By Stephanie Stahl
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — You’ve probably heard about the NFL concussion controversy. Now, pro wrestling is dealing with this issue, too. Two wrestlers from Pennsylvania say what happened in the ring gave them brain damage and they’re blaming the WWE.
Vito LoGrasso spent years in the ring he says, “At one time, I was one of the best.” Known as “Skull von Krush,” he mastered moves like the “brain buster” and the “face breaker.” “I’m famous for a diving headbut,” he says. Now 50 and living in Chester County, Vito is proud to show of all he’s accomplished. But now he’s fighting a different battle. He says doctors have told him he has brain damage. “The headaches, the deafness, the depression I suffer, I deal with it. It’s part of my life now,” LoGrasso says.
Vito and another former wrestler, Evan Singleton, are suing the WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, in Philadelphia federal court, claiming: “WWE’s use of weapons and elaborate staging make its wrestlers particularly susceptible to injuries, including brain damage.”
“They’re totally selling violence,” says attorney Harris Pogust who’s representing the wrestlers. He says the WWE scripted moves like slamming metal chairs into heads and holding matches in steel cages. Pogust says the WWE knew or should have known the risks, and done something to prevent injuries. “In the NFL, if you have a concussion they make you sit out. And if you have too many you can’t ever get back in the game. ….somebody’s got to say stop. Somebody’s got to say stop instead of keep enticing them to get back in.”
Concussions can be devastating. Dr. Doug Smith, who has not treated the wrestlers, is Director of Penn’s Center for Brain Injury. He says, “Traumatic brain injury is one of the strongest environmental risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease. It’s linked with earlier dementia.”
WATCH: Extended Interview With Dr. Doug Smith
Evan Singleton says, “I knew there was something wrong with me.” He’s 22 and depends on his mom to drive and help with bills. Donna Singleton says, “You never dream that you’re going to have a brain injury and that it’s going to have a negative impact on you for the rest of your life.” They say Evan has brain damage from being dropped on his head in one of his first matches. Even says, “I’m terrified… I don’t know what’s going to happen..What am I gonna do with the rest of my life? I’m scared.”
Jerry McDevitt who represents the WWE says, “They’re almost frivolous allegations.” He says the WWE did not conceal medical information. He says the simulated combat never called for “real” injuries in the ring. “It’s in the best interest of the company to take care of its talent because if the talent aren’t healthy, they can’t perform,” according to McDevitt. He also says the WWE took action as soon as doctors better understood the potential dangers of concussions, “The company has taken a look at some of the moves and maneuvers. Which ones of those can be finessed or perhaps even be eliminated… We’ve also brought in some of the best sports medicine doctors as part of our wellness program to be present at every WWE event.”
Vito and Evan say the WWE should be penalized financially and pay for the injuries they received and they want more medical monitoring for all wrestlers. Pogust says other wrestlers may also join the suit.