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LOOKING AT THE PASSING OF SHANNON SPRUILL, IT'S TIME FOR MENTAL HEALTH WELLNESS TO BE INSTITUTED BY ALL MAJOR COMPANIES

By Mike Johnson on 2021-09-02 16:05:00

The passing of Shannon Claire Spruill aka Daffney is going to spur a lot of talk about professional wrestling and how it treats its current and former talents as well as the importance of mental health.  

It’s not an easy discussion as every person and every situation is different, but if Spruill's passing after taking her own life yesterday can have any meaning for those who cared about her, it’s important to discuss.

Today there are many who appreciated and loved Spruill, not as a performer, but as a friend, who are grieving.  Many saw the live social media stream Spruill started before her passing, immediately calling and messaging her to attempt to reason with their friend, getting voicemail and zero responses instead.

Today, they have talked about their memories of working and socializing with Shannon but also the fact that she was dealing with ongoing mental health issues that were greatly accentuated (and perhaps even borne from) her time in professional wrestling.  

Spruill first entered the wrestling business when she was hired in the late 1990s by World Championship Wrestling as the psycho girlfriend of David Flair, eventually becoming part of trio with “Crowbar” Chris Ford.  She was with the company until it shut down, being physically involved but not training as a wrestler until after she was hired by the company.

Although WWE gave her several tryouts after the end of WCW, Spruill was not hired until July 2003, having a short run in WWE developmental.  Prior to that run, she also appeared in Ring of Honor as the manager of CM Punk. 

Spruill also had several runs with TNA Wrestling with the second ending unceremoniously after the company let her contract expire after Spruill filed a lawsuit against them regarding the company handling of medical bills that they were supposed to cover after Spruill was injured working for them – once after suffering a concussion taking a crazy bump during a PPV where she crashed through a table covered in barbed wire and another when she was hurt on a TV taping and suffered sternum injuries as well as another concussion.

The lawsuit was based around Spruill's injuries at the Bound for Glory 2009 PPV, which according to the documents exceeded over $26,000.  In the lawsuit, Spruill alleged that TNA made a $600 payment on the bill.  When Spruill received a letter requesting payment for the balance, she alleged then-TNA Executive Terry Taylor told her that the company would pay the remainder.  TNA did not, leading to Spruill receiving several more demands for payment.  Spruill also claimed that one letter stated that TNA had declined to pay the balance, citing her as an "independent contractor", despite what she had been told by Taylor.

The lawsuit also alleged that TNA's Texas attorney (Texas, at the time, was where their parent company was based) had advised the company to delay payment in an attempt to eventually settle the debt for a smaller amount.  Spruill's side claimed to have proof of this via emails forwarded by Taylor to Spruill. As a result of this, and the Texas TNA attorney negotiating a smaller payment with the medical provider, Spruill's side had the attorney named as a witness in the case and requested he provide a deposition.  

The attorney argued that the emails used violated his attorney-client privileges with TNA, but the court ruled that those privileges ended when Taylor (a third party) forwarded the emails to Spruill.  The lawsuit also alleged that TNA did eventually settle the claim in the amount of $8,000 but not before Spruill had to deal with being called by creditors and receiving additional material demanding payment, for a period of over a year.

The lawsuit was settled just after the court ruled that Spruill's attorney could depose then-TNA President Dixie Carter and that the court was willing to hear arguments on whether Spruill and other wrestlers were actually employees vs. independent contractors.  A mediation meeting was set and just before the hearing, the two sides came to a confidential settlement in March 2013.

At the time of her settlement, Spruill wrote, in a message to fans via Twitter, "I appreciate so much that you recognize the HUGE injustice that is being done to Professional Wrestlers throughout the industry. I hope my case has opened up a few blind eyes and maybe now we, the wrestlers who put our bodies on the line every time we step in the ring, are one step closer to being provided with medical coverage and all the benefits that go along with being a true employee and not an independent contractor."

