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Is the Sports Legacy Institute tainted by their association with WWE after CM Punk's concussion claims?

The Sports Legacy Institute could be tainted by their association with WWE after CM Punk claimed that Dr. Chris Amman pressured him to go on an overseas tour of Europe whilst suffering from a concussion in November 2013, which would be strictly against the ethos of the non-profit organization.

I got one over on you there Punk, didn't I?
I got one over on you there Punk, didn't I?
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

There are unsubstantiated rumors going around that Triple H is privately furious with CM Punk after his tell-all interview with Colt Cabana where he bluntly documented the litany of reasons he walked out on WWE in January. Cast as the main villain in Punk's horror story, it's easy to see why Hunter would be mad. But not only is Paul Levesque's ego bruised, Punk's complaints about WWE's Wellness Policy could damage his standing as a corporate figurehead, particularly with his associates at the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) like former WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski, whose mission is to advance the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups.

WWE's public affiliation with the SLI started on May 17th, 2013, when the company gave the non-profit organization a gift of $1.2 million to fund a new research program at Boston University aimed at developing a treatment for the degenerative brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). In the joint press release, Paul Levesque made sure to note that "WWE has been, and will continue to be, very proactive on taking measures to ensure the health and wellness of our talent."

This marked quite the turnaround in public relations between the two sides. From 2007-2010, WWE, often through their lawyer Jerry McDevitt, had attempted to discredit the early research into CTE, particularly that former WWE wrestlers Chris Benoit and Andrew "Test" Martin had the disease at the times of their premature deaths. Nowinski largely refrained from criticising his former employer until the death of Lance Cade, where he accused aspiring politician Linda McMahon of "kicking dirt on the guys grave" for saying that she might have only met him once in person and WWE of encouraging steroid use and having an unsafe workplace environment:

This led to WWE attempting to paint Chris Nowinski as a liar in the media, including hilariously arguing that "it is very dubious that he ever had a conversation with Lance Cade much less Lance Cade confiding to a total stranger that he used painkillers and steroids", forgetting that Cade and Nowinski had been tag team partners in their developmental system in the past. I suppose the lesson here, perhaps, is that a fat cheque can always help an injured party forget the past, even though their past actions should make you think twice about doing business with them ever again.

In return for their investment, WWE were handsomely rewarded by the SLI with praise, who placed them on a pedestal as a company whose approach to the concussion crisis in sports should be duplicated by other organizations. On October 23, 2013, the SLI honored WWE with the 2013 Impact Award, which recognizes organizations and individuals for their commitment to solving the concussion epidemic. The press release announcing the decision put over WWE's dedication to concussion education:

"WWE has also collaborated with SLI to educate WWE performers about concussion education. Every WWE Superstar and Diva has been required to attend a SLI "Conquering Concussions" seminar led by SLI executive director and former WWE Superstar Chris Nowinski, aimed at preventing concussions and increasing the reporting of concussions when they do occur."

One wonders what use is reporting concussion like symptoms if it's true that WWE doctors are sometimes reluctant to make such a diagnosis for fear a top wrestler will miss a major event or an important overseas tour?

A year later, the Sports Legacy Institute elected Paul Levesque to its Board of Directors. Chris Nowinski couldn't have been happier:

"We are thrilled to welcome Paul Levesque to our Board of Directors. As an athlete himself, Paul is familiar with the risks associated with concussions. As an executive, Paul has made it a priority to protect WWE’s performers through education and awareness, as well as preventative measures and world class medical care."

I wonder what Chris Nowinski now thinks about the quality of WWE's medical care if he's listened to CM Punk's interview in full and heard how their ringside physician, Dr. Chris Amman, misdiagnosed a MRSA infection as a fatty deposit and kept refusing to treat it?

However, much more concerning for the SLI is Punk's allegation that Amman pressured him to go on an overseas tour of Europe whilst suffering from a concussion in November 2013:

"I worked Luke Harper in a match and I got hit with something and it fucking rung my bell and I got a concussion. But we were leaving for Europe the next day. So Doc was leaning on me going 'do you want me to... do you have a concussion or can you go to Europe' kind of thing. And I was just like 'you fucking... you pigs. I'll go to Europe. Whatever.' That's on me. That's my fault. I probably shouldn't have. After the European tour, the whole European tour, I'm dry heaving after every match. I mean, luckily I was in tags. It was me and Daniel Bryan vs. The Wyatts and they were awesome, and they were fun -- the parts I remember -- but I'm on all fours after every match and I'm either puking for real or I'm just dry heaving because I don't have anything in my stomach. I have no appetite. I don't know what is up and what is down. I can't sleep. I can't fucking train."

