After months of speculation and a stream of glib, defensive sarcasm on part of WWE fans, we all have to finally admit that Daniel Bryan has retired from professional wrestling.
There’s a finality to that reality that wrestling fans simply aren’t used to. Such closure is uncomfortable, a squirming feeling that comes from an inability to tune in next week and see what happens next.
As fans wrestling fans we’re trained from the beginning to expect a payoff to come later. There’s always next week. A new episode of RAW. A new cycle to begin; a never-ending parade of emotion, fisticuffs, and twenty minute promos.
Perhaps that is why so many people were insistent that Bryan’s retirement had to be a story line. After all, everything else has been up for grabs as story material, even the “death” of Vince McMahon.
Alas, the show is over and the American Dragon has left the spotlight for the last time.
It’s the kind of non-closure that only longtime soap opera viewers and fans of short-lived cartoons such as Young Justice can relate to. This is the end of Bryan Danielson’s story as a performer, but the start of a new tale in a life that has been saved from the savagery and abuse that comes with entertaining millions of fans across the world in professional wrestling.
The silver lining at the end of this sad tale is that Daniel Bryan, by retiring now, has possibly saved himself and his family the future pain that comes along with decades of physical damage and pushing oneself far past the breaking point. Former WWE superstar Edge retired in 2011 under similar circumstances, days after winning the WWE Championship at WrestleMania.
In his own retirement speech, Edge voiced a similar thought: Don’t feel bad for the world famous but physically damaged performer. He had received a second lease on life and a chance at post-wrestling peace that the likes of Eddie Guerrero and Andre the Giant were never granted.
It’s in that thought where wrestling fans are more than willing to let go of a modern day legend like Daniel Bryan, but it’s also where many people find themselves questioning the very fandom we hold onto so tightly.
There’s been a lot of talk about how well WWE has handled the Bryan concussion situation and that the NFL could learn a lesson from the wrestling promotion. On the outside this seems to hit the nail on the head, as the NFL’s own struggles with injury and how they’re handled after the fact have been well documented.
For many fans, including myself, the NFL has turned to metaphorical offal in the mouths of fans who can no longer stomach watching the barbarism and physical damage that professional football players suffer, all in the name of a sport that brings in an ungodly amount of money.
With more concussion lawsuits to come as the bodies of more former NFL players pile up, the evidence against the NFL becomes too much to bare. I grew up a football fan and have spent years of my life and vast amounts of money to enjoy the product. In light of the damage that players such as Junior Seau, Ken Stabler, and even the 27 year-old Tyler Sash have suffered, I simply can’t watch the game I used to love in the same way.
It’s simply too hard. Consider my internal shock this past week when I found myself having a similar reaction to Daniel Bryan.
In an attempt to remember what happened at last year’s WWE Fastlane event, I went back and watched Bryan versus Roman Reigns. What I found — and I’ve experienced this with much of Bryan’s past work now — was how uncomfortable I felt watching this wonderful man take such physical abuse, surely leading to the damage that would rob him of his career.
Every diving headbutt and each striking blow was another reminder that the blind eye I turn to the physical toll of professional wrestling is equal to the ones I extol from the NFL.
It hurts, leaving me confused and questioning my own integrity. After all, I’ve found it so easy to assault the NFL’s standards and practices, hiding behind an iron wall of lawyers for the sake of their own revenue, yet have been a-okay with the terrible treatment of WWE’s “independent contractors.”
With the plague of injuries in the last year to WWE performers, it’s more apparant than ever that professional wrestlers are taking a dire toll to their health and future well-being, all in the name of making it to the big stage.
Don’t take the injuries of former independent darlings such as Hideo Itami, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, and dozens more so lightly; They’ve paid a price for pushing their bodies so hard in promotions such as Ring of Honor, ICW, and New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Yet, I have no intentions of giving up on professional wrestling or giving football another chance. These two statements are diametrically opposed and hypocritical, yet here we are.
The only thing I can say in defense of my internal dialog on what violence is fine and which is too much is that I’m only human. We draw these lines all the time, searching to quiet the empathetic barbs while choosing to ignore those that we find more palatable and worthy of our concern.
It’s the same way that I don’t fault someone who cares more about dogs and cats in animal shelters than the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Likewise, I hold no ill-will to my friends who are diehard football fans, putting up with my inane jabbering about how soulless and vile football has become.
It’s just the way the world is. None of us are saints, merely lost and fragile people who try to do the right thing in half-measures, all in an attempt to be excellent to our fellow man while still holding onto our sanity.
I’ll continue to do the same. Sami Zayn will fly over the top rope onto the waiting bodies of his opponent this Wednesday night and I’ll watch in awe and agony. I’ll groan in displeasure when the next dead football player is revealed to have CTE.
And I’ll think about Daniel Bryan, who made his choice to entertain fans all over the world doing the thing he loved most and who has been given a new lease on life. A chance at having what professional wrestlers rarely receive.
A happy ending.
Will Harrison is a wrestling enthusiast, as well as a video game critic in Toledo, Ohio. Contact him on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison or via email at BackLogAdventures@Gmail.Com.