth between Terry and Daffney which would result in Terry forwarding the emails to the responsible parties and then Terry delivering news that the matters were being tended to. This however would all be a smoke screen as more notices of delinquencies would follow for Daffney. TNA would hold out on paying certain bills and make claims that the agencies would settle for lower amounts if they held out. When this method didn’t work, they would turn around and claim that they are not responsible for the bill and that Daffney herself would be the one responsible for the bills."
More after the jump.
Another TNA-connected name I spoke to verified this account, claimed this type of pressure was common, and blamed Russo (who is often known for encouraging risky and hardcore spots in a bid to get his car-crash style angles over) for “being personally responsible for the situation of Daffney and many, many others.”
When Daffney announced she was taking legal action, many noted the hypocrisy of TNA. Indeed, as most know, late last year TNA storylines were dominated by an angle exploiting Mr Anderson’s real-life concussion. Despite the ethical issue about whether the company should be using a serious real-life issue for television, it did seem that TNA had finally grown up on the issue: Mr Anderson would claim at house shows the company had taken “unprecedented measures” to protect him following his issues, babyfaces Matt Morgan and Mick Foley would tell Ken- and the viewers- of the studies of the Sports Legacy Institute, Ken was encouraged to keep out of the ring a decent amount of time and heel Eric Bischoff, who wanted Anderson to wrestle as soon as possible, was presented as clearly in the wrong. But, of course, while all this was going on (and we were reminded, at least 10 times on TNA television that “Dixie Carter has always looked out for the welfare of her performers”) TNA were refusing to pay the medical bills of performers who sustained serious concussion issues working for them. In fact, the hypocrisy got even more staggering; as the employee I spoke then went on to tell a horrifying story:
“Daffney suffered another concussion working with Angelina in a tag match. This is during the holiday tapings in December. They have a solid week of tapings and this happens on day 1 of 5. Daffney goes to Terry and management about the injury and is told that she can work the next two days and the she will be ok. This is the same time they are doing the story line with Anderson not being able to wrestle with the concussion. Daffney gives it sometime and decides she can’t risk going in the ring that night because she is, in fact, injured. She was however willing to do another photo shoot that was already on the schedule while she was there. As she prepares for the shoot she is then notified by Terry that management decided that she can’t do the shoot because if she ‘won’t’ work the match they have planned then they don’t want her to do the shoot.
As if all this wasn’t enough to put a person over the edge, while this was going, TNA was refusing responsibility for the hospital bill from the Rosie injury.”
The Rosie Lottalove debacle is probably deserving of a column all on its own. While almost maiming another performer should have probably disqualified her from a job (Rosie was clumsy, un-coordinated and barely out of the Team 3D training school when Bubba recommended her for a tryout) she was signed shortly after the Daffney incident. In fact, TNA even showed the disturbing footage of the Daffney injury on television in an attempt to get Rosie over as a monster. She was later released when TNA realized after a few matches how clueless she was (almost killing poor Daffney didn’t set off the alarm bells, apparently.) To top it all off, scuttlebutt was, Bubba was furious with management for not giving his trainee what he thought was a decent chance, and proceeded to give Daffney the cold shoulder when she returned, feeling that she had made Rosie look bad. Charming.
Well, to stray from the topic a little here, it seems injured performers- female ones in particular- are often treated with contempt in TNA. Female wrestler Kim Neilson, aka Desire, wrestled for the company in its early years, during which time she suffered an extremely serious back injury wrestling for them. In a 2005 audio interview (the highlights of which can be found here) she referred to TNA as “A Boy’s Club”, as well as complaining to Steve Gerwick that “I wasn’t treated with equal respect.” She complained about Dutch Martell (“he’s horrible”) Jeff Jarrett (“a complete idiot”) and said she felt that she had broken her back for the company, just to be disrespected. She also noted Jeff had only spoken to her twice during her TNA tenure and “uttered one word each time”. Thankfully, she didn’t mention what those particular words were. Regarding sexism in TNA one fan made some astute remarks after it came out that Kong had been released from TNA, with TNA feeling it would be easier simply to find another woman, than give her the pay raise she had asked for. Reports indicate that TNA see all their female performers this way.
“I figure there are probably some people in TNA who have women issues and seeing a bunch of women outdraw and out perform the people that were supposed to be the top stars pissed them the hell off. The reason why Gail, Kong, ODB, and Daffney were so over were because they weren't the usual diva's. The interchangeable theory is bulls*** and they know it. They had something special with Gail, Kong, and ODB especially and the usual backstage politics that sabotage people came into play and those three eventually walked because they weren't getting the money they deserved.”
Back to the topic at hand, it should be noted here, that Daffney’s story is not wholly a sad one. Rather than sitting back and taking all this shoddy treatment, she went out, hired a lawyer and is fighting back. Furthermore, there is every indication that this lawsuit may have opened up a giant can of worms for TNA. Indeed, her legal team, realizing how bad the working conditions are in TNA are currently holding meetings and interviews with current and former employees, in an attempt to get the bottom of Daffney’s case. Similar to the Konnan case, it seems clear TNA would have saved themselves a colossal amount of hassle simply by paying the hospital bill and moving on. But, as everyone knows: common sense has never been this company’s strong suit.
Following on from this, is the news that Daffney may not be the only TNA wrestler considering legal action. Former TNA production manager Randy Ricci told me that many other TNA wrestlers were currently in the process of filing suits with Tennessee’s Department of Employment over injuries they sustained on the job too. Rumours abound that at least one woman is filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against TNA. One other person close to the situation acknowledged this was true when I asked him about these stories, noting:
“There are plenty of other talent who are considering filing suit with the company. TNA is an interesting monster, though. Their legal is based in Texas as a sub company of Panda Energy but the company is an LLC registered in Delaware for tax purposes but all the contracts are written on and legal matters must be settled in TN.”
Ricci then said he was hopeful that things in TNA were changing, and urged fans to take action if they were angry about TNA’s treatment of wrestlers:
"I am very happy that the business practices of TNA wrestling llc are finally coming out and legal action is being taken. What has happened with "Daffney" is a terrible tragedy and unfortunately she is not the only one. It’s my hope that all these questionable actions by the company will not only grab the attention of the U.S. legal system but, also that wrestling fans worldwide take these things into consideration before the decide to watch IMPACT, buy a TNA PPV,TNA live event ticket, or any TNA wrestling merchandise.
This is a perfect time for a wrestling alternative and it’s up to the fans to send SPIKE TV a strong message that a company that mistreats its talent, free lance workers, and employees the way that TNA does clearly shows that TNA wrestling LLC is not that alternative."
Really, the sad fact may be that no matter how many columns I can write, how many reports Cagesideseats can do, or how often and heavily TNA can be criticised for their lack of concern for wrestlers (“Jesus Christ, these people running TNA don't give a s*** about the well-being of their performers,” Bryan Alvarez railed in his newsletter after Kurt’s reckless bumps at this past Sunday’s Lockdown PPV) it will ultimately not do that much good. It is up to TNA management to smarten up (fat chance, I know) or someone from Panda Energy to take a closer look at the company and step in, or, and this may be the most likely option to instigate changes, heavy litigation and lawyers from mistreated wrestlers. Unfortunately, if/when the third option happens, by the time it’s over there may not even be a company left for there to make any changes in.