The doctor putting the decision in Punk's hands is outrageous, especially if Punk's claims are true that WWE talent who refuse to work hurt are punished. As the SLI's own website indicates:

Studies show that around 90% of concussions go unreported and undiagnosed in contact sports. Most efforts to increase the reporting rate focus on changing the behavior of the concussed athlete. The success of this plan will be limited by two factors:

1. Athletes are a poor judge of when they have suffered a concussion because they have just suffered a brain injury-which could impair their judgment.

2. Athletes often feel internal or external pressure to continue playing through injury, whether it is because they don't want to let their teammates down, don't want to lose a hard-earned starting position, or don't want to appear weak.

Here, Punk did the right thing by informing WWE's doctor that he suspected that he had a concussion, yet the doctor himself was reluctant to make such a diagnosis for fear of upsetting his superiors like Paul Levesque and put the onus on Punk himself to decide whether he was healthy enough to work the tour or not, thus transferring the heat onto Punk for refusing to work hurt, if he had decided to miss the tour to recover from his concussion. If true, the culture that Levesque is presiding over where his doctors are sometimes too scared to diagnose concussions when it would screw up his plans too much is not one the SLI should tolerate in a corporate partner.

Due to WWE’s affiliation with the SLI, I reached out to the concussion advocacy group via email over the weekend asking them for an official statement on Punk's claims above. So far they have not got back to me.

Another problem with the SLI's partnership with WWE is that the wrestling company doesn't seem to have a remove-from-play policy. In most sports, a possibly concussed athlete would be taken off the field for a sideline assessment and if he was deemed to indeed have a concussion then he would be taken out of the game. Not in WWE, where Punk asked Dr. Chris Amman for help when he thought he had suffered a concussion during the 2014 Royal Rumble match, but the doctor was handcuffed because apparently WWE hadn't developed a protocol for such an eventuality:

"Punk: Same thing with Kofi. He was like 'Hey, I'm going to come in, you're going to be in the ring, I'm going to do my little roll in the ring' -- which I never knew how he did, I thought that was like the most athletic thing ever, where he can jump from the floor and roll through the bottom of the rope and somersault and come up and clothesline me? Concussion city. I didn't want to tell him afterwards and I don't know if I did. So Kofi, if you're listening to this, I love you, it's okay. Fucking boom.... I flatback and I'm just fucking rocked. I'm out of it.

Colt: Number 12, 13.

Punk: So I roll under the fucking corner and I motion to Doc, I go 'I have a concussion.' And he was like 'what do you want me to do?' And I just started laughing and I was just like 'Doctor, you are one of the most worthless pieces of shit I have ever met in my entire life.'

Colt: Well, hold on. I agree, but I don't agree, but like what does he do?

Punk: But this is miserable fucking Phil Brooks you're talking about.

Colt: Okay.

Punk: So he goes 'do you want me to tell somebody?' And I go 'No, I'm just going to sit here for a minute, I'm going to collect my wits and I'll go do my shit.' Next thing I know, one of the refs is like 'Kane's out here, he's going to pull you out early.' And my knee jerk reaction from 15+ years of being a pro wrestler was 'Fuck you, I'm finishing this match. If Kane touches me, I'm going to fucking quit.' So then poor Glen is out there, he's like shirtless wearing business slacks...

Colt: Corporate Kane.

Punk: ...and he's like crouching down and the camera is trying not to shoot him and it was chaos. But then eventually we did the angle, he choke slammed me through the fucking thing."

So, yes, after possibly suffering a concussion, CM Punk had to determine himself when he was safe to play again (which was very quickly, he only took a minute to rest) and then he worked for another 35+ minutes before being chokeslammed through a table to end his night!

True, part of the problem was Punk's wrestler pride kicking in (the ethos of "it doesn't matter how hurt you are, you keep going as long as scripted", bred partially by Triple H being praised to all high heaven for once completing a match with a torn quad muscle) and refusing to go home early, but either way it seems like he had to go through a table, concussion be damned, maybe because Paul Levesque's WrestleMania angle was so God damn important that calling an audible wouldn't have even crossed his mind. That truly sounds like a director the Sports Legacy Institute can be proud of!