Saturday, January 29, 2011

New WWE Death: Shawn Osborne, Suicide at 34

[posted 1/27/11 to]

Osborne was in World Wrestling Entertainment’s minor league, or “developmental,” system from 2006 to 2008. No other details at this time.

Irv Muchnick

Dr. Joseph Maroon, NFL and WWE Consultant, Does a Cameo in The New Yorker

[posted 1/26/11 to]

Football and the Concussion Crisis

Ben McGrath

More on New Connecticut Labor Commissioner Glenn Marshall

[posted 1/26/11 to]

The Carpenters Union, of which Marshall has been president, is regarded as “sophisticated in their approach to labor relations, acting as an ally of construction contractors – both union and non-union — who follow labor laws. By pressuring the state to crack down on contractors who misclassify workers as sub-contractors, a way to illegally avoid paying workers’ compensation and other costs, the union has helped legitimate contractors to make competitive bids on projects.”

Mark Pazniokas, CT Mirror,

Thursday, January 27, 2011

WWE Investigation Should Be on Track With New Connecticut Labor Commissioner

[posted 1/25/11 to]

Governor Dan Malloy’s selection of Glenn Marshall, president of Carpenters Union Local 210, as Connecticut’s labor commissioner is good news for advocates of reform and regulation of the pro wrestling industry.

World Wrestling Entertainment, based in Stamford, is being audited by the state Labor Department for alleged misclassification of employees as independent contractors. Not very many observers think WWE’s wrestlers – whose schedule, dress code, and almost every other conceivable job condition are managed and controlled by Vince McMahon – are anything other than regular workers entitled to regular workers’ benefits. One of the loudest and longest proponents of this position has been former WWE performer and Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura.

Marshall, who awaits confirmation by the Connecticut Senate, was a member of the bipartisan state commission on misclassification that drafted the law, which took effect last year, toughening penalties for independent contractor abuse. He is described in labor circles as passionate and knowledgeable about how the WWE scenario reflects on the over-reliance on temps, casual workers, and contractors throughout the “new economy.” This deprives citizens of access to affordable health care and cheats governments at all levels out of deficit-reducing tax revenues.

Several years ago a federal lawsuit challenging WWE’s talent contract, by ex-WWE guys Scott Levy, Mike Sanders, and the late Chris Klutsarits, was dismissed on technical grounds. But under Commissioner Marshall, the state of Connecticut seems poised to follow through on one key piece of government oversight of wrestling that could address the industry’s unacceptable and depraved rate of young deaths.

Irv Muchnick

Wrestling Media on WWE Medical Director Joseph Maroon ...

[posted 1/24/11 to]

... Missing In Action.

Corrective links welcomed.

Irv Muchnick

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Timeline of Dr. Joseph Maroon’s Work As WWE Medical Director

[posted 1/24/11 to]

(See also yesterday’s post, “Sports Concussion Scandal Ground Zero: NFL and WWE Doc Joseph Maroon’s Hype Article in ‘Neurosurgery’ on Riddell Football Helmets.”)

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back in the Super Bowl. Their team neurosurgeon for more than two decades, Joseph Maroon – also an important member of the National Football League’s concussion policy committee – has been medical director of World Wrestling Entertainment for almost three years. Now Maroon is at the center of a Federal Trade Commission investigation of inflated safety claims by Riddell, official helmet supplier of the NFL.

Here is a chronology of Dr. Maroon’s involvement with WWE.


In June 2007, WWE star Chris Benoit, 40, murdered his wife, 43, and their 7-year-old son before killing himself. Chris and Nancy Benoit were approximately the ninth and tenth of approximately 21 wrestlers and on-screen personalities who died before their 50th birthdays that year – the peak year of a generation-long industry pandemic with at least some relation to occupational health and safety standards.

Retired WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski – who had written a book, Head Games, about his own bout with long-term brain trauma – launched the Sports Legacy Institute in Boston, which advocates reforms and facilitates studies of brains of dead athletes. An examination of Chris Benoit’s brain by pioneer researcher Dr. Bennet Omalu revealed evidence of the phenomenon known as Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy.

On November 7, 2007, Linda McMahon, then chief executive of WWE, told CNN, “These studies, you know, have not been — they’ve not been proven, if you will.”

Vince McMahon, WWE’s chairman, added, “Haven’t been even critiqued by the other members of the scientific community.... And the only thing we’ve done really is from a conservative standpoint is just don’t use chairs to the head.”

On December 14, 2007, the McMahons’ daughter, company vice president Stephanie McMahon Levesque, was asked by Congressional investigators, “Are you aware of any incident where a wrestler in a match received a concussion?” She responded, “No.”


Some time around March of 2008, Dr. Maroon was hired by WWE to oversee its “wellness policy.” The appointment did not appear to have been accompanied by a press release or website announcement, and was first reported by Nowinski’s Sports Legacy Institute.

Maroon installed his imPACT concussion-management system, which consists of baseline neurological testing and measured protocols for determining when an injured performer is ready to return to action. The system is patented and marketed by a company formed by Maroon and two other University of Pittsburgh Medical Center doctors.

WWE also hired several other UPMC clinicians, including Dr. Bryan Donohue to supervise talent cardiovascular screening and Dr. Vijay Bahl to assist in determination of claims of wrestlers that high testosterone levels on their drug tests were excused by therapeutic use exemptions. In addition, ringside doctors began accompanying wrestlers on WWE tours.


On October 6, 2008, wrestler Lance McNaught (“Lance Cade”) was hit squarely on the head, with apparent scripted calculation, on the WWE cable television show Raw.

Shortly thereafter, McNaught suffered a seizure on an airplane flight from a reaction to prescription painkillers.

On or around October 14, 2008, WWE released McNaught.


On December 4, 2009, wrestler Eddie Fatu (“Umaga”) died of a heart attack, caused by prescription drug toxicity, at 36. In 2007 Fatu had been suspended by WWE for violating a drug provision of the wellness policy. In June 2009 Fatu had been fired by WWE for refusing to go to drug rehabilitation. His autopsy would show that he weighed more than 400 pounds at the time of his death and had an enlarged heart.

Also that month, ESPN reported that Dr. Omalu had found signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy in the brain of former WWE performer Andrew Martin, who had died in March of a prescription drug overdose at age 33. (Martin had been released while rehabbing from fusion surgery on his neck.) WWE told ESPN that it was “unaware of the veracity of any of these tests, be it for Chris Benoit or Andrew Martin.... WWE has been asking to see the research and test results in the case of Mr. Benoit for years and has not been supplied with them.” Omalu told me that WWE medical director Maroon had attended a meeting of doctors at the West Virginia Brain Injury Research Institute on October 1, 2008, at which the Benoit brain study specimens were shown. Later another attendee, Peter Davies, a professor of pathology and neuroscience at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, would tell me, “Maroon ... ‘brokered’ the meeting.”


WWE announced early in 2010 that it was prohibiting wrestlers from hitting each other on the head with chairs.

Jim Ross, a wrestling television announcer and executive, blogged, “Some asked if I thought this mandate was ‘politically motivated’ to which I emphatically say hell, no. It simply makes common sense and the overall health of the competitors has to be any companies [sic] utmost priority.”


Around the same time as the chair-shot ban, WWE performer Charlie Haas injured his neck. His account is that an MRI by his own doctor in Texas revealed two herniated disks in his neck and advised him to consider spinal fusion surgery. According to Haas, Dr. Maroon dismissed this concern without personally examining Haas, who was released by the company shortly thereafter.


On August 13, 2010, Lance McNaught died of heart failure at 29. Linda McMahon – by now the Republican candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut – said, “Who knows what causes people to have addictions and do what they do?”


Wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer labeled “mind-boggling” Dr. Maroon’s statement to the Hartford Courant that WWE had “no talent now on steroids.” In a poll at Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer website, 76 percent of the respondents said Maroon was “dishonest.”

Irv Muchnick

Sports Concussion Scandal Ground Zero: NFL and WWE Doc Joseph Maroon’s Hype Article in ‘Neurosurgery’ on Riddell Football Helmets

[posted 1/23/11 to]

Alan Schwarz of The New York Times, who all but owns the major-media coverage of the concussion story, has another good one today: “Oversight Group Vows to Pursue Updates to Football Helmet Standards,”

But oddly, The Times fails to make the important connection to its own recent big story: the Federal Trade Commission investigation of safety claims by Riddell, the official helmet supplier of the National Football League, for its Revolution model. Reporter Schwarz leads today’s account of action by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment by stating that it was spurred by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Yet the piece doesn’t mention at all the FTC probe of Riddell initiated earlier this month by Senator Tom Udall.

