Thursday, January 13, 2011

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

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