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CM Punk raises old concerns about WWE's Wellness Policy

There's nothing new to CM Punk's issues with WWE's Wellness Policy, even though the story that he wrestled with a staph infection for three months that could have killed him is particularly shocking.

CM Punk: Clearly doesn't believe in WWE's Wellness Program
CM Punk: Clearly doesn't believe in WWE's Wellness Program
Valerie Macon/Getty Images

As you should all know by now, CM Punk has finally told his side of the story as to why he walked out on WWE this January on his friend Colt Cabana's Art of Wrestling podcast.

The timing of Punk's intervention on Thanksgiving Eve certainly seemed designed to catch WWE flat footed, as his revelations came on the night before America's biggest public holiday. But who can blame him when WWE, either maliciously or incompetently, timed his firing to occur on his wedding day to current WWE performer AJ Lee?

However, the most damaging complaints were those that raised age old concerns about WWE's Wellness Policy, which we here at Cageside Seats have frequently raised when deemed necessary.

Punk clearly believe that the Wellness Policy is a sham, in the sense that it wasn't a benevolent act to improve the lives of WWE wrestlers, but rather a means to generate better PR for the company and protect themselves from expensive lawsuits:

"The WWE doesn't do anything to protect the wrestlers, they do things to protect themselves, and that sounds really harsh and I stated earlier that I don't want to come off as like bash WWE but they don't let everybody know that they're doing all these fantastic things for concussions for the boys, they do it so it looks good on them in the public. The NFL is getting fucked in the ass because there is a union for the football players and the union is saying you need to pay these guys this much money for past injuries for whatever and the NFL is doing it. The NFL is paying out the ass and Vince [McMahon] doesn't want to do that."

It's hard to disagree with this viewpoint when Vince McMahon himself admitted under oath to congressional staffers for the Committee on Government Oversight and Reform that the primary motivation behind WWE's offer of free rehab for all former wrestlers was public relations:

"Q What led you to make, you the company, to make the magnanimous gesture of offering counseling services to current or former employees or contractors?

A Two words. Public relations. That's it. I do not feel any sense of responsibility for anyone of whatever their age is who has passed along and has bad habits and overdoses for drugs. Sorry, I don't feel any responsibility for that. Nonetheless, that's why we're doing it. It is a magnanimous gesture."

It should also be noted that it wasn't until after the NFL concussion lawsuit was filed three years ago that WWE stopped attempting to publicly discredit the research of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the pathologist who diagnosed Chris Benoit with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy after a post-mortem examination of Benoit's brain, and started instead to donate large sums of money to the Sports Legacy Institute for academic research into concussions and CTE.

Speaking of concussions, Punk went on to lambast WWE Medical Director Dr. Joseph Maroon's ImPACT test for determining concussion severity as bullshit:

"I got a concussion in the Royal Rumble. It's pretty god damn obvious, I knew I had a concussion, everybody knew I had a concussion and they were like we want you to take this test and I was like your test is bullshit. I took the test while texting you and listening to my headphones and I quote unquote passed with flying colours. But then they were like oh, we want you to go to the ring and run the ropes and I was like I just passed your test, they were like yeah but we still think you have a concussion, so I was like your test is worthless, I'm not going out in the fucking ring like a two week rookie to run the ropes in front of everybody, let's just call it [a concussion] now."

These gripes about the effectiveness of WWE's preferred computerised concussion evaluation system are nothing new. Indeed, in 2012, ESPN highlighted the flaws in the ImPACT system in an article entitled "Concussion test may not be panacea". Several independent studies have shown that the ImPACT test has a disturbingly high rate of false positives, making it hard to trust the results of the system. But inevitably the expensive procedure is going to be used when its inventors are on WWE's payroll.

The sad state of affairs is summed up by Punk being stoked to do a lame WWE movie because he was never given a break and "weekends off sound fucking awesome", even though he wouldn't really have had them off as he'd be acting then, but it would at least give him a break from the rigors of the ring. Even getting injured was seen as sweet sorrow, because getting hurt was the only way to get extended time off work.