The concussion story is more than the sum of the blocking and tackling by dueling experts. It is also the story of a process: the ecosystem of clinical research, an interdependent web of leading doctors, research journals, and commercial interests.

Today ground zero is an article in the February 2006 issue of Neurosurgery, “Examining Concussion Rates and Return to Play in High School Football Players Wearing Newer Helmet Technology: A Three-Year Prospective Cohort Study.” One of the co-authors was Dr. Joseph Maroon, a team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a member of the NFL’s traumatic brain injury policy committee, and the medical director of World Wrestling Entertainment. Two of Maroon’s three co-authors were University of Pittsburgh Medical Center colleagues Micky Collins and Mark Lovell; they are also partners in the concussion-management software company imPACT Applications, Inc. The article’s other co-author, Thad Ide, is chief engineer at Riddell. The Pittsburgh research was underwritten by NFL Charities.

As news of the FTC investigation broke, Maroon threw Riddell under the bus, claiming that the company’s promotion of the Revolution helmet emphasized the blue-sky findings of the Neurosurgery article while ignoring its disclaimers. But is that explanation good enough?

Here is the full text of the abstract of the article:

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to compare concussion rates and recovery times for athletes wearing newer helmet technology compared to traditional helmet design.

METHODS: This was a three-year, prospective, naturalistic, cohort study. Participants were 2,141 high school athletes from Western Pennsylvania. Approximately half of the sample wore the Revolution helmet manufactured by Riddell, Inc. (n = 1,173) and the remainder of the sample used standard helmets (n = 968). Athletes underwent computerized neurocognitive testing through the use of ImPACT at the beginning of the study. Following a concussion, players were reevaluated at various time intervals until recovery was complete.

RESULTS: In the total sample, the concussion rate in athletes wearing the Revolution was 5.3% and in athletes wearing standard helmets was 7.6% [[chi]2 (1, 2, 141) = 4.96, P < 0.027]. The relative risk estimate was 0.69 (95% confidence interval = 0.499- 0.958). Wearing the Revolution helmet was associated with approximately a 31% decreased relative risk and 2.3% decreased absolute risk for sustaining a concussion in this cohort study. The athletes wearing the Revolution did not differ from athletes wearing standard helmets on the mechanism of injury (e.g., head-to-head strike), on-field concussion markers (e.g., amnesia or loss of consciousness), or on-field presentation of symptoms (e.g., headaches, dizziness, or balance problems).

CONCLUSION: Recent sophisticated laboratory research has better elucidated injury biomechanics associated with concussion in professional football players. This data has led to changes in helmet design and new helmet technology, which appears to have beneficial effects in reducing the incidence of cerebral concussion in high school football players.

(Next on this blog: Timeline of Dr. Joseph Maroon’s work as medical director of World Wrestling Entertainment.)

Irv Muchnick

‘Senator Udall Has Opened the Door a Crack ... It’s Up to Senator Blumenthal to Kick It Wide Open’

[posted 1/21/11 to]

Roundup of Coverage of Pittsburgh Steelers / NFL / WWE Doc Joseph Maroon’s Misstatements and Ethical Shortcuts on Concussion Research

[posted 1/21/11 to]

On the eve of the National Football League conference championship game involving the Pittsburgh Steelers, here are links to all the posts here, dating back more than a year, on Dr. Joseph Maroon – the Steelers’ neurosurgeon, a leading NFL adviser on traumatic brain injury, and the medical director of World Wrestling Entertainment.

Maroon is most prominently in the news these days due to a Federal Trade Commission investigation of the promotional claims of Riddell, the official helmet supplier for the NFL. Riddell states that its latest helmet model, the Revolution, reduces concussions by 31 percent. The figure is derived from a 2006 article in the journal Neurosurgery. Two of the co-authors of the article are Maroon and Riddell’s chief engineer. The research underpinning the Neurosurgery article was conducted by a team including Maroon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and funded by a grant from NFL Charities.

To The New York Times, which broke the story of Senator Tom Udall’s call for an FTC probe of Riddell, Maroon has distanced himself from the company’s exploitation of the Pittsburgh study.

I have emailed Maroon numerous times over a period of months on the variety of issues in the stories below. He has not responded.

Irv Muchnick


EXCLUSIVE: Linda McMahon’s WWE Medical Director Met With Chris Benoit Brain Experts in 2008



Umaga Autopsy Turns Focus to Linda McMahon’s WWE Cardio Program and Docs



NFL Explains: Maroon Still on Committee, Only Concussion ‘Leadership’ Has Changed



Treatment of WWE Performer Charlie Haas Is a Study of Linda McMahon’s Character



More on the 2008 Meeting of Linda McMahon’s WWE Medical Director at the West Virginia Brain Institute



Wrestling Journalist Meltzer: WWE Medical Director’s Quote Is ‘Mind-Boggling’



WWE Medical Director ‘Dishonest,’ Say 76% in Wrestling Observer Reader Poll



‘Concussion Issue Reaches Critical Mass in American Culture and Politics’ (full text)



Knocking Heads Together: WWE Is the Next Frontier of Sports Concussion Reform



Pitt Med Center Doctors’ Supplement Company and WWE Ties Skirt Ethics Policy



Dr. Joseph Maroon’s Disturbing Pattern of Misstatements



Dear Senator Udall: Help Coordinate Concussion and Steroid Investigations



Steelers’ Wheel: Pittsburgh Media Are Mum on the Connections of Pitt Med Center, Pittsburgh Steelers, and WWE Scandals



More Questions About WWE Medical Director Joseph Maroon



Why Didn’t NFL and WWE’s Dr. Maroon Speak Up About the Riddell Helmet Advertising Claims?



‘Joseph Maroon, Doctor for NFL and WWE, Has It Every Which Way on Concussions’ (full text from Beyond Chron)



NFL Bans Coaches From Relationships With Supplement Companies. But NFL and WWE Doctor Joseph Maroon? Ka-Ching!



NFL: Dr. Maroon’s Supplement Work OK Because He’s Not League or Club ‘Employee’



ESPN’s Peter Keating Was First to Expose NFL and WWE Concussion Doc Joseph Maroon’s Conflicts of Interest


ESPN’s Peter Keating Was First to Expose NFL and WWE Concussion Doc Joseph Maroon’s Conflicts of Interest

[posted 1/21/11 to]

Previously, I have tipped my hat to the reporting on the concussion issue by Alan Schwarz of The New York Times. Another journalistic giant on this story has been Peter Keating of ESPN The Magazine. More than three years ago, Keating looked into the mutually back-scratching relationships of the National Football League, neurological researchers, and the entrepreneurs of Dr. Joseph Maroon’s Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing system and their Pittsburgh company, imPACT Applications.

See the Keating article “NFL concussions expert also sells equipment to league,” August 10, 2007,

This story is more focused on Maroon’s imPACT partner and co-founder, Dr. Mark Lovell, another University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-based NFL consultant. But it lays out the whole shady chain of events, including how Maroon and a third imPACT partner, Michael Collins (also from the Pitt team), glowingly peer-reviewed the oft-cited study, co-authored by Lovell, in the February 2006 issue of the journal Neurosurgery.

As someone who spent all of 2010 trying, without success, to elicit comment from Maroon or Pitt, I was struck by how Lovell never responded to questions or made himself available for an interview on ESPN’s Outside the Lines. A medical center spokeswoman gave Keating this lame quote: “These are very important issues that are too complicated to address in an edited 10-second sound-bite.”

Since the publication of Keating’s article, we all know a lot more:

* Chris Nowinski’s Sports Legacy Institute has gotten off the ground.

* WWE star Chris Benoit’s sensational double murder/suicide led to the examination of his brain tissue by Dr. Bennet Omalu and took to a new level the public’s understanding of Chronic Traumatic Encephelapothy.

* Maroon became medical director for WWE. He has made a pattern of inaccurate and misleading public statements, and has enabled a significant company lie in ESPN’s coverage of the CTE findings for another dead wrestler, Andrew “Test” Martin.

* Hearings of the House Judiciary Committee put a spotlight on the NFL’s inadequate and sometimes corrupt management of the concussion problem.

* The Federal Trade Commission, spurred by Senator Tom Udall, has opened a probe of official NFL supplier Riddell’s helmet safety claims – based on league-funded research by Maroon and others at Pitt.

