”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE’s top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
“You’ve got that look on your face that you get when you’re watching football and you see a helmet-to-helmet hit,” Mrs. Doc recently remarked while I was catching up on the post-Royal Rumble Raw.
She was noticing my reaction to watching Sasha Banks, for seemingly the twentieth time in the past two years, nearly kill herself attempting a higher risk move than she is consistently able to successfully perform without getting hurt. There might be fans, maybe those who consume an exorbitant amount of local independent wrestling for instance, who have become so conditioned to poorly executed suicide dives, hurricanranas, moonsaults, and the like that such cringe-inducing moments of frightening in-ring botch barely register in their minds anymore, but I will never be one of those fans. When I see Sasha catch her foot on the ropes, sending her body’s momentum swinging quickly downward toward the harsh, head-first realities of either an awaiting LED board or the thinly padded concrete floor, the irresistible force that professional wrestling has been in my life meets the immoveable object of what I do for a living.
Every week in my clinic, I meet someone similar to who Sasha Banks is more than likely going to be ten to twenty years from now (maybe not even that long); someone who endured traumas in bulk to varying levels of severity, was assured that she would be okay, and then later started falling apart physically and mentally. For people like that, I am often their last resort following years of worsening conditions treated feebly by the latest and greatest catch-all medications that help them ignore their problems without getting to the bottom of why their health is in a rapid state of decline. The biggest drug problem in America stems from those legally prescribed, not illegally obtained, and people like Sasha and the instant-gratification-satisfying doctors who likely have and will work with her are among the biggest contributors.
To make a long story short, my approach is very different, experienced first as a patient whose health fell apart for an extended period of time at an early age following a series of head traumas and later learned as a doctor specializing in integrative methods that take an in-depth look at neurologic care, nutrition, orthopedic care, stress management, etc. to create a well-rounded, restorative long-term plan for people like Sasha, who would otherwise remain in perpetual decline. American healthcare is in shambles, spending more money than anywhere else in the world with poorer outcomes than any industrialized nation, mainly because its basic practices that treat 95% of the population can be simplified to the analogy of having the check engine light come on in a car, only for the mechanic to cover it up with a piece of electrical tape. Literally everyone needs a more thorough brand of care, or at least the basic knowledge base of how to care for themselves, but not everyone has launched themselves like a missile from a five foot high platform and done an awkward belly-flop on a fancy gym mat, causing the soles of their feet to nearly make contact with the backs of their heads, as was the case with The Boss in her July 2016 Raw Women’s Title match against Charlotte, so foolhardy pro wrestlers logically require more attention.
I really don’t want to come off as being melodramatic, but the struggle is legit, ladies and gentlemen. I was involved in three traumas of an above average severity by the time I was thirteen years old and, by twenty-three years old, I had been in constant pain for four straight years with heavy brain fog to boot. Sasha is a 114 pound petite female whose general job description is to fall on four-hundred square feet of barely covered wood planks, and who also happens to have a devil-may-care attitude and a regular move-set that contains aerial assaults she maybe correctly lands half the time and which quite honestly make me fear more for her life than any Jeff Hardy Swanton Bomb through a table from off of a 20-foot ladder. Every body is different, some more naturally resilient than others, but as Jim Ross was quoted as saying in the old WWE “Don’t Try This At Home” video, “The hazards are real.”
ESPN affiliate, FiveThirtyEight, did an analysis of WWE superstar deaths a few years ago that concluded wrestlers to be far more likely to die young than the average person and also more likely to die young than athletes who competed in any other major sporting endeavor, most notably the NFL. No amount of safety measures can change the very nature of high impact sports like pro wrestling and American football, and so to know all of this and to have seen the aftermath with my own two eyes is a fundamental problem for me that pits my pastimes against my empathy. Every time I see a wrestler do something akin to Cesaro diving between the ropes to the outside and purposefully nailing his head on the floor, hammered simultaneously by his full body weight, I wonder if it would not be better for Vince McMahon to pioneer some sort of avatar-type system that would keep his real-life superstars out of the ring altogether, exhibiting genius beyond comprehension as e-gaming was essentially hybridized with sports and entertainment as we knew it; maybe that is how the XFL would defeat the NFL too.
