Because we’re talking about professional wrestling, a business/artform built upon misdirection and convincing your audience you’re about to zig just before you zag (even in the so-called ‘Reality’ Era), a kneejerk reaction to any news item is always, “it’s a work!”
Such has been the case with the shocking news from earlier this afternoon that Roman Reigns has received a 30 day suspension from WWE for his first violation of their Wellness Policy. In just the brief time since the announcement of Reigns’ punishment, theories have been floated about this being a storyline, mostly centered on it being a way to postpone the long-awaited Shield Triple Threat until SummerSlam, a traditionally “bigger” event than Battleground, the show they announced the match for on the June 20 Raw.
Well, to paraphrase Chris Jericho, anyone claiming it’s a work is a stupid idiot.
If you need confirmation of that from someone better connected than me (a stupid idiot myself, for a multitude of other reasons), trust Dave Meltzer, who said as much on a special edition of Wrestling Observer Radio, following up on this Tweet:
Suspension not an angle, will be doing a show shortly on it.— Dave Meltzer (@davemeltzerWON) June 21, 2016
But we don’t even need Big Dave for this one. Common sense says that there’s no way this, or any Wellness Policy-related story, is a work.
WWE may have its roots in the carnival business, but Vince McMahon now oversees a global empire with ties to Hollywood and Wall Street - among other major establishment entities. Their policy on handling drugs and abuse resides on the corporate web site they maintain separately from the face they present to wrestling fans on WWE.com.
They do that because the “Talent Wellness Program” is a crucial piece of their move away from the carny circuit and further into the business & entertainment mainstream. It’s a crucial public relations and human resources tool which says “we care about our talent’s health - both for their own well-being and because they are role models for your children”.
Regardless of whether or not you think they’re sincere or even if that’s the right message to be sending, it’s not something you mess with in order to move a match, or back away from pushing the wrong guy.
In addition to that, the Wellness Program is an element of WWE’s legal strategy. It already routinely comes under challenge from ex-contractors who claim the company favored their own profits over the health of the talent. To use it as part of their on-screen fiction would provide a big piece of leverage to every attorney representing a wrestler who feels their health & well-being was negatively impacted by their time in a WWE ring.
We don’t know what’s going on with Roman Reigns. The Wellness Policy is wide-ranging and fairly labyrinthine, as most legal policies are. WWE is under no obligation to tell us what Reigns’ situation is beyond what they’ve already released.
But you can be damn sure it’s not a work.