Senator Udall has opened the door a crack on a sordid tale of industrial death in the pro wrestling industry, and how the causes and costs resonate throughout the world of sports and American society.

In 2011, it will be up to Udall, Senator Richard Blumenthal, and others in the 112th Congress to kick that door wide open.

In the next post I will publish a rundown of this blog’s coverage of Dr. Joseph Maroon.

Irv Muchnick

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

NFL: Dr. Maroon’s Supplement Work OK Because He’s Not League or Club ‘Employee’

[posted 1/20/11 to]

Greg Aiello, the National Football League’s conscientious media liaison, got back to me quickly in response to my post earlier today, “NFL Bans Coaches From Relationships With Supplement Companies. But NFL and WWE Doctor Maroon? Ka-Ching!”,

Aiello said: “The league’s supplement endorsement policy applies only to league and club employees. If any club or person affiliated with a club engages in or promotes conduct that violates our policy on performance-enhancing substances, all involved would be held accountable.”

The language here recalls that of Commissioner Roger Goodell at the October 2009 hearings of the House Judiciary Committee. Pressed about questionable denials of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy research issued by the NFL concussion policy committee, Goodell insisted that the committee doctor-members – Maroon among them – are not league employees. But they are certainly league consultants who draw fees and ancillary commercial benefits. The smarter members of the Judiciary Committee, including Linda Sanchez of California and Anthony Weiner of New York, took note of the league experts’ absence of independence and transparency.

I’m not saying that the supplements endorsed by Dr. Maroon contain substances listed as performance-enhancing. But the principle that came through at the Judiciary Committee hearings applies: he is a walking infomercial, not someone whose word on player safety and on the NFL’s vigilance on its behalf earns the benefit of the doubt.

Irv Muchnick

NFL Bans Coaches From Relationships With Supplement Companies. But NFL and WWE Doctor Joseph Maroon? Ka-Ching!

[posted 1/20/11 to] is reporting that the National Football League ordered new Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson to sever his ties with a supplement company called Sports With Alternatives To Steroids (S.W.A.T.S), whose product IGF-1 contains a banned substance.

See Eric Adelson’s story at

“We have a long-standing policy that prohibits coaches from any relationship with a supplement company,” said Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s director of corporate communications.

Curiously, no such policy applies to team or league physicians, such as Dr. Joseph Maroon, a long-time neurologist for the Pittsburgh Steelers and member of the NFL concussion policy committee. I have been reporting that Maroon endorses a supplement called Vindure, which is based on the red-grape abstract resveratrol, and is an owner of the company that licensed Harvard Medical School research to Vindure’s producer, Vinomis Labs.

So far as I know, Vindure contains no substances banned by the league. But Vinomis Labs is a supplement company.

In addition – and as I am reporting here for the first time – Dr. Maroon endorses another supplement called Sports Brain Guard, described as a “daily tri-delivery bioactive protection program” for concussed athletes, from Irvine, California-based Newport Nutritionals. See Maroon’s piece of the hype at

Maroon also is medical director of World Wrestling Entertainment. Dr. Bryan Donohue, WWE’s consulting cardiologist, is an owner of Vinomis Labs. Both Maroon and Donohue are at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, whose officials refuse to comment on whether Vinomis Labs and other outside business interests are covered by a recently revised and much-publicized ethics policy.

When I asked NFL spokesman Greg Aiello if the league had a parallel ethics policy for team physicians, he said they were bound only by the codes of their professional medical societies. I will forward this post to Aiello and invite comment on why the NFL bans its coaches but not its doctors from relationships with supplement companies.

WWE has not commented on whether it has an NFL-modeled or any other conflict-of-interest policy for its consulting doctors.

This is all of particular relevance because the Federal Trade Commission, on the request of Senator Tom Udall, just opened an investigation of the promotional claims of the NFL’s official helmet supplier, Riddell. Those claims are based on NFL Charities-funded research conducted by Maroon.

Irv Muchnick

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Linda McMahon 2012? Bring It On!

[posted 1/19/11 to]

As Linda McMahon contemplates a run for Joe Lieberman’s vacant Senate seat in 2012 – after blowing through $50 million of her World Wrestling Entertainment fortune in a futile run for Chris Dodd’s vacant Senate seat in 2010 – I can imagine this conversation behind the gates of Hurlingham Drive in Greenwich, Connecticut:

VINCE McMAHON: Jesus Christ, Linda! Another run for office and we won’t even have enough money to pay for our son-in-law’s next triceps-tear surgery. Do you know how much it cost me to get Mashable’s “Best Social Network Campaign” for “Stand Up For WWE”? Before you know it, I’ll have to cut back on my tanning parlor visits and postpone my next facelift. And now look what you’ve started: a state audit of our classification of the talent as “independent contractors.” Give it a rest.

LINDA McMAHON: Save it, genetic jackhammer. Sixty is the new 40, and this is my turn. I never had so much fun in my life having microphones thrust in my face and being taken seriously. I’m going for it. The consequences of a campaign is a very sad thing when that happens.

In my opinion, Linda had one chance – slim – in a three-way race including Lieberman. In a two-way race, she also has one chance: none.

But that doesn’t mean that the state Republican Party, under the Yoda-inspired tutelage of its chairman, Mr. Suzan Bibisi, won’t put its next Senate nomination up for auction. Nor does it mean that a Linda McMahon race would not be colorful or even occasionally, if almost accidentally, enlightening. There are more “marks” in politics than there are in wrestling, because there are more voters than wrestling fans.

From my standpoint, the prospect of continuing high public visibility for Linda is musical. In case Connecticut’s new governor, Dan Malloy, had any thoughts of derailing the Labor Department probe of WWE misclassification, he should abandon them at once. In case Connecticut’s new U.S. senator, Richard Blumenthal, had any thoughts of mumbling a few sound bites about the evils of “steroids” and calling it a day, he should be motivated to get back “on message”: the message of the need to investigate the billion-dollar pro wrestling industry’s culture of death.

On this blog, I’m trying to tie it all together: not just steroids, but also prescription pharmaceutical abuse and serial untreated concussions. It’s a sports entertainment issue, and as we are finding out from the Federal Trade Commission-examined activities of Dr. Joseph Maroon – a consultant to both WWE and the National Football League – it’s a larger sportsworld issue.

Above all, it’s an American issue. Professional athletes might be entitled to take crazy health risks in pursuit of glory and riches, but the ages of initial steroid abuse and life-shortening and –destroying head trauma reach all the way back to our youth, well before informed consent. That is dumbing down the national IQ much worse than a misogynistic skit on Raw.

Senator Blumenthal – you and your colleagues in the 112th Congress proceed to do your jobs.

Linda McMahon – bring it on.

Irv Muchnick

In Case We Didn’t Already Know: Congressman Waxman’s 2009 Call to the White House Drug Policy Office to Investigate WWE Was a Charade

[posted 1/18/11 to]

Through spokeswoman Katherine Bush, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, issued the following statement to me:

ONDCP takes seriously the public health threat posed by steroid abuse, particularly given the powerful influence athletes have on young people, and is fully committed to promoting doping-free sports.

ONDCP is not, and has never been an investigative agency, and has no mandate or authorization to pursue a request which, it must be emphasized, was made of a former ONDCP Director, under a different Administration. The investigation began, and remained, with the appropriate body, the Oversight Committee, the primary investigative committee in the House.

ONDCP works closely with the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and urges all sport organizations to adopt policies that combat the use of performance enhancing drugs. Compliance with the WADA Code represents a strong step toward combating doping, and ONDCP is fully committed to promoting doping-free sports.

In a January 3, 2009, letter to John Walters, Kerlikowske’s predecessor under President George W. Bush, Congressman Henry Waxman had turned over to ONDCP the file of the 2007 investigation of the pro wrestling industry conducted by the staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Waxman then chaired. The congressman requested “that your office examine the systemic deficiencies in the testing policies and practices of professional wrestling that the investigation has found.”

If ONDCP had no investigative jurisdiction in the wrestling matter, Waxman seemed not to have gotten the memo. Or is there a difference between “investigating” and “examining”?

The next year, during the Linda McMahon Senate campaign, Brian Lockhart of Hearst newspapers wrote a front-page story reviewing how “The White House and Congress dropped the ball in 2009 on an effort to investigate the use of steroids in professional wrestling — a lapse that represents a break” for McMahon. The statement ONDCP gave Lockhart at the time was slightly different than the one just given me; Kerlikowske didn’t say that his office had no investigative function, but merely that it was “not in position ... to comment regarding communications that may have occurred prior to his confirmation as Director.”

