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WWE lawyer aggressively fighting concussion lawsuits while their doctor downplays concussion risks

While Jerry McDevitt is telling the media that WWE will likely “seek sanctions” against the attorney pursuing the WWE concussion litigation for his frivolous lawsuits, Joseph Maroon is arguing that youth football is safer than cycling and skateboarding.

Viscera: "A gentleman with a weight problem."
Viscera: "A gentleman with a weight problem."

Five months ago, we reported that Billy Jack Haynes had filed a class action concussion lawsuit against WWE like the one that retired football players had served against the NFL three years earlier. Since that time, three similar lawsuits have been filed by Big Vito, Adam Mercer and the widow of Nelson Frazier Jr. (aka Mabel, Viscera and Big Daddy V), and WWE has vowed to contest them all vigorously.

Earlier this week, the lawsuits got more mainstream press as the Boston Herald ran a piece on this "legal cage match", which saw a war of words between the two sides' lawyers.

The argument of Konstantine Kyros, the attorney behind these cases is that WWE owes their former wrestlers a duty of care due to the brain trauma they suffered from all the bumps they took wrestling for the company:

"A pattern has developed, through what these former wrestlers have told me. They were subjected to pretty serious trauma during their career, and then after, they are left with very little when it comes to health care. The WWE seems to have taken the position that they don’t owe any further duty to these guys when they retire."

Kyros also claimed that many WWE performers work while injured, which meant that "powerful pain medications and muscle relaxers [were] routinely used and were often dispensed by WWE-affiliated doctors." That may very well be true, but doesn't have much, if anything, to do with concussions, which leads one to believe that he's throwing as much mud to the wall as he can find and seeing what sticks.

WWE's response to Kyros has been very robust and aggressive, insinuating to the Boston Herald that he's only out for a payday and that they will likely "seek sanctions" against him for bringing such frivolous lawsuits against them. WWE's lawyer Jerry McDevitt even accused Kyros of unethical behaviour:

"They just ignore these things [like the WWE Talent Wellness Program] and allege whatever they feel like alleging. You can’t do that as a lawyer. You have to be basing your allegations on a reasonable investigation of the facts. It’s not some creative writing exercise to see if you can get media attention. […] It’s an embarrassment to be a lawyer sometimes. It’s ridiculous that someone can ... try to blame someone because a gentleman with a weight problem died of a heart attack in the shower eight years after he last performed. It’s ridiculous to try and blame someone for that."

Technically, Frazier died five and a half years after he was fired by WWE in the summer of 2008 and kept wrestling sporadically until shortly before his death. Clearly, WWE cannot be blamed for his obesity, but equally seemed to do little to encourage him to lose weight whilst he still worked for the company.

In rather unfortunate timing, yesterday WWE's medical director Dr. Joseph Maroon, in his capacity as an unpaid consultant for the Pittsburgh Steelers football club and a member of the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee, made controversial comments on the NFL Network in response to the recent retirement of 24-year-old San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland over concerns about head trauma.

Maroon used the platform to reassure parents that youth tackle football was safe for their children to play, arguing that the problem of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in contact sports has been exaggerated by the media:

"I think the problem of CTE, although real, is it's being over-exaggerated and it's being extrapolated to youth football and to high school football. We recently published a paper in PLOS One, an online journal, [where] we reviewed all the cases of CTE from 1954 to August of 2013. We came up with 63 total cases of CTE [in former amateur and professional football players]. In the last two years a few more, but there has been 30 to 40 million kids who have played football between that period of time. It's a rare phenomenon. We have no idea the incidence. There are more injuries to kids from falling off bikes, scooters, falling in playgrounds than there are in youth football. I think again it's never been safer. Can we improve? Yes. We have to do better all the time to make it safer, but I think if a kid is physically able to do it and wants to do it, I think our job is to continue to make it safer, but it’s much more dangerous riding a bike or a skateboard than playing youth football."

Former WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski of the Boston-based Sports Legacy Institute (a non-profit organization dedicated to concussion education and research that Paul "Triple H" Levesque is a director of), rightly disputed Maroon's claim that youth football is safer than both cycling and skateboarding to ESPN:

"The [Centers for Disease Control] found that regarding concussions, football is the most dangerous activity for boys age 10-14, causing more emergency department visits for brain injuries than both riding a bike or a skateboard. For ages 5-9, there are more brain injuries resulting from football than skateboarding.

The most likely reason that more 5-9-year-old boys go to the ER with brain injuries resulting from bike accidents is that far more boys ride bikes than play football. It is unfortunate that this important information is being miscommunicated in the media.

In addition, it is not just concussions that make football dangerous for the brain, but it is also hundreds of subconcussive blows per year. Riding a bike or a skateboard are not known to cause hundreds of impact to the head in a year.

As to whether CTE is rare in the general population, that is true. CTE has never been found in an individual who was not exposed to significant brain trauma. It has been found in the vast majority of NFL players and professional boxers who have been studied, but the true risk in that population is unknown because of the absence of a test for CTE in the living."

With the ongoing concussion litigation against WWE, Maroon could become a liability for the company if Konstantine Kyros focuses on his past and ongoing history of downplaying the risk of brain damage.

In an interesting sidenote, the PLOS One paper cited by Maroon on the NFL Network mentions that three cases of CTE had been found in former professional wrestlers. The cases of Chris Benoit and Andrew "Test" Martin were highly publicised at the time of the diagnosis, but this third case went previously unreported in the wrestling media. The demographic information given in a supplementary table of the paper says the wrestler was 20-29 years old at the time of his death and that he died of an accidental drug overdose. In the paper that originally reported the case, the authors referred to "Case 8, a 27-year-old male professional wrestler who experienced more than 9 concussions during his 10-year professional wrestling career who died from an overdose of OxyContin."

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