TNA’s Daffney, Injuries, and Low Confidence in Athletics

Last week, a story broke about TNA Wrestling performer Shannon Claire Spruill (much better known as Daffney) and her problems with management in regard to on-the-job injuries. She has filed a lawsuit against the company. Cageside Seats had the most thorough account: 

It’s a grisly list by any standards: a serious concussion at Bound For Glory 2009 after she was chokeslammed from the ring apron by Abyss onto a barb-wire board, another concussion in her program with Tara after she got clobbered on the head with a toolbox, and then a deeply bruised sternum, a severe stinger and yet another concussion in the now infamous try-out, dark match for indie wrestler Miss Betsy after a botched sunset flip.

I’m not going to go over every detail of Spruill’s case, as I’m not only not a lawyer, but primary sources for this information are difficult to come by. Instead, I will focus on offering an argument about injuries and poor work environments. 

First, I will use an example from a similar art form: The circus. From What the circus can teach us about Sports Injuries:

Scientists have long believed that emotional factors play a part in whether a person sustains a sports-related injury, but the role of confidence has been controversial. Some studies have found a correlation between robust self-confidence and physical harm, perhaps because a bulletproof ego can lead to risk-taking.

From the study itself, Psychological predictors of injuries in circus artists: an exploratory study, the results were as follows:

Results Of the five a priori exposures of interest, injury, emotional exhaustion, self-efficacy and fatigue were associated with an increase in injury risk (risk ratios between 1.8 and 2.8), but Conflicts/Pressure was not (risk ratio=0.8). Of the several specific psychological aspects that are considered risk factors for injury, low self-efficacy had the strongest relationship.

This study is interesting not because of the findings, but because of its mere existence. Cirque performances are considered interesting enough to scholars that studies have gone into their physical and psychological well-being. As of the publication of this article, almost no studies have explored the psychological effects of professional wrestling. 

But the study’s results are interesting. Self confidence has an effect on physical performance, with the least confident subjects reporting more injuries. 

Did Spruill suffer from low confidence, which led to taking unnecessary risks and injury? It’s possible. But what led to the low confidence? Before joining TNA, Spruill was a successful wrestler on the indie circuit, where she played an enjoyable character stemmed from her work in WCW since 1999. I don’t know her injury record during that time, but one has to assume she was well enough to perform all those years. Though she never “made it big,” in WWE, Spruill has always been a well-liked performer in the craft. 

But I believe the “low confidence,” if it existed, came from working for TNA, a company long known for allowing (and possibly encouraging) their performers to take unnecessarily “hardcore” risks to their bodies. Every marquee match in TNA is built around heightened danger, often literally. The number of times a performer like Frank Kazarian has fallen from over ten feet onto no visible padding is alarming. Spruill, who played a “hardcore”-style female wrestler, was known for utilizing foreign objects, tacks, tables, and chairs, which is rare in female wrestling. While WWE, their main competitor (though TNA is hardly WWE’s competitor) has banned blood and masks their brutal-looking moments with smoke and mirrors (the 20-plus chairs that fell on Wade Barret last December actually fell on a steel table above him, for example), TNA still “entertains” fans with death-defying maneuvers, stunts, and gore-filled contests filled with weapons. As well, WWE has built a phenomenal record of taking care of injured performers, while TNA’s track record is spotty at best. Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the company by former performers (Konnan’s being the best example). 

But perhaps the low confidence, if that is in any way the case, comes from discrimination. At the same time that Spruill was injured and filed the lawsuit, TNA was telling a story about concussions and the importance of athletes taking better care of themselves (sorta, kinda, anyway). It was, in my estimation, the most important story TNA has told in years. Yet while Matt Morgan rallied against “management” for forcing its workers to work hurt, the actual management expected Spruill to work hurt. 

Discrimination in athletics is in no way confined to professional wrestling. In 2010, The University of California-Davis was hit with a discrimination lawsuit for cutting its female wrestling program. This example is only one of many, and we are a long, long way off from women and men competing (and, evidently, performing) on equal grounds. 

This isn’t the end of this article, though it’s all I can do today. Further research will go into this. I hope Spruill will be okay. 

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