Now Linda McMahon’s opponent, Richard Blumenthal, is settling into his new Senate seat, and WWE’s medical director, Dr. Joseph Maroon, also a National Football League team physician and concussion consultant, is at the center of a federal investigation of exaggerated safety claims by the NFL’s official helmet supplier, Riddell, based on NFL-funded research carried out by Maroon. And further information developed since Waxman’s January 2009 letter argues forcefully for renewing investigations of the pro wrestling industry and folding it into the larger issue of premature deaths of athletes throughout sports and sports entertainment.

Factors weighing against aggressive pursuit of this subject include the pressing national issue of economic recovery. In an op-ed piece today in The Wall Street Journal, President Obama suggests that the urgency of supporting job creation might require more attention than regulation.

Factors weighing in favor of aggressive pursuit of this subject include the fact that WWE centimillionaire Linda McMahon – she of the “self-funded” $50 million 2010 campaign – is in position to run again in 2012. Also that a ridiculous number of young people have died participating in the scripted entertainment that put her in position to seek political power at this level — and more are sure to follow.

Irv Muchnick


“Muchnick Flashback December 2007: WWE Dodges the Congressional Bullet,”

“Muchnick Flashback: ‘See Ya Later, Congress,”
March 1, 2010,

“WWE steroid investigation: A controversy McMahon ‘doesn’t need,’” Brian Lockhart, Stamford Advocate, March 1, 2010,

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New In-House General Counsel at WWE

[posted 1/14/11 to]

Here is how the Connecticut Law Tribune reported the hire of World Wrestling Entertainment’s new general counsel, Michael Luisi, and reviewed the story — broken on this blog last year — of the departure of his predecessor, Jared Bartie, in an office sex scandal last year:

WWE Hires Entertainment Industry Veteran As GC

Irv Muchnick

‘Joseph Maroon, Doctor for NFL and WWE, Has It Every Which Way on Concussions’ (full text from Beyond Chron)

[originally published at Beyond Chron, January 11,]

by Irvin Muchnick

With the Pittsburgh Steelers about to open their playoff schedule Saturday in quest of a franchise record-extending seventh Super Bowl title, one of their long-time team physicians, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon, is under heightened scrutiny for his role in the National Football League’s increasingly visible concussion issue. It’s a role best described as some undetermined compound of “part of the problem” and “part of the solution.”

Last week Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico called for a Federal Trade Commission probe of Riddell helmets, an official NFL supplier, for the company’s consumer-product claim of a new design promising to decrease concussions by 31 percent. That number was based on a research paper co-authored by Dr. Maroon and commissioned by Riddell. Maroon told The New York Times that Riddell advertising overreached from a limited sample of his results, which require further testing.

Thank goodness elected officials are beginning to put heat on doctors like Maroon, who in turn are starting to distance themselves from the corporations paying their medical and scientific consultancies. Maroon’s full history – with World Wrestling Entertainment as well as with the Steelers and the NFL – suggests Senator Udall and others may be just warming up.

Maroon is a member of the NFL’s concussion policy committee, which came under withering criticism by the House Judiciary Committee for lax research and questionable ethics during the emergence of awareness of the serial-concussion syndrome experts are calling Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy. The league responded last year by booting its policy committee chairs and installing new ones. (Maroon, not a chairman, remains a committee member.)

But even before CTE became part of the general public discussion of safety in football, hockey, and other sports, Maroon had been parroting passive and misleading company lines on concussions.

In his groundbreaking 2006 book Head Games, Chris Nowinski, founder of Boston’s Sports Legacy Institute, told of how Maroon led the chorus of the NFL’s attempts to pooh-pooh the early findings of CTE in the brains of prematurely dead ex-Steelers Mike Webster and Terry Long.

In an example of what seems to pass for the corporate physician’s Hippocratic Oath, Maroon attacked the “fallacious reasoning” of CTE research pioneer Dr. Bennet Omalu (a forensic pathologist who is now chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, California). Specifically, Maroon said, “I was the team neurosurgeon during Long’s entire tenure with the Steelers, and I still am. I re-checked my records; there was not one cerebral concussion documented in him during those entire seven years.”

Nowinski (a former WWE wrestler who had to retire from the ring due to his own cumulative brain trauma) proved Maroon dead-wrong: Omalu found in Long’s records a letter, written by Maroon, recommending that Long be given two weeks off following a concussion incident. (Thanks to Dustin Fink of the invaluable “Concussion Blog,”, for this catch.)

In 2008 WWE named Maroon the company medical director – six months after Omalu’s study of the brain of wrestler Chris Benoit, who had killed his wife, their 7-year-old son, and himself, showed the tau protein accumulations associated with CTE. Still, Maroon said nothing while WWE performers continued to be scripted to bash each other over the head with steel chairs. In the wake of the Benoit tragedy, WWE owner Vince McMahon had told both CNN and Congressional investigators that “chair shots” were being banned, but the prohibition didn’t actually take effect until 2010 – by which point Vince’s wife Linda was spending $50 million of the family’s fortune in an unsuccessful campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut. (An October 2008 chair-shot target, Lance Cade, would die of “heart failure” at age 29 three months before the election.)

Highly regarded in his field, Maroon has helped develop the imPACT concussion management program, a system of baseline neurological testing and protocols for determining when an athlete with a head injury is ready to return to action. Unfortunately, though, his WWE tenure is riddled with acts of commission and omission imperiling his reputation and legacy.

In 2008 Maroon met with Drs. Omalu and Julian Bailes at the West Virginia Brain Injury Research Institute for, among other things, a presentation of the Benoit brain study slides. Yet the next year, after Omalu and Bailes had also isolated CTE in the postmortem brain of another dead young WWE guy, Andrew Martin, the company told ESPN that it had “been asking to see the research and test results in the case of Mr. Benoit for years and has not been supplied with them.” In letters threatening me with a lawsuit for reporting this falsehood, WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt has claimed that the ESPN statement meant that the company suspected a flawed “chain of custody” for the slides Omalu showed Maroon.

In January 2010 veteran WWE mid-card performer Charlie Haas suffered what an MRI revealed to be two herniated disks in his neck, and was advised to consider spinal fusion surgery. Haas told me that Dr. Maroon, without even personally examining him, contended that it was a mere “stinger” (relatively minor and temporary nerve irritation), and the company released him the next month. This chain of events contradicted the assertions of Vince and Linda McMahon that they take full care of their injured wrestlers, whom WWE classifies as independent contractors – a practice now under investigation by the Connecticut Department of Labor.

Last October Dr. Maroon told the Hartford Courant that WWE has “no talent now on steroids.” Mind-bogglingly incorrect, said Wrestling Observer Newsletter publisher Dave Meltzer: “There is absolutely no way anyone can say that given someone with money with access to designer steroids can take stuff that will get through testing. That would be as preposterous as someone saying that in any sport, well, actually more, because steroids are still more of a part of the wrestling culture than most sports.”

Maroon, who still participates in ironman triathalons despite being around 70 years old, is a proponent of the red-grape abstract resveratrol, and a partner in the company that licensed Harvard Medical School resveratrol research to a Pittsburgh company, Vinomis Labs, which markets a supplement called Vindure. The Vinomis website promotes Maroon’s latest book, The Longevity Factor.

It all adds up to a lot of hats – perhaps too many for truly independent evaluation of concussion management in sports and sports entertainment. Connecticut’s new senator, Richard Blumenthal, who defeated Linda McMahon in November, should join forces with Senator Udall in asking Joseph Maroon more questions and in working to imbue the gladiatorial spectacles of American popular culture with saner occupational health and safety standards.

Irvin Muchnick is author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death. Blog: Twitter: @irvmuch. YouTube:

Monday, January 17, 2011

NFL: No Comment on Senator Udall’s Call for FTC Investigation of Riddell Helmet Claims from Dr. Maroon Research

[posted 1/13/11 to]

Yesterday I emailed both Dr. Joseph Maroon (National Football League and World Wrestling Entertainment consultant) and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello for comment on Senator Tom Udall’s request to the Federal Trade Commission for a probe of the Riddell company’s promotion of its Revolution football helmet.

