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Former Wrestlers Sue, Say WWE Ignored Injuries

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Two fighters who used to perform for World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE, are suing the company, alleging that it ignored signs of brain damage. NPR's Jasmine Garsd has more.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: The lawsuit was filed by Vito "Big Vito" Lograsso and Evan Singleton, who wrestled as Adam Mercer. It alleges that they both suffered serious neurological damage, with symptoms like memory loss and convulsions, as a result of fighting. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, associated with repeated concussions. It's been known for years to affect boxers, and more recently, NFL players. It's linked to depression, impulse control problems and dementia.

CHRIS NOWINSKI: When done properly, nobody should ever get hurt, and no one should ever be hit in the head.

GARSD: That's former WWE wrestler, Chris Nowinski. In 2007, he founded the Sports Legacy Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on CTE. Nowinski offers an example of how wrestling has evolved. It's the chair shot - you know, the one where one fighter hits the other with a chair.

NOWINSKI: Twenty or 30 years ago, everybody put their hand up on a chair shot, and it would never hit you in the head.

GARSD: But then, he says, a rival wrestling company took it further.

NOWINSKI: And they actually let themselves get hit in the head.

GARSD: Nowinski says, these days, both wrestlers and companies understand the dangers of concussions. Charles LaDuca, the lawyer representing Lograsso and Mercer, say that's not true.

CHARLES LADUCA: WWE deliberately creates and heightens the violence of these matches in order to heat up the audiences and increase the profit.

GARSD: He claims the WWE discouraged his clients from seeking medical help when they get injured, making the damage worse.

JERRY MCDEVITT: You could put what those lawyers know about wrestling in a thimble and it would not overflow.

GARSD: Jerry McDevitt is WWE's legal counsel. He says Adam Mercer actually received ample medical attention, and that chair move isn't just dangerous, it's banned. And he says WWE is...

MCDEVITT: Way ahead of the curve on concussions, and have been for years.

GARSD: The suit is seeking monetary damage and medical monitoring. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.