Former WWE world champion Rob Van Dam recently spoke to Wrestling Inc. on a recent episode of our WINCLY podcast. During his conversation with Wrestling Inc. managing editor Nick Hausman, RVD opened up about his experiences with concussions.
Van Dam is the subject of an upcoming documentary titled "Headstrong." In the film, he discusses concussions in-depth, but that's not what the film was supposed to be about. He said the original plan was to follow his seven-day stand-up comedy tour, but lingering concussion symptoms forced him to face those struggles head-on.
"The actual filming of the documentary is something that intended to be one thing and then turned out to be something completely different, and when you watch it that's exactly how we put it together because that's how life gave it to me. I thought we were just gonna bring the camera and film the road trip of doing a seven-day comedy tour, like hey that sounds cool. But I showed up and I still had symptoms of a concussion that I got a few nights before it," Van Dam said. "I kept thinking every day, 'I'm sure it'll be gone tomorrow, I'm not even gonna talk about it on the documentary.' But every day it didn't go away for the tour, so it ended up being something much bigger that we follow in the movie and it kind of changes what it was initially about, but I think it'll reach a lot of people. That's the kind of subject that's a 'no-no' to talk about in the industry now, at least from the higher-ups. But that's not what RVD is about."
RVD said concussions are a taboo subject in the professional wrestling business because of the late Chris Benoit. After Benoit murdered his wife and son and killed himself, research found that Benoit suffered from CTE, and that raised the question of how many wrestlers are performing while being affected by concussions.
"The way it was introduced to us as talent, because we didn't know much about it, was unfortunately through the Chris Benoit incident. Around that time, Chris Nowinski, who studies brains up in Boston, he got a hold of Chris Benoit's brain from his dad and he studied it and he said what he found was that it was the brain of a very old man with dementia because of the wear and tear and the damage on the brain, the top protein deposits," Van Dam said. "It was something they'd been studying with football players for years and they knew that 99 percent of the brains they tested in the NFL from people who had the high-impact concussions in their career showed what they were looking at was called CTE. It became controversial right away because WWE denied it and said it didn't have anything to do with that."
WWE Chairman Vince McMahon's defense against his performers suffering from CTE was questioning how could they handle daily functions and their professional duties like constant travel and performing if they are suffering from something like that. Van Dam said he agrees with that and thinks there's a lot more studying that needs to be done before people look for someone to blame. He mentioned the class-action lawsuit against the WWE, saying he isn't a part of it because he doesn't have CTE.
"That's why it's controversial, because when it's mentioned, there's 'Who to blame?' attached to it. There's this class-action lawsuit that has a lot of wrestlers attached to it. They sued the NFL and won big money, and with the same structured suit they're going after the WWE saying that the higher-ups knew that they were causing long-term brain damage by ignoring concussions or forcing wrestlers to wrestle when they had concussions already," he said. "I can say I've never been a part of that, I never told anybody that I had a concussion because that's the way I was brought up. If you can still wrestle, then you're not hurt, so don't tell anybody that you're hurt because then you're not gonna work. That's an old-school mentality, but I definitely don't have anybody to blame but myself. And also, I'm not a candidate anyway because I don't have CTE, so for a lot of reasons I don't mind talking about it. But it is controversial, it's something people are afraid to talk about because they want to lay blame."
RVD admitted to having hundreds of concussions over the course of his career. He said once he found out from Nowinski that having a concussion means being altered in any way, whether it's feeling dizzy or a loss of hearing or anything similar, he feels like he endured that hundreds of times. He commended the current practices in which doctors are present to check on superstars who may have sustained a head injury. Despite the amount of concussions he's had, he said he feels like he is in good shape both physically and mentally.
"Once I found that out, I started thinking about all the times Balls Mahoney whacked me with a chair, and I'd take a second and I'd be like, 'Whoa!' Sometimes everything is in slow motion, sometimes the sound is out just for a couple of seconds. That happened hundreds and hundreds of times during my matches, and I just kept on going and ignored it," he said. "Now, they want to pull you aside and make sure you're OK because that's a pretty big thing, which I didn't know back then and now I do know that. But I feel fine now, to answer your question, I feel great mentally and physically."
You can see more of Rob Van Dam in his new documentary, "Headstrong." It released last week on iTunes.
Rob Van Dam's full WINCLY interview can be heard in the embedded audio player below. Subscribe to Wrestling Inc. Audio on iTunes or Google Play. Listen to the show via Spotify here or through TuneIn here.