Today I followed up with Aiello. In addition to reiterating my question about whether the NFL had ever expressed disapproval to Riddell of the way its NFL Charities-funded research, co-conducted by Dr. Maroon, was being exploited commercially, I asked Aiello if the league had any statement on the Riddell matter.

Aiello emailed back that there would be no response. “You should contact Riddell,” he wrote.

I find extraordinary the NFL’s complete silence on a New York Times front-page story.

On the credit side, the league just launched a new website,, which is a decent (if guarded) information clearinghouse. The news section even links to the Times article — potentially one of the most important sports industry stories of the year, but one on which the NFL has no comment.

Irv Muchnick

Support Wrestler Mick Foley’s Work With ChildFund International in Sierra Leone

[posted 1/13/11 to]

I just finished reading the chapter “A Sponsor for Alimany” in Mick Foley’s latest book, Countdown to Lockdown. It is reason enough to take a pause from my advocacy of reform and regulation of the pro wrestling industry.

Though Countdown to Lockdown is not Foley’s best book, I have to say in all candor that he’s probably a more intuitively natural writer than I. He’s an inveterate name-dropper, but what the heck, at least he name-drops down the social ladder as well as up.

As every reader has learned to expect from him, there’s a nonstop barrage of pop-culture references. I mean, I watch the new Hawaii Five-O, and I am smitten by Grace Park as the new-and-improved Kono and everything. But in comparison with Foley, I might as well be the finger-wagging author of The Closing of the American Mind.

So, yes, Foley is charming. Endlessly so, even annoyingly so. The cadence of his punch lines – inevitably a non sequitur or fantasy or falsity at the end of a list of examples – is so predictable and full of neurotic tics that he can come off as the WASP Woody Allen. And by the way, that’s not a compliment from me.

Like a lot of others, I didn’t like it when Foley endorsed Linda McMahon in the Connecticut Senate race last year, in what was obviously either an explicit or a tacit quid pro quo for a plug of his book on World Wrestling Entertainment television (an unprecedented use of WWE air time for talent currently affiliated with an opposition promotion).

But as I said, I just read “A Sponsor for Alimany,” about Foley’s work with ChildFund International, and I’m hooked. Cactus Jack/Mankind/Dude Love may be a world-class crackpot – literally – but what resides in his heart is not fool’s gold. Whatever I think of the model of Foley’s hardcore stuntman wrestling career or the specifics of his politics, he is someone who thinks and feels about the larger world, who believes in the power of his celebrity to improve it, and who acts on those beliefs, daily and concretely. These traits get him “over” with this reader.

In response, I’ve done two things. First, I gave Countdown to Lockdown to my older daughter and asked her to read “A Sponsor for Alimany.” (The book was actually a gift from the mother of my daughter’s best friend: thank you, Angela and Zooey.) Mara is a freshman at Berkeley High School and she is currently doing a unit on West Africa in one of her classes.

Second, I took up Mick Foley’s exhortation on page 191 and contributed to ChildFund International. I’m pretty broke right now and I can’t handle a full ongoing child sponsorship, but I made a one-time donation of $28 (the monthly cost of a sponsorship). I urge everyone reading this to do at least as much. You can call ChildFund International at 800-776-6767 or go to Be sure to earmark your funds for the Bombali area of Sierra Leone.

Good game, brother Mick.

Irv Muchnick

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why Didn’t NFL and WWE’s Dr. Maroon Speak Up About the Riddell Helmet Advertising Claims?

[posted 1/13/11 to]

It’s all well and good that Dr. Joseph Maroon now agrees with Senator Tom Udall’s call for a Federal Trade Commission investigation of the Riddell manufacturer’s claim of a 31 percent reduction in concussions for its Revolution helmet model.

The number came from a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center study conducted by Maroon and published in the journal Neurosurgery. The paper was co-authored by Riddell’s chief engineer and the research was funded by NFL Charities, the philanthrophic arm of the National Football League.

The New York Times’ Alan Schwarz, whose investigative article last October on the unreliable work of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) helped spur Senator Udall’s call to the FTC, reported that Maroon “disagreed with Riddell’s marketing the 31 percent figure without acknowledging its limitations, and supported Udall’s request for a formal scrutiny.”

Maroon told The Times: “That was the data that came out, but the authors of that study on multiple occasions have recommended further investigations, better controls and with larger numbers. If one is going to make statements relative to the paper we wrote, it should be with the limitations that we emphasized, and not extrapolated to studies that we suggest should be done and haven’t been done yet.”

Udall’s letter to the FTC cites a Riddell promotional video on YouTube, “The Pinnacle of Protection and Performance,” hyping the Maroon study. The video was posted last September, a month before Schwarz’s expose of NOCSAE.

But the senator is actually too kind. On the RiddellSports YouTube channel, there is earlier and even more explicit evidence. “Keep Your Head Safe: The Riddell Revolution Football Helmet,”, posted on July 29, 2008, begins:

“Research published in the February 2006 issue of Neurosurgery reveals that players wearing the Riddell Revolution were 31 percent less likely to suffer a concussion than those wearing traditional football helmets. The study, conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, evaluated more than 2,000 high school football players over a three-year period, and determined the rate of concussions for players wearing Riddell’s new Revolution helmet versus traditional helmets. The helmet design was based on extensive research funded by NFL Charities.”

I asked The Times’ Schwarz if he had sought elaboration from Dr. Maroon as to where, when, and to whom he had ever objected to Riddell’s advertising claims exploiting his research. Schwarz declined comment.

Neither Maroon nor NFL spokesman Greg Aiello has responded to my email asking for specifics on any dissents to Riddell expressed by either Maroon or NFL Charities.

To reinforce the themes of this blog, the involvement of one of the NFL’s concussion experts in exaggerated claims by Riddell should not be limited to this probe by Senator Udall and the FTC. Joseph Maroon is also the medical director of World Wrestling Entertainment, and the undue influence of industry on his medical and scientific work also has become part of the investigation of pro wrestling’s death pandemic, which must be pursued by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, the White House Office of National Drug Policy, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and/or the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Irv Muchnick

More Questions About WWE Medical Director Joseph Maroon

[posted 1/12/11 to]

In response to my article yesterday at Beyond Chron, “Joseph Maroon, Doctor for NFL and WWE, Has It Every Which Way on Concussions,”, Mark Picot of Boston submitted a letter to the editor. I reproduce it here:

Dr. Joseph Maroon is the same guy who dismissed a jaw correcting device, currently used in the NFL, that helps protect the medial temporal lobe area, where CTE is found. Boxers who develop CTE are known to have a Glass jaw. An NFL presentation in NY was ignored in 07 and no mandate or effective research has been initiated by the NFL. Yet the Pentagon and the Army are moving forward to investigate this means of prevention, Maroon still asks, just how do you get a concussion from a blow to the jaw?

It turns out that Mark Picot is executive vice president of the manufacturer of a product called the Maher Mouth Guard. In a phone conversation today, Picot told me that this appliance is used by the New England Patriots, who historically rank at or near the bottom of the annual lists of numbers of concussions in the National Football League.

I am not endorsing Picot’s positions on everything, but it is definitely an area worth exploring. I will be reporting back on this blog as I do that.

Picot’s assertions also raise the possibility that Dr. Maroon – whose uncomfortably broad celebrity profile and series of misleading public statements I have already documented – has been involved for many years in a larger story of captive-scientific-industrial research skewed toward particular products, such as Riddell helmets and “imPACT” concussion management. Those products, in turn, obviously set standards at the collegiate and high school levels because of the NFL’s television exposure and market power. They also, in turn, could give the public both a false sense of security and an exaggerated narrative of the league’s proactivity from the moment of first awareness of the enormity of the concussion problem in its sport. More on all these aspects as my investigation proceeds.

I find it very telling that the NFL retained Maroon on its concussion policy committee after the October 2009 hearings of the House Judiciary Committee that sent the chairmen of that committee into exile. For those of us interested in the story of Chris Benoit and pro wrestling’s “cocktail of death,” it is perhaps equally telling that Maroon would be the doctor Vince McMahon chose in 2008 to be World Wrestling Entertainment’s medical director.

These are dimensions Senator Tom Udall should explore as he asks the Federal Trade Commission to study the advertising claims of Maroon-researched Riddell helmets.

Irv Muchnick

‘Joseph Maroon, Doctor for NFL and WWE, Has It Every Which Way on Concussions’ at Beyond Chron

[posted 1/11/11 to]

by Irvin Muchnick

With the Pittsburgh Steelers about to open their playoff schedule Saturday in quest of a franchise record-extending seventh Super Bowl title, one of their long-time team physicians, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon, is under heightened scrutiny for his role in the National Football League’s increasingly visible concussion issue. It’s a role best described as some undetermined compound of “part of the problem” and “part of the solution.”

