You’d think people working in the world of professional wrestling, where parties are insulted routinely in screaming matches, hit with steel chairs, thrown through tables, and subject to backstage “ribs*,” a treating physician working on wrestlers would build a little thicker skin than most.
Apparently, you’d be wrong. On February 19, 2015, Christopher Amann, a doctor working with World Wrestling Entertainment, filed a defamation suit against former WWE star Phillip “CM Punk” Brooks and independent wrestler/podcaster Scott “Colt Cabana” Colton. The lawsuit in Cook County Court seeks at least one million dollars compensatory and an undetermined amount of punitive damages against Brooks and Colton, claiming the two depicted Amann in a false light and insinuating a “lack of integrity…or competence to perform his duties as a medical doctor” during an episode of Colton’s “Art of Wrestling” podcast released over the weekend of Thanksgiving, 2014.
What are these claims, exactly? Let’s go through the short form version. I’ll note that I’m paraphrasing heavily, and doing so from memory, as it’s been some time that I actually listened to the show in question:
Brooks claimed during the Art of Wrestling episode in question Amann failed to diagnose a baseball sized lump on his back as a MRSA infection or to excise said lump, treating this lump with antibiotics (Azithromycin or “Z-Packs”).
Brooks claimed Amann failed to diagnose a concussion properly, brushing the concussion off and telling Punk to work an event.
Brooks claimed Amann didn’t know how to treat a concussion properly, and attempted to do so with heavy doses of Azithromycin.
Brooks claimed he was repeatedly cleared to perform at house shows and live “pay-per-view” events despite being hurt and sick on numerous occasions, and not treated properly or even in a condition to perform at the level required of a professional wrestler. Brooks stated these clearances came at the hands of Dr. Amann.
WWE fans last saw Brooks in the ring at the 2014 Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View event. He left the company shortly following that show, and remained silent on social media and in the press until Thanksgiving of 2014, when the Art of Wrestling podcast in question went online and broke the internet in ways Kim Kardashian could only dream of. Colton claimed later on social media and on his podcast he did the episode as a means of providing fans closure for Brooks’ wrestling career and giving the self-styled “Voice of the Voiceless” a safe place to vent his grievances with a company and a business into which he’d poured his heart and soul.
Does the suit have merit? IS CM PUNK LIBEL? It’s hard to say at this point, especially when I have yet to see a copy of the complaint Amann filed. I can tell you I’ve heard the podcast episode in question like any other wrestling fan, and from my opinion CM Punk came across as someone who was bitter and hadn’t had a chance to talk about issues truly bothering his conscience in some time. Since the comments in question were made by a former WWE independent contractor about a WWE employee, I had some concerns World Wrestling Entertainment might make a play to silence Brooks through some form of defamation suit. Potentially harmful comments weren’t just made about Amann; Brooks made statements that could be considered defamation against Vince McMahon, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, “Guardians of the Galaxy” star Dave Bautista, and Ryan “Ryback” Reeves, to name just a few. Interestingly, though, famed McMahon family attorney Jerry McDevitt didn’t file the suit and from what I can tell isn’t coming in pro hac vice on behalf of WWE. Amann chose the firm of Deutsch, Levy & Engel in Chicago for representation. It looks like at this time the matter will solely focus on the statements Brooks made against Amann and WWE will wash their hands of the matter.
As far as Colton, I’m not sure where his liability on this matter is concerned, unless it centers around providing a platform for Brooks to voice his grievances over Dr. Amann and WWE. If that’s the case–and I do mean IF–then I think Amann may be barking up the wrong tree for the sake of litigation. There may be a case against Brooks from this outsider’s perspective; Colton may be just fine.
It’s also of note the Ultimate Fighting Championships and its parent company, Zuffa, have yet to comment on the matter. Brooks announced shortly after the Thanksgiving episode of the Art of Wrestling he’d signed a deal to fight as a mixed martial artist with the UFC. I am unfamiliar with the way the UFC’s structure works; I assume their fighters are independent contractors just as WWE wrestlers are independent contractors, so unless this becomes a matter which directly involves UFC interests it looks like Brooks will be on his own against Amann’s legal team. The same goes for Colton, who is an “independent contractor” in the truest sense of the word; “Colt Cabana” has been an independent wrestler working booked gigs for many years.
The suit was filed on the 19th. Yesterday. Right now it’s too early to play internet lawyer and make lots of uninformed decisions about this case. Let’s all sit back and watch, though; the spectacle that is this lawsuit could prove to be more interesting than any angle WWE’s cooked up in about a year.
Update: It looks like World Wrestling Entertainment will take a page from Patsy Cline and stand by their man. Danielle Matheson of the pro wrestling news and comedy site “With Spandex” announced WWE has entered the fray with their first official statement.
In light of CM Punk’s allegations regarding WWE’s medical staff and the subsequent defamation lawsuit filed by Dr. Amann against CM Punk, WWE continues to have the utmost confidence in the ability and expertise of our world-class team of physicians, including Dr. Amann.
CM Punk claimed this past November that during the Royal Rumble pay-per-view event on January 26, 2014 he performed with a baseball-sized, purple lump on his back located near the waistband of his tights.
WWE’s investigation has shown the following:
– CM Punk did not discuss this alleged condition with WWE’s team of physicians and trainers, nor did he discuss it with anyone in our Talent Relations department.
– Subsequently, WWE has no medical records documenting this alleged condition.
– The first time WWE was made aware of this alleged condition was when we received a letter from CM Punk’s attorney on August 22, 2014 after WWE terminated his contract.
– There is clear video evidence from the 2014 Royal Rumble, which allows all to decide whether there is any appearance of a baseball-sized growth on CM Punk’s back.
Click the link above if you want to see WWE’s “clear video evidence,” which as Danielle succinctly points out is little more than a montage of CM Punk’s butt from the 2014 Royal Rumble match. After careful review of the evidence (for perfectly legal reasons), I don’t see any baseball sized lump near the waistband of Mr. Brooks’ tights. Keep in mind though, the lump could have been lower than the videos show, and concealed by the waistband of the tights. This is also a tape prepared by the WWE, and I’m
pretty safe in believing this is material prepared in contemplation of a trial.
I think WWE is considering whether they should back Amann because they want their performers to have the utmost confidence in the medical team administering treatment. If you’re not too familiar with the business, World Wrestling Entertainment has touted their “Wellness” program following the deaths of several high profile talents, including Chris Benoit and Eddie Guererro. The fan base hasn’t done much to support Dr. Amann; when WWE star Glenn “Kane” Jacobs was seen wrestling with a lump on his back following the release of the AoW podcast that is the subject of this suit the crowd began chanting “staph infection.” If the boys in the back don’t trust the doctor who is chiefly responsible for their care, they could go outside the company for treatment–to their detriment and the company’s–and that might constitute real harm to Amann, his practice, and World Wrestling Entertainment.
Keep in mind we still have yet to hear from Phil Brooks, Scott Colton, or their respective legal teams. It’s been three days since the filing of this suit, and we should still be in an acceptable time frame for the service of an answer on Amann. This is the opening series of moves, and as I said earlier it’s hard to make accurate predictions as to where this lawsuit between what are sure to be highly experienced legal professionals will go next.
I do plan on continuing coverage though. You can’t stop a law nerd and a pro wrestling nerd from geeking out when two favored subjects collide.
*Note: A “rib” is a practical joke.