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Samoa Joe is not the boogeyman: On assigning blame for Seth Rollins’ injury

When hardship or tragedy strikes, emotions often shift from sadness to anger. Today, they’re misplaced.

Everything that happens in the world must have an explanation, right? If Y is the effect, we need to know what X is immediately. It sets our mind at ease. Nothing is scarier or more uncomfortable than the unknown. Why are we afraid of the dark? Without searching for a clinical explanation, I opine that in many respects, it’s because we lose the one sense that betrays us the least.

If I turn off all the lights in a room I’ve searched top to bottom for any trace of danger, I still feel less safe almost instantaneously once I flip that switch. It’s illogical, but there’s security in being in constant synergy with your surroundings.

What the hell does any of this have to do with Samoa Joe and Seth Rollins? The wave of social media responses asking questions about safety, people speculating about a veteran professional wrestler being dangerous or reckless in the ring, and uninformed opinions are akin to me in the dark grasping to find the nearest wall. I just want to cling to something real, something I can define and understand, despite the fact there might be a black widow crawling down that wall and I’d be better off standing in the center of the room.

Seth is injured, possibly out of WrestleMania, and people are hurting. Wrestling fans around the world are saddened, both for Rollins and for themselves. Whether they had interest in Seth and Triple H’s match was irrelevant, because they still wanted to see him perform. Plus, this would be his second missed Mania in a row, both due to knee injuries. And that sucks.

He was in the ring with Samoa Joe. GASP!

And Joe was also in the ring with Tyson Kidd. THE GAME IS AFOOT!

By transitive property, Samoa Joe is a monster who must be stopped!

Fans who couldn’t wait to see this man on Sunday at the Royal Rumble, who raged when he didn’t debut in the Royal Rumble, many of whom probably chanted “Joe’s Gonna Kill You” at some point this weekend (if not on Monday), now need to find a culprit. They need to assess blame, with no facts, no evidence, and no foundation. If you watch the video, you’ll see very clearly what happened. Seth was selling the Coquina Clutch and flailing his legs around, attempting to illustrate his helpless state at that moment in time.

He was doing his job.

Samoa Joe had his signature hold snugly locked on, as always - because when he works, he ensures it looks real - and as he has done thousands of times before, he wrapped his legs around Rollins and fell backwards to the mat. He didn’t crush Seth or land on him. He simply took the submission move to the canvas, where he’s finished hundreds of matches during his career.

He was doing his job.

Professional wrestling isn’t accounting work. While the papercuts can be vicious, a bandage can usually get an employee of Ernst & Young back at his or her desk in a matter of seconds. It’s also not writing. I may have arthritis in the next few years, perhaps even carpal tunnel from years of N64 graps and Goldeneye, but I can find dictation software.

When someone steps into the squared circle, that person is inherently agreeing to assume the risks of the occupation. Wrestling is physical, it requires focus and attention, and it’s extremely difficult to do at a high level. Even when it’s performed perfectly, people get hurt. My old roommate tore his ACL in a television match on one of the biggest NWA Wildside cards of the year in one of the strangest ways imaginable. He countered a belly-to-back suplex by rolling through the attempt, and when his feet touched, his leg buckled.

He was out for a year. He didn’t blame Hotstuff Hernandez for the injury.

Samoa Joe works tight and he makes contact, because he has to look like a killer. He’s not Lex Luger. Are there more risks in working someone whose in-ring style is “make sure he feels it?” Well, not if you ask Bret Hart, who has said many times in the past that it’s when you’re trying to be too careful that you usually get hurt. When you’re pulling punches, that’s when bad things happen.

However, if you asked Bret last August, he’d criticize Samoa Joe for using the very same MuscleBuster that both injured Tyson Kidd...but didn’t injure any of the multitude of opponents that came before or since. Sadly, Kidd’s spine was in poor shape before he ever stepped in the ring with Joe, and neither one of them knew how serious it actually was.

It was a freak accident. The same that can befall any of us at any time.

Agree with that assessment or don’t, but the reality of the situation is wrestlers get hurt, and they get hurt quite often. We’re always at the mercy of fate, but the exertion required to be a pro wrestler exacerbates the chances of a problem. I don’t have Joe’s entire history in front of me, but he’s had hundreds and hundreds of matches during his career, and I would imagine there’s not a discernibly higher level of guys that have been injured working with him than working with anyone else. He’s simply run into some terrible, no good, very bad luck. The first instance was frightening and likely shook him to his core, and this one just adds fuel to the fire of those who are looking for a reason to bitch and pass judgment.

I would bet Samoa Joe has tried to find a way to take responsibility for what happened. In private, he’s probably watched the video repeatedly or asked questions of his colleagues and friends to gauge their opinion of the situation. It’s been a difficult few days for him, which is doubly painful because it should be one of the happiest moments of his life. He finally made it to “the show.” He got the call-up, and on night one, Seth Rollins goes down.

When he tweeted, he was selling his character, as he was no doubt instructed to do by Vince McMahon or Triple H. WWE has to use the injury to the company’s advantage in storyline. It’s not like this guy is gloating about anything. They’re all picking up the pieces and trying to find a different path that ultimately saves them in the short term and sets the stage for the long term. So back the hell off Joe’s tweet. If you don’t know why he said what he said, you’re a complete idiot.

Once again, he was doing his job.

Back to the incident itself, various threads and Tweets and Facebook posts and Reddit posts are trying to find a way to put the blame on Joe, because “freak accident” sucks as an explanation for something terrible. You want to be able to close the book with the right conclusion, but here’s the thing, most books have shitty endings.

The Seth Rollins series (no word if it’s written by George R.R. Martin) has been quite a page turner, but in the same way that Kane wasn’t responsible for Seth’s first major WWE injury at the conclusion of Book 2, Samoa Joe has no culpability here in Book 3. He didn’t go into business for himself. He did what he’s paid to do, and what we couldn’t wait to see him do on the main roster for more money.

It’s just something that happens.

Does that make it easier to take as a wrestling fan? Does that make it easier to take for Seth Rollins or Samoa Joe? As badly as you might want to say no, the answer is undeniably yes. There was no malice here. There was no glaring mistake here. No one did anything wrong. There was simply the gust of wind that carries your perfect drive into the water, or knocks your team’s possible game winning field goal wide right.

This was life. It usually wins, and sometimes at our expense.

And as Denis Leary once said about life...

“I thought I was going to be the center fielder for the Boston Red Sox. Life sucks. Get a fucking helmet, all right?”

Get well Seth, and stay strong Joe.

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