Maybe WWE wouldn't have such a problem with top talent burnout and career threatening injuries if they gave their performers several weeks off a year like any other sport? Just saying, as Wade Keller has for well over two decades.

But injuries only ever gave Punk a short respite, as there was always immediate pressure to return to work much faster than was medically responsible:

"I got [elbow] surgery on a Wednesday or a Thursday and then Vince called me like Friday and was like 'Ah, I heard surgery was a success.' I said 'Uh, yeah, that's great, I'm going to rehab and I'll be back before you know it.' 'Well, actually I'm going to have them send you some travel right now because it's just your elbow hurt, we can have you cut promos.' So I was already back on the road after five days....

So I get that elbow surgery and I'm right back on television and I'm right back at it and I'm scared I'm gonna have a blood clot and die, cause that's what happened to Chris Candido, and I got the laser eye surgery and I remember that when I was supposed to go back to Birmingham to get cleared before I came back to wrestle from my elbow, one day I was just at TV, it was the same thing, I'll probably just cut a promo and Michael Hayes comes up to me and goes 'Alright, you're working so and so.' I was like 'Oh no I'm not, I've got this laser eye surgery, I don't want anyone fucking up my eyes,' and he was like 'Well, you should have really told somebody,' and I was like 'Told them what, my elbow!' and he goes 'I just checked, they said you're cleared.' But I was like 'But I haven't been to Birmingham to see Dr. Andrews yet, what do you mean I'm cleared?' 'Well, you got to talk to them.' So I talked to Dr. Amman and Dr. Amman was like 'I just called them, I told them how you were and he said OK, he'll clear you,' and I was like 'What kind of witch-doctory bullshit is that?', like 'I'm going to see him before I fucking wrestle, book that shit, I'm not wrestling tonight....'

I got [knee] surgery Wednesday morning. I'm walking out of the hospital and Vince calls me, I'm all fucked up on anesthesia. 'I heard surgery went well, pal.' and I'm immediately having crazy flashbacks to the elbow surgery. I said 'Yeah, yes, you know, I'm going back to my hotel and starting rehab later tonight and get rolling. 'Good, we just announced on the website that you're wrestling Ryback in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match on the first Raw of January,' and I was like 'That's in two and a half, three weeks?' He was like 'Yep, the prognosis for your surgery is four to six weeks,' and I was like 'So you booked me in a horribly dangerous match with a horribly dangerous opponent?' He was like 'That's when Rock is coming back, so we have to start that program right away.' I told him I didn't want to do it. He told me that he would owe me one. That's two. And I was just like 'Man, OK, well alright, I'm the champ.'"

The allegation that a WWE doctor was willing to clear a wrestler over the phone without a formal inspection has been made before, as Charlie Haas made similar allegations about Dr. Joseph Maroon in 2010. Given the story about how Vince started promoting the Punk vs. Ryback TLC match for a date that Punk should not have been medically cleared by, it raises the question once again of how independent the implementation of the WWE Wellness Policy is from interference by the owner?

Punk was clearly sceptical about how on the level the Wellness Policy truly was with his "steroid guy" taunt of Ryback and his accusation that WWE changed the third strike and you're fired rule to benefit somebody who still takes drugs. He even asked Triple H whether he had pissed in a cup on his way out the door.

But the most shocking story of all was the one where Punk claimed that WWE encouraged him to work with a staph infection for three months that was only treated properly when his girlfriend AJ Lee finally convinced him to go and see her doctor in Tampa for a second opinion, who immediately diagnosed the problem and told Punk that the infection was so serious that he could have and probably should have died from it.

How does a "Wellness" Policy allow someone to work with a potentially life threatening infection for so long? Perhaps how it also allowed Rey Mysterio to work on a torn ACL and MCL until he completely blew out his knee? It's more about finding band-aids to keep wrestlers in the ring for as long as possible rather than improving their long term health.

We reached out to WWE for an official response on CM Punk's recent comments detailing his final years with the company. This is what they had to say:

"WWE takes the health and wellness of its talent very seriously and has a comprehensive Talent Wellness Program that is led by one of the most well-respected physicians in the country, Dr. Joseph Maroon."

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