What most fascinates me about Linda McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment – a kitsch marketing corporation so huge it can underwrite a plausible U.S. Senate candidacy – isn’t just how big it has become. The most interesting thing about the cultural phenomenon unleashed by Linda’s husband Vince is how pro wrestling values have come to infect even “respectable” aspects of our communal life. The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the one who came up with a good term for this kind of thing. He called it “defining deviancy down.”
Lately I’ve been zeroing in on the case in point of Dr. Bryan Donohue, the head of cardiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who has also rented his good name to WWE as a consultant for its joke of a “Wellness Policy.” In 2007 the company hyped the introduction of cardiovascular screening for its talent. But that program didn’t seem to help wrestler Eddie “Umaga” Fatu, whose autopsy, following his December 2009 fatal heart attack, showed not only that he was a druggie but also that he had an enlarged heart, six months after WWE released him under murky circumstances.
In previous posts I’ve reported that Donohue is also mixed up – in my view, to an unhealthy degree – in the unregulated supplement industry. Both Donohue and his Pitt Med Center colleague, Joseph Maroon (also WWE’s medical director), are vocal proponents of the red-grape extract resveratrol, which is said to be good for your heart and your longevity and maybe other things. Fine. But Donohue is also a part-owner of a company, Vinomis Laboratories, that markets a resveratrol brand called “Vindure.”
Meanwhile, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has patted itself on the back for an ethics policy. But no one at Pitt will return my calls about how the policy applies, or doesn’t, to relationships like Donohue’s with Vinomis – or for that matter, with that of the no fewer than five clinicians from its medical center who are on the eight-person WWE medical team.
Here’s a little more fuel for the fire.
On March 19 I reported that Dr. Donohue had touted his company on a newscast on Pittsburgh television station KDKA, in one of those de facto infomercials masquerading as journalism. (See “Watch the Cardiovascular Health Consultant for Linda McMahon’s WWE Pimp an Unregulated Supplement on YouTube,” http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/03/19/watch-the-cardiovascular-health-consultant-for-linda-mcmahon%E2%80%99s-wwe-pimp-an-unregulated-supplement-on-youtube/.) To Donohue’s credit, at least in that interview he mentioned that he had pulled what is known as a “Victor Kiam.” (You remember Kiam’s old Remington shaver commercials: “I liked it so much, I bought the company!”)
But EMSI Public Relations – a “pay for performance” firm that was no doubt hired by Vinomis Laboratories or Donohue – did the gullible public no such favors in a January 26 press release headlined “Could Compound in Red Wine Help Cancer Patients?; Resveratrol Being Tested for Effectiveness in Treatment and Prevention of Cancer.”
The piece quotes Donohue at length about “an abundance of very well done basic preclinical science” on resveratrol. The doctor says: “I have had occasion to introduce hundreds of patients to daily resveratrol supplementation, ranging from healthy adults interested in health maintenance and prevention to more elderly individuals with specific health concerns. The experience to date has been very gratifying. People have experienced greater energy, increased exercise tolerance, crispness and clarity of thought and a general bounce in their overall level of well-being.”
Donohue adds that he recommends to his patients “resveratrol supplements that have a high concentration of the ingredient. I prefer the product line from Vinomis (www.vinomis.com), because their products contain a concentration of 98 percent resveratrol plus pure red wine grape concentrate, and their Web site is an outstanding resource for independent studies and scientific information about natural compounds.”
By now, according to the postal service, the office of the University of Pittsburgh’s chancellor, Mark A. Nordenberg, has received the letter I sent him after both the medical center and the general university media relations people blew me off (http://muchnick.net/muchnicktonordenberg.pdf).