By Michael Battista
Children sometimes view athletes as super heros. The colorful uniforms, amazing feats and personalities of these performers make us truly believe that they are unstoppable.
We often forget that they are human, that they are just as frail as we are and that their bodies are machines that can only take so much punishment.
On Monday, Feb. 8, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) superstar Daniel Bryan (whose real name is Bryan Danielson) announced his retirement from wrestling due to ongoing medical issues caused from traumatic brain injuries, including multiple concussions.
As I watched “Monday Night Raw,” WWE’s weekly live show, complete with multiple clips of Bryan’s career culminating with a retirement speech at the show’s end, I found myself tearing up.
“I’ve been wrestling since I was 18 years old,” Bryan said during his speech, in his home state of Washington, on Monday’s episode of “Raw.” “And within the first five months of my wrestling career, I’ve already had three concussions. And for years after that, I would get a concussion here and there, or here or there. And then it gets to the point when you’ve been wrestling for 16 years that it adds up to a lot of concussions. And it gets to a point where they tell you that you can’t wrestle anymore… I wanted to come back and wrestle. Because… I have loved this in a way that I have never loved anything else.
“But a week and a half ago,” he continued. “I took a test that said that maybe my brain isn’t as OK as I thought it was. And I have a family to think about and my wife and I want to start having kids soon.”
In an ESPN interview, Bryan said he has had 10 documented concussions during his career and has been suffering from post-concussion seizures.
When wrestling is glamorized on TV, people forget just how frail the human body is.
I stopped watching wrestling in the early 2000s, only to get back into it just in time for Wrestlemania XXVIII in early 2012. With no previous knowledge of storylines or most of the current roster of superstars, I watched the event. I saw a young man, who was the World Heavyweight Champion, lose his belt in only 18 seconds after a kiss from his girlfriend left him open for a kick in the head and a pin.
That was my introduction to Daniel Bryan.
As a heel (a bad guy, in wrestling terms), I knew I was supposed to boo him. However, Bryan was different. While the crowd knew he was a bad guy, most of the audience members didn’t boo. They chanted “Yes.” After he won his Heavyweight Title in late 2011, Bryan was heard screaming the word over and over.
The fans caught on and chanted along, and so did I.
As he became more of a heel after his loss at Wrestlemania, and much to his character’s anger, the “Yes” chants grew louder and louder.
For four years, the chants did not stop. No matter if he was the bad guy, yelling as his fiance left him at the altar, being paired with a demon in anger management and becoming a successful tag team or an underdog, Bryan kept fighting against an authority who didn’t think he fit the mold as a top superstar.
While wrestling’s outcomes are predetermined, the moves done by the athletes in the ring are just as spectacular and dangerous as in other sports. Bryan excelled at these moves, with diving headbutts off the top rope and running out of the ring to throw the ropes onto “unsuspecting” opponents all being tools at his disposal.
He seemed like a superhero who could do anything and beat anyone.
But on a Monday, in front of a home state crowd, he was none of those things. He was mortal. He was Bryan Danielson.
During his speech, Bryan emphasized that wrestling didn’t owe him anything. He had traveled the world, met his wife Brie Bella (her real name is Brianna Monique Danielson) who is also a wrestler on the WWE roster, was able to retire in front of his hometown crowd and, in a special moment, shared one of the last memories of his late father.
“A little over two years ago, in this very arena, you guys hijacked Raw,” Bryan explained. “They… were combining the WWE Championship with the World Heavyweight Championship, and they had all the former champions out here, and this was going to be the most important match in WWE history, and you guys just wouldn’t stop chanting ‘Daniel Bryan…’ My dad got to see that. His son getting that kind of reaction from all of you people, and that was the last time my dad ever got to see me wrestle, and you guys made it special, for him and for me, and for my entire family.”
While our heroes may be mortal, their words and actions are not always as such. They transcend generations, unite people under a cause and make us feel happy. Whether they are good, bad or weird, the memories of laughter, triumph and sadness will stay with us forever.
Because that’s what heroes do.