Last week, the unthinkable happened: Roman Reigns, modern day gladiator, thin-skinned Twitter user, and swole-and-sweaty human manifestation of the expression "putting all your eggs in the basket," was suspended from WWE for a wellness violation. WWE's statement is terse and lawyerly, and offers little information beyond the length of the suspension and including Reigns' apology from Twitter. This left plenty of room for speculation, and wrestling fans happily took up that challenge.
We don't know what drugs Roman Reigns did to set the suspension off. We know it probably was not weed; WWE's a little casual on that, other than as a political shiv. That leaves us to wonder whether it was hard recreational drugs or steroids.
Much as it would be nice to relegate pro wrestling's long history of drug abuse to the past, PED excesses have only abated, not disappeared. WWE instituted its wellness policy in early 2006, a reaction to the rash of wrestler deaths in the early years of that decade. The regime is overseen by the company, itself, leading to repeated accusations that it's prone to internal politics and bias; we've never seen John Cena suspended, the refrain goes, and just look at him.
Still, WWE has not shied away from suspending big names—30 days for the first violation, 60 for the second—over the past 10 years, even if the big name is clean. Kurt Angle, Edge, Randy Orton, and Rob Van Dam have all been suspended, for instance. Perhaps most notoriously, Jeff Hardy's particular combo of injuries and drug use led to his departure from WWE, and to the straight-edge CM Punk cutting a gleeful promo the next night on his absent opponent which was rife with subtext from the head office—we show druggies the door now, it went, and you really shouldn't be fans of them.
Still, Roman Reigns being suspended is essentially the same as if Cena were. Not because Reigns is as big as Cena—it's been howled about everywhere you care to look, from cynics and non-cynics, alike, that Reigns is simply not The Guy—but because WWE clearly wants him to be. This has been his problem from day one: that the build for an awful lot of wrestlers simply stopped as they were fed, Cena-like, to the Reigns machine. That's not really Reigns' fault, but WWE made a bet that failed, at least in terms of the narrow confines of the wellness policy.
Does this mean Reigns is done? Of course not. Edge came back from his suspension to be one of the finest WWE champions of his age. Randy Orton is Randy Orton, and his suspensions never prevented him from getting titles or pushes. So it will be for Reigns. The 30 days will pass, he'll be back on television, and things will move on.
The awkwardness will remain, however. None of the biggest suspensions ever involved guys in the squeaky clean babyface category, excepting Rey Mysterio. In Reigns' case, his push as the next Make-A-Wish spearhead rests uneasily with the admitted fact that he's done something, an injection or a rail or a raft of pills. How WWE squares that will be a challenge, unless he transitions to a different role.
There was a touch of palace intrigue to the suspension, of course. This is how WWE operates, like a Byzantine imperial court, with Vince as emperor and everyone else milling around in their intrigues in search of winning his favor. At Money in the Bank, Roman Reigns lost clean to Seth Rollins; this simply doesn't happen, but at the time, it seemed like nothing more than a sop to the fans and, perhaps, a foreshadowing of a de-escalation of Reigns-mania.
It's since been reported at sites like PWTorch, via leaks from within the company, that WWE knew of the violation prior to Money in the Bank and that the clean win for Rollins was a result of a last minute scramble. The theory goes that Reigns was never going to be suspended, that the clean loss was the punishment, and that we were never supposed to hear about it.
This obviously didn't happen according to plan, but the fact that it didn't raises some serious questions. If WWE doesn't apply its wellness policy equally, why even have it? If the clean loss was the original punishment, what does that mean about the lingering concepts of old school pro wrestling justice in the hyper-modern, corporate WWE? Also just who the hell leaked this to the press, why did they do it, and who's lost face as a result in Vince's medieval court?
All essentially unanswerable questions, all of them also tantalizing as hell. But let's spare a word for the wellness policy: even with its imperfections and the probability that it is, and will always be, unevenly applied, it is a good thing. Pro wrestling simply has too many broken people in its ranks, and too many ruined bodies and minds in its wake, to insist otherwise. Yes, the cocaine-fueled promos of the 1980s and '90s are sorely missed, but so are those who delivered them.
Even in a world worse than this one—oh, it's possible—in which WWE wielded the wellness policy in an overtly punitive fashion, its existence would still be largely for the better. The world has enough dead wrestlers to last several lifetimes. If this imperfect, intrigue-laden suspension of Roman Reigns means we, and his family, get to see him, healthy, for years to come, then all those imperfections seem a small price to bear.