World Wrestling Entertainment Doctor Sues Punk and Cabana for Defamation
Former World Wrestling Entertainment Superstar CM Punk and wrestler/podcaster Colt Cabana were served with a cold dose of reality last February in the form of a defamation lawsuit filed by WWE ringside doctor Christopher Amann. The lawsuit arises from a series of allegations made by Punk on Cabana’s popular Art of Wrestling podcast over Thanksgiving weekend last year.
Punk Claims History of Medical Neglect
Punk, a mainstay of the WWE main event scene for years, left the company abruptly in January 2014 with no notice or explanation to fans. The reasons for Punk’s departure were the subject of rumor and speculation for nearly a year, before he finally went public on Cabana’s show. Punk and Cabana, longtime friends, had a very frank and candid conversation about Punk’s dissatisfaction with how the WWE treated its wrestlers on both a personal and professional level.
Among Punk’s revelations were allegations that Amman either misdiagnosed or refused to treat a persistent staph infection that eventually spiraled out of control. Punk intimated that laziness and a focus on fitness for work—not wellness—were Amann’s motivations. Punk went into detail on the podcast, talking extensively about informing Amann of the cyst on his back and receiving Z-packs to treat the “fatty cell,” as Punk claims Amann called it. Punk also alleged that Amann failed to follow proper concussion protocol and declared him fit for in-ring work when he should have been medically disqualified from performing.
WWE Defends Its Ringside Doctor
Amann, in a lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago, denies Punk’s claims and states that the alleged improper treatment and diagnoses never happened. Amann filed a two count complaint and is seeking in excess of $2 million in damages from Punk and Cabana.
In a rare move, the WWE (NYSE: WWE) itself weighed in on the suit. The publicly-traded corporation issued the following statement:
In light of CM Punk’s allegations regarding WWE’s medical staff and the subsequent defamation lawsuit filed by Dr. Amann against CM Punk, WWE continues to have the utmost confidence in the ability and expertise of our world-class team of physicians, including Dr. Amann.
CM Punk claimed this past November that during the Royal Rumble pay-per-view event on January 26, 2014 he performed with a baseball-sized, purple lump on his back located near the waistband of his tights.
WWE’s investigation has shown the following:
- CM Punk did not discuss this alleged condition with WWE’s team of physicians and trainers, nor did he discuss it with anyone in our Talent Relations department.
- Subsequently, WWE has no medical records documenting this alleged condition.
- The first time WWE was made aware of this alleged condition was when we received a letter from CM Punk’s attorney on August 22, 2014 after WWE terminated his contract.
- There is clear video evidence from the 2014 Royal Rumble, which allows all to decide whether there is any appearance of a baseball-sized growth on CM Punk’s back.
Larger Repercussions for Podcasters?
On its face, the lawsuit isn’t all that interesting. Defamation lawsuits are a dime a dozen. In this instance, however, there are a few unique factors in play. Whether it is the first case of its type is unknown, but this is certainly the highest profile lawsuit ever filed against a podcaster. Cabana (real name Scott Colton) has a large audience—for a wrestling podcast. But the Punk podcast was watched over a million times on YouTube and listened to tens of thousands of times through SoundCloud, iTunes and any number of other delivery mechanisms. It transcended the niche world of professional wrestling and became mainstream news.
If the case doesn’t settle, it will be interesting to see just how the courts deal with a podcaster that provides a forum for alleged defamatory statements. Amman’s allegations against Cabana aren’t limited to Cabana providing the forum for Punk’s statements, but the courts’ potential handling of that particular issue could have a trickle-down effect on the podcast world. Podcasts are, for the most part, not journalistic endeavors, and podcasters—much like bloggers—generally don’t adhere to any source-checking or quality control policies. If Cabana is found to be liable for defamation, in whole or in part because he provided Punk with a forum, the case could have a chilling effect on podcasts.
The second interesting aspect of the case is WWE’s involvement. It is no secret that Punk and WWE reached a legal settlement releasing Punk from his contract and paving the way for him to sign a multi-fight deal with mixed martial arts juggernaut Ultimate Fighting Championship. Many pro wrestling bloggers and journalists have posited that Amman’s suit is WWE’s way of retaliating against Punk for the tell-all podcasts last November. Punk’s allegations were extremely damaging in the public eye. Vince McMahon, Chairman and CEO of WWE Inc., is not known for turning a blind eye to slights. If Punk and Cabana choose to pursue counter litigation, it is possible that the WWE could be dragged into the suit and further behind-the-scenes details could come to light.