Atlanta Business Journal – May 25, 2001
By Jarred Schenke
Even though no one’s wrestling, things are getting rowdy over at the WCW.
The Atlanta-based World Championship Wrestling company — recently purchased by its former rival, the World Wrestling Federation Inc. — has its back against the ropes again with another lawsuit. This time, it’s from one of wrestling’s old guard who claims that he was unfairly fired.
Roderick George Toombs, known professionally as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, is suing the WCW for breaching his contract when he was abruptly let go from the once-struggling league’s ranks after a wrestling-related injury.
Piper is being represented by the same Atlanta law firm — Meadows, Ichter & Trigg — that’s trying to pin the WCW down over numerous racial discrimination complaints from former black and Asian wrestlers.
Piper claims his contract with the WCW was unfairly terminated in 2000 after an injury he claims he fully recovered from. And in an interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle, Piper said it was his age — and the ages of his fellow “Millionaire Club” senior wrestlers — that prompted the WCW to toss them out of the ring, unloading extra costs to prepare for a then-pending merger between AOL and Time Warner Inc.
“The term `incapacitated’ I can’t even spell,” Piper said. “It really hurts me that they’d talk to me like an injured dog and shoot me behind the barn. I gave my heart and soul [to wrestling].”
The WCW denied Piper’s allegations in an answer filed in federal court. WCW’s attorneys, Atlanta’s powerhouse law firm Troutman Sanders LLP, declined to comment beyond the filed response.
According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta in February, Piper signed with the WCW in 1999 for a three-year term for a total of 18 pay-per-view events. During a regular wrestling broadcast soon after signing the contract, Piper ruptured his left biceps tendon, but continued to wrestle at events, the lawsuit states.
By the end of 1999, Piper underwent surgery for the injury and then appeared at one more WCW event in February 2000, according to the suit. After that, WCW executives failed to schedule him for other events despite a contract that lasted until 2002, the suit alleges.
Soon after, the WCW terminated Piper’s contract, citing an “incapacity,” the lawsuit states. Piper’s surgeon allegedly gave the green light for him to continue to wrestle, but the WCW wanted Piper to undergo an exam by in-house doctors, the suit states.
Piper claims that was a move to have WCW doctors officially write off Piper as permanently injured.
“[WCW officials] wanted me to be examined by a WCW doctor for a full medical [checkup]. I said to them I had no problem with any doctor you want … but why are you talking about a full medical [checkup]?” Piper said. “In asking that question, they just never called back.”
Piper’s attorney, Cary Ichter, said WCW’s responses to Piper’s lawsuit were “complete lies.”
“The bottom line is apparently these people don’t even care what they say in filings,” Ichter said.
The suit is headed for discovery — the period when both parties scrutinize and gather evidence prior to trial.
Ichter is no stranger to the WCW. His firm also is pursuing numerous lawsuits against the organization on behalf of 10 former African-American and Asian wrestlers who claim they were discriminated against. Those suits claim that the wrestlers were never properly promoted to help boost their standing with viewers, and that they were required to portray characters that had negative racial stereotypes.
WCW also has formally denied those allegations.
Ichter said there is a possibility that he may name WCW’s new owners, the WWF, in all of these suits, including Piper’s. It depends on how much of WCW’s former assets — namely the numerous wrestlers who are now on hiatus since the WCW ceased operating earlier this year — the WWF acquires, Ichter said.
A WWF spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuits, but said the wrestling giant had acquired “a handful of contracts” when it purchased the WCW. But the WWF’s choice thus far of the players hired doesn’t bode well for Piper.
“It’s the more younger, more developmental talent,” said WWF spokesperson Jayson Bernstein. “I don’t know the details of why [the WWF] didn’t pick up all the [WCW] contracts.”
Bernstein declined to disclose who the players were or what the details of the contracts included. But Bernstein said AOL Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: AOL) has been left with the more high-priced contracts.
“The understanding that I have here is that some of the higher-price contracts were left up to the talent and AOL Time Warner on how they were to be settled,” he said.