Last week Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico called for a Federal Trade Commission probe of Riddell helmets, an official NFL supplier, for the company’s consumer-product claim of a new design promising to decrease concussions by 31 percent. That number was based on a research paper co-authored by Dr. Maroon and commissioned by Riddell. Maroon told the New York Times that Riddell advertising overreached from a limited sample of his results, which require further testing.


‘Jerry McDevitt vs. Mike Benoit’ Is Not as Important as ‘WWE Lobbyists vs. the Regulators’

[posted 1/10/11 to]

A few days ago Cageside Seats’ Keith Harris broke down Dave Meltzer’s Part 2 of his World Wrestling Entertainment lawyer Jerry McDevitt-induced walkback of the suggestion that WWE might have sought to coordinate with the Benoit survivors a narrative of the order of Nancy and Daniel Benoit’s deaths.

See “Jerry McDevitt and Mike Benoit continue their feud in Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter,”

Overall, the credibility of Chris Benoit’s father is much, much higher than WWE’s. That simple truth gets lost in the thickets of Meltzer’s legalistic review of a sideshow story.

I hope Meltzer eventually comes through with an analysis of similar length and complexity on the inner workings of the various Congressional committees and government agencies, federal and state, that could constructively recast the pro wrestling industry after Linda McMahon’s failed Senate bid in Connecticut. So far Meltzer has mostly given us variations on how unlikely such interventions are because nobody cares about wrestling. (Always left unclear is whether Meltzer includes himself among the nobodies.)

What I concede to be a very interesting story from Jerry McDevitt’s recent paper dump on me is how both Meltzer and I missed, for nearly three years, the finding of an enlarged heart in Chris Benoit’s autopsy. It doesn’t change the paradigm of a “cocktail of death,” but it is a material unreported fact. I’ll get to that one in due course.

Irv Muchnick

WWE Pedophile Accuser Tom Cole Redux Redux Redux Redux Redux

[posted 1/10/11 to]

For some unfathomable reason, Mike Mooneyham of The Post & Courier (Charleston, South Carolina) thinks there is news value in yet another revised iteration of Tom Cole’s memoirs. See “Troubled past distant memory for ex-ring boy,”

Mooneyham doesn’t ask Cole about his second lawsuit against the McMahons, or about his Wrestling Perspective interview. So what’s the point? It’s great that Cole is happy with how his life is turning out.

Irv Muchnick

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Steelers’ Wheel: Pittsburgh Media Are Mum on the Connections of Pitt Med Center, Pittsburgh Steelers, and WWE Scandals

[posted 1/7/11 to]

The great city of Pittsburgh has much to be proud of. In the upcoming National Football League playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers may well win their record-extending seventh franchise Super Bowl (and their chances will be better if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t get caught raping another woman over the next month). The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby is, simply, the most magnificent hockey player on the planet; let’s hope he makes a full and speedy recovery from his current concussion. And the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is renowned for its research and care.

Unfortunately, there’s another story out there that isn’t so nice: some UPMC doctors have come under heavy fire for some of their outside work – with the NFL and its culture of head injuries, with World Wrestling Entertainment and its culture of multifaceted deaths, including from head injuries; and with a supplement company that seemingly doesn’t qualify as “Industry” under the medical center’s new-and-improved conflict-of-interest code.

So far, not a word about these controversies from any major Pittsburgh media. (Last month Pittsburgh City Paper, an alternative weekly, ran a cover story on the WWE talent wellness program, which managed to whiff on every hard-hitting angle of it.)

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s a weekend reading list:

“Muchnick Flashback: WWE Docs Governed by ‘Private’ Pitt Med Center Ethics Policy,” 12/14/10,

“New Threats From WWE Lawyer Jerry McDevitt,” 12/17/10,

“Knocking Heads Together: WWE Is the Next Frontier of Sports Concussion Reform,” 12/21/10,

“Pitt Med Center Doctors’ Supplement Company and WWE Ties Skirt Ethics Policy,” 1/4/11,

“Dr. Joseph Maroon’s Disturbing Pattern of Misstatements,” 1/5/11,

“Dear Senator Udall: Help Coordinate Concussion and Steroid Investigations,” 1/5/11,

Irv Muchnick

More Cat-And-Mouse Website Games With WWE Doctor-Huckster Bryan Donohue

[posted 1/7/11 to]

This blog has criticized World Wrestling Entertainment’s wellness program cardiovascular screening for not noticing wrestler Eddie “Umaga” Fatu’s enlarged heart before he died of a heart attack in December 2009. WWE employs University of Pittsburgh Medical Center cardiologist Bryan Donohue (as well as UPMC neurologist Joseph Maroon as the WWE medical director).

I’ve also criticized Donohue and Maroon for their promotion of a supplement whose company is partly owned by the former and whose research is licensed by a company partly owned by the latter.

For details, see Wrestling Babylon Blog LLP, passim.

Puckish sort that I am, I also publicized the dormant beta home pages of Dr. Donohue’s website. When he took down the “sample” links, which obviously were submitted by a professional web designer, I published screen prints.

But now I notice that the beta pages are still on the web — they’re just not linked from, which greets visitors with the new language “Coming Soon!”

You can still type into your browser bar and view:

Irv Muchnick

WWE Cardiologist Bryan Donohue Takes Down His Beta Website Home Pages

[posted 1/5/11 to]

I’ve been criticizing World Wrestling Entertainment’s consulting cardiologist, Dr. Bryan Donohue, who is also the chief of cardiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Shadyside Hospital.

I question his outside investment in and undisclosed hype on behalf of a supplement company, and wonder where that fits in with UPMC’s vaunted new ethics policy.

I also wonder if WWE cardio screening was asleep at the switch with Eddie “Umaga” Fatu, who died of an enlarged heart at age 36.

Earlier today I posted links to Dr. Donohue’s draft website home pages, which highlight his association with the supplement company, Vinomis Labs, and its flagship product, the resveratrol supplement Vindure. These beta pages, labeled “Sample 1,” “Sample 2,” and “Sample 3,” have been up for a year.

Now Donohue has taken the pages down. When you go to, you get the greeting “Coming Soon!”

Those of you who want to see crude screen prints of “Sample 1,” “Sample 2,” and “Sample 3,” which were captured before Donohue deleted them, should go to,, and

The dude seems to have something against the concept of accountability.

Irv Muchnick

Dear Senator Udall: Help Coordinate Concussion and Steroid Investigations

[posted 1/5/11 to]

Below is the text of a fax sent today to Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico.

Dear Senator Udall:

As someone with a public stake in Congressional follow-through on investigations of the professional wrestling industry’s occupational health and safety – including, as I will proceed to explain, both concussions and drug abuse – I read with great interest the news of your request to the Federal Trade Commission for an inquiry on the consumer product claims of the Riddell football helmet manufacturer.

I am the author of the book CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death. I blog about related issues at

I am cc’ing two other interested parties in this discussion: Richard Blumenthal, your new Senate colleague from Connecticut, and Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Here is the pertinent background.

In 2007, in the wake of the tragic story of World Wrestling Entertainment star Chris Benoit (who murdered his wife and their 7-year-old son before taking his own life), the wrestling industry’s pandemic of young deaths was investigated by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; at the time the chair was Congressman Henry Waxman and that body had a Democratic majority. In January 2009 Congressman Waxman concluded his work in this area by forwarding his personal findings to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. The committee’s investigation had included extensive transcripted interviews of WWE executives and contractors by committee staff.

Though the primary focus of that probe was steroid and prescription pharmaceutical abuse, there was also a great deal of information generated on WWE head-injury policies and procedures. In a sense, pro wrestling is “ground zero” of this whole subject in both legitimate sports and sports entertainment: the Benoit case raised awareness of the phenomenon known as Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy; and perhaps the leading advocate of CTE research and concussion-management reform is Chris Nowinski of Boston’s Sports Legacy Institute, a WWE performer who had to retire due to cumulative brain trauma.

Unfortunately, in my layman’s view, the concussion aspect of the Waxman Committee investigation was both incomplete and riddled with misleading testimony, some of which may have risen to perjurious levels.

Indeed, my further opinion is that the entire Waxman exercise of 2007 was incomplete because it did not result in public hearings and because nothing further has been heard on the matter from either Congress or the White House.