Spruill never regularly wrestled after her settlement with the company but remained active on the independent scene managing for SHIMMER Women's Wrestling and being involved as a host and personality for Florida's SHINE Wrestling.   She appeared regularly at pro wrestling conventions and for a time, worked for Highspots in North Carolina.

In 2012, she was involved in a serious car accident after her car hydroplaned in Florida and at the time, felt that had she not been wearing her seatbelt, she would have been killed in the wreck.

In January 2017, Spruill underwent neck fusion surgery to fuse her C-5 and C-6 vertebrae in order to fix an extrusion that was pressing upon her spinal column.  At the time, Spruill noted on her Facebook page that she had been dealing with pain for some time, to the point she could not think straight or sleep, even with medication.  After getting an epidural and finding that it didn’t relieve any of her pain, she was sent to spinal surgeon by her pain management doctor.  The doctor examined her and immediately scheduled the surgery.

“This whole thing seems surreal and it's not really sinking in, yet I've been thinking hard on it and can honestly say that I'm at peace with everything, “ wrote Spruill at the time.  “Isn't neck surgery a rite of passage for a professional wrestler anyway?”

It seems equally surreal that just four years later, Spruill is gone.  In speaking with friends of Spruill today, several felt that a major issue was that Spruill just didn’t have, despite their best efforts and love, the type of support staff that was needed consistently to help her maintain her mental health.  Some blamed the injuries from TNA, feeling she was never truly the same due to the after-effects of those injuries.  Others simply wished there was something they could have done.

Mental health is war inside a never-ending slippery slope when someone is in a troubled place. There is no mathematical solution that proves to be the perfect course-correction for everyone.  Every patient, every circumstance, every chemical imbalance is different and unique to that one person.  There is no blanket therapy or medication or even assistance that everyone can turn to when they are dealing with their issues.

What we do know is that when it comes to the scales of Spruill’s life, pro wrestling did more to compound her issues than assist.  Whether you want to place blame on the bumps she took and the injuries that she accrued over the course of her life or not, there’s not one thing the pro wrestling industry at large did to help her in any way.

This is not to place any blame on WWE at all, but if Spruill had a drug addiction, she could have called the company and been whisked away to a rehab facility, free of charge.  So, if she needed mental help, shouldn’t she and others have the same offer extended to them given they were regularly taking bumps for a living?  

Bumps have been compared to putting your body through a car crash by some.  Every time someone takes one, they are smacking their brain against their skull, as well as the mat, the concrete, someone else’s body, a chair, a table, a barricade, whatever they are coming into contact with.  We know the end result of that - CTE.

WWE has tried their best to help current and former talents combat addiction issues.  It’s time for WWE and everyone else in a position of power in terms of importance in professional wrestling - AEW, Impact, MLW, whoever -  to enhance their current parameters to add and enhance whatever mental health programs they provide to current and former talents.    Some feel Spruill's health issues were directly related to her TNA injuries, so what if there had been some program that allowed her to go get monitored and evaluated in place?  Would it have helped?  We'll never know, because it doesn't exist.

Shannon Spruill’s passing was a tragedy, whether she was on TV yesterday, five years ago or 20 years ago.  Her time in professional wrestling shaped her life and the direction it took and while we can’t blame pro wrestling entirely, we do know this - had there been some sort of program that existed to help Spruill and others who may be walking a similar path, she may have had different choices to make.

That alone is reason enough for pro wrestling to take another overdue step forward, the same way WWE did in the wake of Eddy Guerrero’s death by instituting the Wellness Policy.  No program is above scrutiny, but that program alone saved the life of MVP by finding a cardiac issue he didn’t know existed.  Who might be saved if WWE begins making similar efforts for the sake of the mental health of those who worked and work for the company?

Guerrero's death forced WWE to grow up and begin to treat their performers different.  Shannon's death, even if it doesn't bring a potential Congressional spotlight, should do the same.

I call on every pro wrestling company to decide they are going to invest in the greater good and mental health of their most important asset - the performers - to insure their mental health, not just today but in the years to come when the spotlights and the cheering fans fade away, but the trauma of a life performing, and life in general, remains.

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