This train of thought has long proven a rabbit hole for me, but insomuch as I occasionally long to have just taken the figurative blue pill, I think that it is important to have these conversations stimulated by having taken the red pill. I sometimes feel like Neo fighting the makers of the Medtrix within our current healthcare system, which is part of the reason I so rarely get personal in my columns; I need wrestling to serve the primary purpose that it has served in my life since my parents divorced when I was six and I first binge-watched Coliseum Home Video productions – I need it to be my escape. The problem is that nobody has prevented Sasha Banks from repeated examples of masochism, which leads me to believe that the people responsible for said prevention are either sadists (not unfathomable) or just totally ignorant (more likely). Can someone please remind that woman that she is among the best character wrestlers in the business and that she has already proven to as easily be able to work the crowd into frenzy while laying on the mat with a grimace on her face, pretending to pull as hard as she can on someone’s head and neck, therefore rendering the cheap thrills of her “Holy Shit” spots unnecessary?
Disconnecting my brain from these thoughts all the time is impossible. I have worked with current and former football players and I have seen test results on former professional wrestlers from colleagues and, trust me when I share with you that tau protein build-up in the brain (the hallmark finding in the on-going CTE studies) is one of only a dozen different downside responses to repetitive trauma; for example, the inflammation in their bodies – used to begin the healing process for damaged tissue (among other things) – is off the charts by comparison to the rest of us because they are in a constant state of repair, and their x-rays and MRIs reveal sometimes eighty years’ worth of the degenerative change seen in an average person by the time these athletes are forty years old. If you were to get in a head-on collision tomorrow, God forbid, then you would be given ample time to recuperate and you may never experience a trauma of that severity again. It has been said that the average pro football player undergoes thirty head-on collisions per game; considering that pro wrestlers do not have the luxury of pads, helmets, or time-outs, it would be safe to say that their situations are even more dire, hence their alarming mortality statistics.
At least when I see Sasha almost die again, I can assume that she has much higher-earning potential as one of the top 5 females in WWE during a peak period for women’s wrestling. If she isn’t yet making Sheamus money (north of $1 million per year), then I would assume that she soon will be, which means that with smart financial planning she might be able to afford the care that she will eventually need. It offers, admittedly, little comfort as compared to $2.5 million per year earners, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, who are very well compensated for putting their bodies so consistently at risk in this day and age when it would almost be sacrilege not to come off the top rope at least five times in a ten-minute television match. Jesus, do cruiserweight downside guarantees equal even 10% of that? Randy “The Ram” Robinson (from The Wrestler) comes to mind when I think about Cedric Alexander types, living in a trailer park by 2035 and barely hanging onto a job at the deli-counter of a supermarket after years of physical abuse. Sasha’s ill-advised crashes and burns are often met with thunderous appreciation from engaged audiences, so at least she has the temporary rush of the crowd going wild for her when weighing risks versus rewards, but cruiserweights doing some sort of somersault plancha to the buzz of the venue’s air conditioner as WWE enthusiasts head to the concession stands or exits? Is that worth the pain and probable future agony?
I feel like I could keep you here in Wonderland, act like Morpheus, and show you how the deep the rabbit hole really goes (to Chris Benoit, to the indy style of wrestling, to a pro wrestler union to the independent contractor status of WWE superstars, etc.), but if I go any further, you might witness the stimulus for “The Doc” Chad Matthews disappearing from the scene, no longer able to support something so inherently masochistic. The great irony of my wrestling fandom is that, inside my mind, an internal battle of Pontiac Silverdome, Hogan vs. Andre proportions constantly takes place between my otherwise unadulterated love for sports entertainment and my deeply ingrained passion to see some reason reintroduced to healthcare, beginning with the instillation of a proactive, wellness-based paradigm shift that might very well keep wrestlers out of the ring and football players off of the field as a by-product. Most of the time, the irresistible force slams the immoveable object safely into my subconscious. Then, Sasha takes flight, and I again wonder if she will live to see the day when her purple hair should be turning gray.