Wednesday, February 23, 2011

For Dave Duerson, ‘88 Plan’ Wasn’t Enough

The Dave Duerson suicide is a chilling event through and through. One of the coldest things is its recursive irony: Duerson served on the National Football League committee that helped process disability claims of families of retired players, including the “88 Plan,” which defrays the medical bills of victims of dementia.

Even if Duerson’s golden life and career had not deteriorated to the point where he was himself one of the disabled, and even if he hadn’t plummeted into the financial bankruptcy so common among sufferers of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (the devastating disease for which his brain will now be tested), becoming intimately involved in the paperwork of the heartbreaking cases of his ex-colleagues must have been profoundly depressing.

The scenario reminds me of the constant stream of funerals and memorial shows for dead fellow wrestlers Chris Benoit found himself attending five or so years ago, until he himself snapped.

History – if not, in the nearer future, our courts of law – will have much to say about the NFL’s response to evidence that its product was killing its talent and, by its enormous commercial and cultural influence, spreading brain trauma through the American sports superstructure like a weed.

Dr. Bennet Omalu named the disease CTE but he didn’t invent the problem of epidemic head injury. That was for others before him to reveal – or ignore. In future posts I’ll get into all this in greater depth. Readers can decide how much such criticism adds up to garden-variety second-guessing and how much establishes clear-cut corporate extemporizing and blame-shifting about the well-being of workers, as well as about its implications for national public health.

Information on the 88 Plan itself is at Earmarked for ex-players with dementia, the plan was inspired by the case of Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, who is now in his late sixties but has had severe cognitive problems, culminating in dementia, probably for a decade or more. The “88” refers to Mackey’s uniform number with the Baltimore Colts; in the original concept, dementia benefits were to be capped at $85,000 per claimant, but in honor of Mackey it was upped to $88,000. The program started in September 2007.

As Alan Schwarz reported in The New York Times, Dave Duerson had a “testy exchange” with former UCLA and Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Brent Boyd at a 2007 Congressional hearing. Boyd said his clinical depression was the result of cumulative football hits. Duerson disagreed.

That is a very interesting addition to the Duerson narrative in multiple respects. When the work of the NFL disability committee began, Duerson could have been a voice who, either generally speaking or in particular cases, was overly sympathetic to the league company line in his interpretation of claims; and that, in turn, could have led to guilt and exacerbated his depression as his own symptoms accelerated. Again, the instruction of the Chris Benoit experience: near the end of his life, Benoit, who had always defended the wrestling industry’s hyper-macho credo, found himself resignedly agreeing with disgruntled colleagues who unloaded with him about their unconscionable working conditions.

Brent Boyd is on the board of directors of a former players’ advocacy group called Dignity After Football; the website is I am trying to reach Boyd for comment.

Irv Muchnick

WWE Hall of Fame Flashback: What Shawn Michaels Did to Lance Cade

“Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels Should Speak Up on What Happened to Lance Cade,” February 14,

“Did WWE’s Lance Cade Have Brain Damage? It May Not Be Too Late to Find Out,”
February 15,

WWE Hall of Fame Notes: Bob Armstrong Is Going In – That’s Why Referee Scott Armstrong, Chris Benoit’s Text-Message Friend, Is Back

Sources tell me that “Bullet Bob” Armstrong is going into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame this year. (Others named so far are Shawn Michaels and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan.)

I don’t believe Armstrong, now 71, ever wrestled for WWE or its predecessor WWF; I know fans will quickly correct me if I’m wrong about that. But he had a long and distinguished career for southern promotions, and since WrestleMania is being held this year in Atlanta, his induction has a marketing hook.

An amusing offshoot is that this development triggered the return of WWE referee (and former wrestler) Scott Armstrong, Bullet Bob’s son. No one could figure out why Scott was released last year in the first place, since he got high marks for his work, but whatever. Scott is again gainfully employed by the world’s dominant pro wrestling promotion.

