Professional wrestler deaths have sparked 'serious' conversations across locker rooms

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Funeral services for Shannon "Daffney'' Spruill, the former professional wrestler, are set for Friday and her death has intensified concerns in the professional wrestling industry – especially among the women performers.

Ashley Massaro, who wrestled for the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), killed herself in 2019 at the age of 39.

Hana Kimura, who emerged as a celebrity while wrestling professionally in Japan, killed herself in 2020 at the age of 22.

Then last week came Spruill. On Sept. 1, she was found dead inside her apartment in Norcross, Georgia, of an apparent gunshot wound after saying during an Instagram Live broadcast that she was going to kill herself. Spruill was 46.

Her death still is under investigation by the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner.

“I definitely think these last couple of tragedies that we’ve had in wrestling have helped create an awareness," said Jamie Lynn Senegal, a professional wrestler who said she considered Spruill a mother figure, “and kind of bring the sisterhood that we have a little stronger and closer together to make sure everybody’s OK."

Melissa Anderson, a professional wrestler known as Cheerleader Melissa, said she can hear the impact among women in the business.

Shannon Spruill, who went by by the ring name Daffney Unger, died at 46.
Shannon Spruill, who went by by the ring name Daffney Unger, died at 46.

“When something like that happens, it just spikes an awareness and serious conversations start happening in all of the locker rooms," said Anderson, who worked alongside Spruill. “The conversations have definitely been more serious as far as being more supportive toward each other and looking out for each other.

"We’ve made it a point to check up on each other regularly and make sure everything is OK and being there for each other."

SPRUILL REMEMBERED: Despite 'Scream Queen' image, former wrestler Shannon 'Daffney' Spruill 'led with love'

Cathy Corino, a professional wrestler known as Allison Danger, said she will attend Spruill’s funeral in Norcross and has helped secure rental cars and hotel rooms for the other women wrestlers who plan to be there.

“So that nobody’s alone after the funeral," Corino told USA TODAY Sports. “Everyone stays together and takes care of each other.

"A conversation that’s going to come up is what can we do better to take care of our sisters in wrestling. And, you know, our brothers, too."

There is documented history of suicide among professional wrestlers – but mostly men. Since 2010, more than a half dozen have died by suicide.

But Spruill’s death has increased concerns about women wrestlers at risk. The circumstances around the deaths of Spruill, Massaro and Kimura were different, but Corino and other wrestlers say what links all three women is mental health.

“Mental health is a big issue," Corino said. “Guys have it tough in wrestling. Women have it tough in general as women. Wrestling can be full of love, but it can also be full of loss."

Corino pointed out that overdose was cited as the death for other women wrestlers, such as Joanie “Chyna’’ Laurer in 2016.

“There’s definitely, I would say, a streak of self-destruction, substance abuse issues, self-medication issues, things like that, certain cases (where) it’s accidentally taken someone’s life," Corino said. “You’ve got to kind of wonder if it still falls under that umbrella (of suicide)."

On a wrestling podcast Tuesday night, Lauren Williams, a professional wrestler known as Angelina Love, urged people struggling emotionally not to isolate.

“They’re afraid of being judged, so they’ll just keep it to themselves and they’ll just isolate or just try to shove the feelings down or the thoughts down," Williams said. “And it’s like you have to be able to get these things out in the open and talk about them and get them off your chest and out of your system so they don’t just sit there and fester and then end up being a bomb one day."

WWE provides psychological and psychiatric services for its contracted wrestlers, and Anderson said she’d like to see the smaller wrestling organizations follow suit.

“I think it would really help if all the other companies are in position to provide resources for their talent," she said.

Anderson and other wrestlers said it was well known that Spruill, who was forced to retire because of head trauma suffered during her career, was struggling with her mental health.

On her Facebook page, Spruill’s mother, Jean Tookey Spruill, has posted a link to an online fundraiser started in Shannon Spruill’s name to raise money for the Georgia chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness.

Mick Foley, a well-known retired wrestler who said he had been in contact with Spruill before her death, compared the suicide rate among wrestlers to suicide rate among military veterans. Research has shown that an estimated 22 veterans a day die by suicide.

“Largely because of the trauma they’ve endured,’’ Foley said. “So it’s not just a wresting problem.

“But we’re kind of a mirror of society exacerbated somewhat because of the head injuries that unfortunately come with the territory, and the dramatic highs and lows that go with holding a crowd of 15,000 in the palm of your hand one day and looking for work the next."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Follow Josh Peter on Twitter @joshlpeter11

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Daffney and other wrestler deaths have women concerned, seeking help