WWE: No One Is Above The Wellness Policy? by Marc Madison

On Tuesday June 21st, Joesph Anoai was suspended 30 days because of the WWE’s Wellness Policy. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, maybe his alias, Roman Reigns, will. After being suspended, Reigns took to social media to apologize for what had happened and accepted responsibility for it. He didn’t hide or try to justify it, but rather owned up to it and took full blame. The news was a shock not only to Reigns, but to the WWE fan base. Whether fans cheer or jeer him, they had to be understandably stunned at this announcement. We aren’t talking something that was an addiction or something that got to a point where the company was concerned. We are talking about a wrestler ingesting something in contravention of policy, and the result of his mistake was made public. While it isn’t necessarily fair to compare it to other offenses wrestlers have been guilty of in the past, it does make me wonder, why? The why isn’t directed towards Roman Reigns, but rather the WWE.

The evening before this announcement was made, the company officially announced that a triple threat match was going to be taking place between Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, the Shield triple threat match that was talked about happening for months if not years. Fans were all aware that, with Rollins’ injury and Reigns on the trajectory to the WWE title that a winner and a loser was almost a certainty. And now fans were finally going to have the opportunity to see the highly anticipated match at the next WWE major event, Battleground.

Over a period of 48 hours, Reigns lost the title at Money In The Bank, competed the next night on Raw, and then had his suspension announced Tuesday morning. In all likelihood, the powers that be were well aware of his violation prior to Money In The Bank, but the company wouldn’t deviate from the plan of having him defend the title, especially with what was riding on it, and the results that followed. There has to be a time to process the results of the drug test, and those results may have always been pending leading into Money In The Bank. The timing of it seems odd, though.

This isn’t the first time the company has suspended talent for breaking their wellness policy. The problem here is, what is truly gained by mentioning it publicly? They clearly have a zero tolerance policy, which is wonderful. However, to release that information to the masses with a talent you were trying to elevate to leadership in the company seems counter productive. The move may have in fact have been a calculated one, and not necessarily a bad one at that. Reigns has faced his fair share of criticism and the time away may be exactly what he needs. While it is unfortunate that the reason he will be off camera is what it is, it may be exactly what he needs while he’s away.

Roman Reigns

Despite fans’ inability to universally get behind Reigns character, he has done his part to try to develop. Even his biggest critics has to have seen the time he has put into developing both as a performer and a character. He has improved in the ring, but that’s beside the point. The challenge that Reigns will now face is the impending line of comments about his suspension. This suspension will hang over his head, and the constant reminder that he is guilty by a fan base that was already hard to convince doesn’t help. What if a major focal point like Reigns wasn’t guilty of something like taking a banned substance? What if Reigns was guilty of something much greater, for example domestic violence? Recently, the company suspended WWE hall of famer and Smackdown colour commentator Jerry “The King” Lawler and the recently released Adam Rose because of such incidents, and if we were to compare them the domestic violence charges are much more heinous in comparison. While one jeopardizes the health and well-being of one person, the other jeopardizes the health and well-being of a number of people.

Fans may recall the domestic violence charges laid against former WWE heavyweight champion Stone Cold Steve Austin by then wife Debra Marshall, to which he pled no contest. Marshall also shared that Austin used steroids, which in today’s WWE would be a violation of not only the wellness policy to go along with the issue of domestic violence. Marshall also said that the company told her to conceal all of this because it would have cost them millions of dollars. Comparing Austin’s legacy to Reigns isn’t fair, as one was arguably the most important wrestler for the company during a particular era, while the other is early in his push towards being that for this era of the company.

So, we are left to think that, at one time, the company supported someone who is abusive, either while abusing their body through the use of performance enhancing products, or abusing their family members. However, the turning point may have been the death of Chris Benoit. The double murder and suicide was tied by some to the use of performance enhancing substances. Could earlier awareness have led to prevention, and subsequent rehabilitation that Benoit needed? We would like to say yes; however, we will never know.

Unlike some cases in the past, when the company wasn’t willing to invite negative publicity on their top stars, they now seem prepared to acknowledge it themselves and put the information out there. It’s a bold move for the company, and one may be apprehensive of why they’d do it. However, it shows that the company will not put someone above conduct that could be considered detrimental to themselves or the company.

They often mention they are a publicly traded company. Still, they have left themselves open for criticism; If test results revealed that Reigns did something wrong, when was it in his system? Was there something in his system on the 19th? The advertised event of Reigns/Rollins was being built for weeks and weeks, with the result being Rollins winning the title. Did they know that a test could be taking place with Reigns? It could all be coincidental, and that in fact the company very well had no idea that this was going to happen. However, once they found out, they had to see that in some way this was going to be a public relations nightmare.

At times we make mistakes in order to succeed. Does the pressure to achieve and merit being put in a position where millions of dollars are invested in you be what drives you to make those decisions? Reigns is employed by a powerful company, with an exorbitant amount of pressure on someone that is just over thirty years of age. Is the pressure so difficult to deal with that he is guilty of making a bad choice? He is a father and husband, and is part of a family that has had a longstanding history in wrestling. It is without a doubt a black mark on Reigns because of his family ties.

It just doesn’t seem to make sense and yet it still happened. He made no excuses for his behaviour, and while it could be a simple mistake, he still made it and therefore should be punished because of it. Some ask the question, if you make a mistake and apologize are you upset you got caught, or are you sincerely upset and know that what you did was wrong? This transgression may be forgiven with time and understanding; if his target demographic are kids between the ages of 5-11, then it may easily fly under the radar because they aren’t normally the ones surfing news stories on WWE.com.

Roman Reigns John Cena

There are a couple of trains of thought that could be followed after this. For one, the company was well prepared for the fallout because as it appears the overall health of the roster is improving. With the return of John Cena, Seth Rollins, and Randy Orton soon, it appears this won’t hurt them as a product. When Dean Ambrose captured the WWE World Heavyweight title, it was about as celebrated by fans as any championship win in recent memory. Putting the title on Ambrose was well deserved; he is consistent in the ring and works hard daily at it. The most important factor now will be his ability to connect with the fan base now. It was something that the company hoped would have happened with Reigns, but sadly has not happened.

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