The 112th Congress has a major opportunity to rectify that lapse. Senator Blumenthal, like yourself, comes to Washington after long experience as his state’s attorney general. In addition, he was elected to the Senate, in some measure, on the basis of renewed scrutiny of pro wrestling occupational health and safety issues, and he has promised to incorporate them into his agenda.

From my perspective, one key is to coordinate disparate aspects of prospective investigations of wrestling, and that is what brings me to your work on football helmet safety. The New York Times account of your initiative cites a study of the Riddell helmet design by Dr. Joseph Maroon, a Pittsburgh Steelers team physician and a member of the National Football League concussion policy (which, as I am sure you know, was so heavily criticized in House Judiciary Committee hearings that the league last year dismissed its leadership and installed new co-chairs). Since 2008 (subsequent to the Waxman Committee interviews), Dr. Maroon also has been medical director of WWE, and has faced much additional criticism in that role.

Historically, Dr. Maroon has tended to echo the line on concussion research issued by his corporate clients, be they the NFL or WWE. Without knowing much about the merits of the Riddell helmet matter, I was encouraged by the fact that Dr. Maroon now seems to be distancing himself from some of the specifics of Riddell’s exploitation of the data from his helmet study. I speculate that this may be due to the helpful pressure of a United States senator’s voice on the issue. I also think that is an excellent model – for yourself, for Senator Blumenthal, for Mr. Kerlikowske, or for any elected or appointed public official who confronts the important challenge of reforming and regulating the wrestling industry.

Thank you for your attention to these points. I look forward to continuing to follow your work.

Irvin Muchnick

Muchnick’s 12/31 Interview on Dave Zirin’s ‘Edge of Sports’ in Podcast Form

View Dr. Bryan Donohue’s Untouched Website Templates

[posted 1/5/11 to]

World Wrestling Entertainment, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and cardiologist Bryan Donohue and neurologist Joseph Maroon have not commented on my report yesterday on the ethical questions raised by the doctors’ outside business interests. (See

But for those of you who are interested, three dummy versions of Dr. Donohue’s personal website, with hints of its still-unloaded promotional content, can be viewed at

Irv Muchnick

Dr. Joseph Maroon’s Disturbing Pattern of Misstatements

[posted 1/5/11 to]

Dustin Fink, the Illinois athletic trainer who authors the indispensable “Concussion Blog” (, was intrigued enough by yesterday’s item here about the conflicts of interest of World Wrestling Entertainment’s doctors from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center that he went back and re-read Chris Nowinski’s book Head Games. In Chapter 7, Fink came across another example of Dr. Joseph Maroon’s penchant for misremembering facts related to concussion controversies.

Nowinski recounts how, after Dr. Bennet Omalu found that the late Pittsburgh Steelers players Mike Webster and Terry Long had Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy, Maroon led the National Football League chorus in attacking the “fallacious reasoning” behind Omalu’s research.

“I was the team neurosurgeon during Long’s entire tenure with the Steelers, and I still am,” Maroon said. “I re-checked my records; there was not one cerebral concussion documented in him during those entire seven years.”

Omalu, however, came found in Long’s records a letter by Maroon, dated December 22, 1987, asking that Long be suspended from play for two weeks because of a concussion.

No one who has seen the football movies North Dallas Forty and Any Given Sunday can fail to appreciate the tremendous commercial pressure NFL team physicians face. Anecdotal evidence mounts that Joseph Maroon has not been among the best at staring down that pressure from his corporate clients – which now, tellingly, include WWE as well as the NFL.

Irv Muchnick

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Concussion Blog: ‘WWE Comes Under Fire’

“WWE Comes Under Fire”

Dustin Fink, The Concussion Blog

If doctors are being paid by an organization to be “protectors” and policy makers for the safety of individuals shouldn’t there be some sort of transparency, both in regards to medical issues and the doctor themselves? In my opinion the higher the profile the situation/organization even it is even more important to get all of your “ducks in a row.”

... Irvin Muchnick has gone to great lengths to expose some very viral issues in the world of professional wrestling.

Pitt Med Center Doctors’ Supplement Company and WWE Ties Skirt Ethics Policy

by Irvin Muchnick

After surviving a stern electoral test from World Wrestling Entertainment mogul Linda McMahon, Connecticut’s new U.S. senator, former state attorney general Richard Blumenthal, faces the task of moving the chains on government investigations of the pro wrestling industry’s deaths and horrendous occupational health and safety standards. One possible point of entry is the relationship of WWE with doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, one of the country’s premier clinical and research institutions.

In 2008 UPMC revised its ethics policy to curb what was perceived as the undue influence of large pharmaceutical companies over doctors’ decisions. No longer could UPMC physicians or other employees accept complimentary corporate-logo swag like pens, notebooks, and clocks, or such perks as tickets to sporting events, travel, meals, or most kinds of consultancies. These changes were widely and justifiably praised.

But the entrepreneurial careers of Dr. Bryan Donohue, chief of cardiology at UPMC’s Shadyside Hospital, and Dr. Joseph Maroon, a prominent UPMC neurosurgeon, suggest the policy has a giant loophole: the roles of physicians in outside ventures, including with unregulated supplement companies. Donohue directs talent cardiovascular screening for World Wrestling Entertainment. Maroon (also a team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers and a member of the National Football League’s concussion policy committee) is WWE’s medical director.

Both are proponents of the red-grape abstract resveratrol for its asserted benefits for a healthy heart, energy, and fighting cancer and aging. They have taken to hyping, for their own profit, a particular brand called Vindure.

Though many among us might wonder if we could achieve just about the same effect by drinking a glass of grape juice every morning, as Larry King used to recommend in his radio commercials for Welch’s, the larger issue of supplement regulation is far from the only eyebrow-raiser for the UPMC clinicians affiliated with WWE. Equally troubling is Donohue’s exploitation of his UPMC credentials on behalf of Vindure even as the med center congratulates itself for more rigorous conflict-of-interest rules. In at least some of his promotional efforts, Donohue doesn’t even disclose to potential medical patients and supplement consumers his equity interest in Vindure’s company, Vinomis Labs.

(Donohue and Maroon did not respond to requests for interviews or comment. Nor did University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg or Dr. Barbara Barnes, the UPMC vice president who authored the ethics policy.)

Vinomis Labs, headquartered in the Pittsburgh suburb of Sewickley, launched Vindure in 2009. Donohue and Vindure were featured in a January 2010 article in a Pittsburgh lifestyle magazine called The Whirl, which was accompanied by a news interview – essentially an infomercial – on television station KDKA. The interview is viewable at

Donohue, who is listed at the Vinomis website as the company’s “chief medical adviser,” is one of its five founding investors, according to a 2009 article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In the original report on this blog on Donohue’s Vinomis connection last March, I noted that his Pittsburgh TV interview was a testimonial for Vindure, amounting to what people on Madison Avenue call a “Victor Kiam” (after the one-time owner of the New England Patriots who famously said on commercials that he liked Remington electric shavers so much, “I bought the company”).

When I reviewed the YouTube clip for this current post, however, I did not see a reference there to Donohue’s part-ownership of Vinomis; either the original video got edited or my March report was mistaken about a detail that at least would give Donohue credit for having disclosed his stake.

There is no disclosure by Donohue that he owns the product he is pushing in other elements of the campaign for Vinomis coordinated by EMSI Public Relations, which describes itself as a “pay-for-performance” firm. In a news release headlined “Could Compound in Red Wine Help Cancer Patients?; Resveratrol Being Tested for Effectiveness in Treatment and Prevention of Cancer,” he is quoted at length about “an abundance of very well done basic preclinical science” on resveratrol.

“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,” Donohue says. “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: “I prefer the product line from Vinomis (, 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.”

The doctor is among the “food and health industry clients” who are available for media interviews through EMSI – in his case on the suggested topic “Overworked & Stressed Out? Top Cardiologist Gives Tips on How to Stay Healthy Under These Conditions.” Bullet-point answers are “eat better,” “sleep better,” “exercise,” and “take supplements,” especially those at


Dr. Maroon’s resume raises related ethical flags. The company website promotes his book The Longevity Factor and says he “assisted Vinomis in the formulation of Vindure.” The Pittsbugh Tribune-Review story identifies Maroon as a partner in Xenomis LLC, which licensed the Harvard Medical School research on which Vindure is based, receives royalties from Vinomis, and shares “five to ten percent” of those royalties with Harvard.

