We still haven’t heard back from Dr. Joseph Maroon of Pittsburgh – the medical director for World Wrestling Entertainment – for comment on the reports here that WWE played fast and loose with the truth in a statement to ESPN about its knowledge of a West Virginia brain institute’s research on the long-term effects of concussions sustained by dead wrestlers Chris Benoit and Andrew “Test” Martin.
(See “EXCLUSIVE: Linda McMahon’s WWE Medical Director Met With Chris Benoit Brain Experts in 2008,” December 14, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/exclusive-linda-mcmahons-wwe-medical-director-met-with-chris-benoit-brain-experts-in-2008/, and “Senate Candidate Linda McMahon’s WWE Lies to ESPN (Part 2),” December 16, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/senate-candidate-linda-mcmahon%E2%80%99s-wwe-lies-to-espn-part-2/.)
Here’s why this matters.
Two thousand nine was the year the story of concussions in the National Football League finally broke through the consciousness of the sports media and public. It took a lot of persistence by a lot of people, most notably Dr. Bennet Omalu. And it took the embarrassment of public Congressional hearings, in this case by the House Judiciary Committee. The NFL has fired the people who ran its internal study of the issue, to give it less of a see-no-evil orientation, and it has changed the standards for recovery and return to action of concussed players. It would be a mistake not to acknowledge these as major steps (just as it would be a mistake not to realize that the pressures of money and a hyper-macho culture make such steps difficult to take).
Dr. Joseph Maroon, a neurologist for the Pittsburgh Steelers, has long been one of the NFL’s leading consultants on brain trauma. (He is also the personal physician of retired pro wrestling great Bruno Sammartino.) So when WWE appointed Maroon as its medical director in 2008 — tasked with overseeing a program of baseline neurological testing of talent and supervising the work of doctors now sent out on the road with wrestlers — the link between the legitimacy of the NFL and the seriousness of WWE in tackling the problem was apparent.
But there may be another link between Maroon’s work for the two organizations, and its interpretation is not kind to the doctor or to WWE’s credibility, especially in light of the dissembling to ESPN.
After our posts two weeks ago, a journalist who has covered the NFL for a quarter of a century emailed me: “WWE’s response to the Andrew Martin story did strike me as similar to the NFL’s early denials of Dr. Omalu’s work.”
Read that clearly: The insider is suggesting that WWE right now is where the NFL was years ago in the concussion-denial cycle.
I, for one, would like to pick up the pace a little bit, since Dr. Maroon, at least, obviously knows better. He also should know better than to allow his good name to be exploited by WWE for political cover in stalling on further measures to protect the health and safety of its talent.
Before 2010 breaks – another year in which, if trends hold, we’ll be getting out the shovels and burying some more young wrestlers – I have an important question for Dr. Maroon. Sir, do you work for the welfare of the athletes you treat? Or for the PR needs of the corporations that pay your bills?
Inquiring minds want to know. And, I suspect, so do the voters in next year’s U.S. Senate Republican primary and general election in Connecticut.