RAW deal? CM Punk, WWE, and the uncertain obligations of at-will employment

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"I've given this company everything I got. I'm not complaining about it, because they pay me. They pay me to give that up, and it provides me with income. So I'm not whining about it. I'm just saying, 'I give you everything I've got, now you give me everything you've got.' I'm not talking about money. I'm talking about the best creative possible. Because I drew you a lot of money and I sold you a lot of shit. Now treat me like it. And not like a prima donna, because I'm not." -- "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, shortly after no-showing Monday Night RAW back in 2002

While I was in college, I worked for a popular video game chain in Philadelphia for close to two years. Upon graduation, I was offered an incredible opportunity to ditch my life at the mall and join a major player in New York City.

The only catch?

I had to start in two days, which meant showing up for work the next day and telling my employer I was jumping ship. After I explained the situation and thanked them for everything they did, I told the manager how sorry I was for leaving and not giving him two weeks' notice.

His reply?

"Don't be. It's not like I would have warned you two weeks in advance if I was going to fire your ass."

That's the uncertainty of "at-will employment," which is a fancy term for allowing an employer -- or in this case employee -- to say, "Fuck this, I'm outta here," without legal ramifications. Naturally, those laws favor the employer. Not because "the man" hates the working stiff, but rather because most people who know they're getting axed, will find a way to go out with a bang.

You know, like drop a pipe bomb on live television.

That's why it's easy to be sympathetic toward CM Punk, who according to reputable sources, decided he was done playing The Game, and bailed on his pro wrestling career. Why? Because he worked his ass off, bled for his employer and didn't get what he wanted.

Welcome to the real world.

I think anyone who ever held a "real" job would understand that what you deserve and what you get are usually two very different things. It's also not uncommon to see that big promotion go to some under-qualified douchebag in another department, simply because he's a member of the old boys' club.

And let's not even get started on nepotism.

That's the way the world works. To suggest that anyone with a dream, who works hard and keeps their nose clean, will eventually get to the top because they deserve to be there, is a fantasy. And one that results in massive disappointment when not achieved.

CM Punk did everything you could do under the WWE banner, except headline WrestleMania.

Why? Because his boss didn't want him to. Or, more specifically, wanted someone else in that role. Someone more popular, or perhaps more well-liked among management. Is that a good enough reason for an employee to call it quits? Well, that all depends on the employee.

The folks at WWE are probably scratching their heads, wondering what they did wrong.

After all, CM Punk entered his 2013 pro wrestling campaign riding the sixth-longest title reign in history. He was the WWE Champion for a staggering 434 days. After losing the title, he went on to join a select group of individuals who would wrestle The Undertaker on the grandest stage of them all, WrestleMania.

In the process? He made a few million dollars doing it.

Not too shabby.

Much has been made about Punk's ability to save money, which may have contributed to his decision to bail. If so, that raises questions about his professionalism, suggesting that commitment is directly proportionate to compensation. Granted, it doesn't make him wrong and WWE right -- if those terms even exist in a situation like this -- but it definitely sends the wrong message.

I didn't get what I want; therefore, I'll punish you for it.

In doing so, he also punished his fans, who would likely stand and cheer for him no matter where he's placed on a pay-per-view (PPV) card. In addition, there may be talent on the lower end of the totem pole who could have benefited from working with him at a future show.

But like "Stone Cold" before him, he put himself before the product.

Justifiably so?

Perhaps, though it might be a tough pill to swallow for guys coming up on the roster, who would likely give their own mamas the Pepsi plunge just to get a taste of that kind of exposure. Or even for other guys at the top, who are killing themselves inside the squared circle because there is no place they'd rather be.

Punk, it would appear, has plenty of places he'd rather be.

And we shouldn't begrudge him for that. But just as grown men can make the decision to leave, they can also make the decision to not sign a contract that represents their commitment to see it though. Unless you're Jeff Jarrett, you work for the company, the company doesn't work for you.

Punk was about four months away from holding up his end of the bargain.

When your job sucks, four months probably feels like four years. Though as KDidz pointed out in his FanPost, the wrestling business isn't any different than when he left the first time, which means all the things that aggravated him in the initial go-round were likely to still be there (just under different names).

It won't stop us from cheering his defiance, for the same reason that Johnny Paycheck's Take This Job and Shove It song hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts.

The time to air grievances and barter for better spots on the big stage, should -- but usually don't -- happen during the negotiation of a contract. Punk had the chance to walk away free and clear in July and say, "When you have a spot in the WrestleMania main event, call me. If not, have a nice life."

Hey, it worked for Batista.

That would allow Punk to sue for performance following breach of contract and all that other legal stuff that WWE lawyers will never allow the promotion to sign for. It's much easier to shake hands, cut a few checks and say, "WrestleMania? Sure, maybe next year."

Then again, maybe not.

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