(The product itself,one of many resveratrol supplements on the market, is manufactured in South Carolina by a subsidiary of General Nutrition Centers. The Harvard medical research, spearheaded by David Sinclair, has just moved from experiments on mice to human trials.)

According to his UPMC bio, Maroon also is on the board of directors of Mylan, a Pennsylvania company that markets generic pharmaceuticals. Since Maroon wouldn’t talk to me, I can only speculate on how he or UPMC might rationalize his outside business activities. In the case of generic drugs, they certainly save patients money over name-brand equivalents. Maroon may well be a true believer in the benefits of Vindure, too. But even in that event, he owes the public transparent disclosure of his financial interest.

Maroon’s most visible hat is with the Steelers and the NFL. He was among the league spokesmen who testified last year at hearings of the House Judiciary Committee, which focused public criticism of the early deaths and mental illness of former football players who had suffered serial untreated concussions during their careers.

The proportions in which Maroon is part of the solution and part of the problem remain open to debate. At UPMC he has helped develop a patented system of concussion prevention and treatment programs, known as imPACT, which includes baseline neurological testing and more precise protocols for determining when an athlete is ready to return to action following a head injury. Last year the NFL donated $1 million to Boston University Hospital to study dead athletes’ brains and further CTE research, and more recently NFL Charities added nearly as much for independent research on such related topics as youth sports concussions and post-career dementia.

At the same time, many concussion-reform advocates do not place Maroon on the aggressive end of the continuum of experts acknowledging CTE. (He also advocates large intakes of fish-oil supplements to ameliorate brain trauma – a point on which there is near-universal consensus.) After last year’s scathing criticism by the Judiciary Committee, the NFL shook up the leadership of its concussion committee; Maroon, who was not one of the co-chairmen, still serves on it, according to league spokesman Greg Aiello.

I asked Aiello whether team physicians were governed by a formal ethics policy similar to UPMC’s. Aiello said, “The doctors are obligated to follow the code of ethics of their profession and of their specific medical societies (i.e., AMA, American Orthopaedic Society of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, etc.).”

One passage of the American Medical Association policy which arguably applies to Donohue and Maroon is Opinion 5.02, “Advertising and Publicity”: “A physician may publicize him or herself … provided that the communication shall not be misleading because of the omission of necessary material information ...”

WWE spokesman Robert Zimmerman has not responded to an email query on whether the company considers its wellness team practitioners bound by the same standards as those of the NFL.


WWE created Maroon’s title of medical director in 2008. In the last generation pro wrestling has had an astronomical rate of occupation-related deaths under age 50 – multiples higher than even football’s. In 2006, shortly after one of its biggest stars, Eddie Guerrero, had a fatal heart attack at 38, WWE instituted what it calls a “wellness policy.” The WWE program includes testing for steroids and other drugs.

In 2007 another WWE headline performer, Chris Benoit, murdered his wife and their 7-year-old son before killing himself at their home in suburban Atlanta. In his postmortem toxicology, Benoit had a testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio of 59-to-1 (the Olympic pre-doping maximum is 4-to-1), but he had been deemed clean under wellness policy tests because of a “therapeutic use exemption.” Two months earlier Benoit’s wife, a victim of domestic violence at various times, had texted to him that “we both know the wellness program is a joke.”

During the Linda McMahon Senate campaign last year, Maroon told the Hartford Courant, “We have no talent now on steroids.”Dave Meltzer, publisher of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, called the inaccuracy of that statement “mind-boggling.”

In terms of Maroon’s medical specialty of neurology, the matter of closest interest was his response to a study of Benoit’s brain tissue, which showed a large accumulation of tau proteins, the sign of CTE. The examination was conducted by a forensic pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, one of the pioneers of this research, at the behest of the Sports Legacy Institute. SLI had been started by a former WWE performer and Harvard graduate, Chris Nowinski, who retired from the ring as a result of his own concussions.

Much like Maroon and the NFL originally, WWE tried to discredit or downplay CTE research. But the hiring of Maroon to coordinate WWE’s wellness policy coincided with the addition of Maroon’s imPACT testing and of Donohue’s area of expertise, cardiovascular screening. In total, five out of the wellness program’s eight medical professionals listed at the WWE website are from UPMC.

Whatever progress has been achieved by the wellness policy is sullied by questions about the overall integrity of WWE’s investment in the occupational health and safety of its talent in light of its long history of inaction coupled with misleading or false public statements. From 1996 to 2006 WWE had no comprehensive steroid testing, which had originated in the wake of the 1991 federal conviction and imprisonment on steroid-trafficking charges of George Zahorian, one of WWE’s Pennsylvania ringside doctors.

The year before hiring Maroon, WWE founder and chairman Vince McMahon told both CNN and investigators for Congressman Henry Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the promotion was banning “chair shots” to the head from its arsenal of physical theater. In fact, WWE wrestlers continued to bash steel chairs on each others’ craniums until January 2010 – by which time Vince’s wife Linda was already deep into her unsuccessful self-funded $50 million Senate campaign.

Besides sometimes joining WWE in criticizing CTE research as hyped, Maroon has given UPMC-credentialed cover to other corporate statements of dubious faith. In October 2008 Maroon met with Dr. Omalu and Dr. Julian Bailes at the West Virginia Brain Injury Research Institute, where Maroon was shown slides from the Benoit brain study. Five months later another WWE wrestler who had been fired earlier, 33-year-old Andrew Martin, died from a prescription drug overdose, and Martin’s father donated his brain for a similar study by the West Virginia doctors. They found CTE – making it two for two among dead wrestlers tested.

Yet in a statement to ESPN, which reported the findings, WWE said it was “unaware of the veracity of any of these tests, be it for Chris Benoit or Andrew Martin.... WWE has been asking to see the research and test results in the case of Mr. Benoit for years and has not been supplied with them.”

Maroon, who knew otherwise, said nothing. In the course of legal threats directed at me for my reporting, WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt has maintained that what the statement to ESPN really conveyed was that WWE challenges the “chain of custody” of the Benoit brain tissue purportedly under study – in other words, the company demands further proof that the histologic slides produced by Drs. Omalu and Bailes were not from the brain of someone other than Benoit.

My latest full email exchange with McDevitt, on December 16-17, is reproduced at


The nexus of Donohue and Maroon’s controversial consultancies for WWE is two dramatic wrestlers’ deaths during the Linda McMahon Senate campaign. In December 2009 Samoan-American wrestler Eddie Fatu — age 36, stage name “Umaga” — died of a heart attack, which would be blamed on the familiar pattern of steroid and painkiller abuse. The autopsy found that Fatu, 406 pounds, had an enlarged heart. Had the WWE cardio screening program not detected the condition? If not, why not? Six months earlier Fatu had been fired by WWE for refusing to go to drug rehabilitation. Two years before that, he had been suspended for being one of the dozen-plus company performers found by prosecutors on the customer list of the Internet steroid dealer Signature Pharmacy.

And in August 2010, Lance McNaught, who had wrestled for WWE as “Lance Cade,” died of “heart failure” at 29. There is reason to wonder whether Fatu or McNaught, or both, had CTE. Regardless, the latter’s prescription pill addiction could be traced at least in part to an October 2008 segment on the cable show Raw in which he was smashed 19 times with a chair, including once flush on the head. This, of course, occurred during the period between Vince McMahon’s 2007 public statements about banning chair shots to the head and the actual imposition of the policy in 2010.

Meanwhile, a closer examination of Chris Benoit’s July 2007 autopsy report, produced by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, reveals that he, too, had an enlarged heart – as did the wrestlers Davey Boy Smith, Eddie Guerrero, and many others who died young prior to the start of both the WWE wellness policy and its cardiovascular screening component. (See

One thing Senator Blumenthal and others probing pro wrestling need to examine closely at this point is whether WWE cardiovascular screening under Drs. Maroon and Donohue is meaningful, transparent, and effective. In general, more information must be generated on this industry’s “cocktail of death” – different permutations and interactions, in individual cases, of heart disease, steroid abuse, prescription pharmaceutical toxicity, and CTE/concussion syndrome. The history of the problem, along with its scale and public-health implications, suggests that the leading pro wrestling promotion has forfeited the argument that it can be trusted to regulate itself.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, meanwhile, should answer for some of its best-known doctors’ outside interests with both Vinomis Labs and WWE.

Irvin Muchnick is author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death. He blogs at and is @irvmuch on Twitter.