As readers of this blog and my book CHRIS & NANCY also know, Scott Armstrong was, along with wrestler Chavo Guerrero, a recipient of Chris Benoit’s final text messages, just before he killed himself after murdering his wife Nancy and their 7-year-old son Daniel. WWE’s explanation for why company higher-ups supposedly didn’t know about these messages for more than a day is full of inconsistencies. Guerrero’s public explanation on Fox News the next month (that the cryptic messages didn’t seem all that important at the time) directly contradicted another explanation, that he didn’t receive the messages because of transmission problems. Armstrong himself was said to have actually gone to the Houston airport on Sunday morning, June 24, 2007, in anticipation of picking up Benoit (who was supposed to be flying in from Atlanta for a pay-per-view show that night). Yet Armstrong too, according to WWE, did not see that top executives knew about Benoit’s text messages even after Benoit no-showed the Sunday night pay-per-view, necessitating script-doctoring.

Anyway ... Welcome to the Hall, Bullet Bob.

As for Hall of Fame valedictorian Shawn Michaels, see:

“Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels Should Speak Up on What Happened to Lance Cade,” February 14,

“Did WWE’s WWE’s Lance Cade Have Brain Damage? It May Not Be Too Late to Find Out,” February 15,

Irv Muchnick

WWE Hall of Fame Notes: ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan, Grandfather of the ‘Wellness Policy’

World Wrestling Entertainment has announced that “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, a mostly late eighties-early nineties guy, will join Shawn Michaels in the Hall of Fame class of 2011. Bully for Duggan.

I think pro wrestling experts would agree that Duggan’s best performances were for other promotions. From an historical standpoint, his main WWE legacy was something that isn’t likely to get mentioned at the April 2 induction ceremony: it was a 1987 incident involving Duggan and Khosrow Vasiri (“The Iron Sheik”) that provided the original impetus for what passes for company drug-testing.

Duggan and the Sheik were arrested by New Jersey state troopers. Duggan, who was driving, was charged with possession of marijuana and with drinking alcohol while behind the wheel. The Sheik was charged with possession of marijuana and cocaine. Duggan got a conditional discharge, Sheik a year’s probation.

The negative publicity was said to have most embarrassed Vince McMahon (whose company was then known as the World Wrestling Federation) because Duggan was a “babyface” and the Sheik was a “heel,” and babyfaces and heels are not supposed to be seen fraternizing.

In any event, McMahon then instituted drug-testing, mostly for recreational drugs; the joke inside the company was you got suspended if you tested positive for cocaine or negative for steroids.

Following the federal conviction of ring doctor George Zahorian in 1991, WWF then started testing for steroids. In 1996, random steroid testing was eliminated as a cost-saving measure, and also because deep-pocketed rival World Championship Wrestling was gaining a competitive advantage from WWF’s more stringent testing. And also, I might add, because no one was looking any more.

In 2006, months after the heart attack death of star Eddie Guerrero, WWE reinstituted steroid testing as part of its “wellness policy.” But it all started with Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Hey-ohhhh!

As for Hall of Fame valedictorian Shawn Michaels, see:

“Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels Should Speak Up on What Happened to Lance Cade,” February 14,

“Did WWE’s Lance Cade Have Brain Damage? It May Not Be Too Late to Find Out,” February 15,

Irv Muchnick

‘Duerson Suicide Shows NFL Body Count Rising Like WWE’s — But With New Intrigue’ ... at Beyond Chron

[posted 2/21/11 to]

The gruesome decades-long underground American saga that is the football concussion crisis has never gotten in our faces quite like the story of the suicide last week, at age 50, of one-time National Football League defensive player of the year Dave Duerson.

How many levels are there to the news that Duerson put a gun to himself, but not before texting family that he wanted his brain donated for research on the brain-trauma syndrome now known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)? Let us, like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, count them. It begins with the fact that he shot himself in the chest – perhaps with supreme confidence that by avoiding his head and leaving intact his postmortem brain tissue, it will confirm that he is around the 21st diagnosed case of CTE among former football players.

Duerson is the latest casualty of a sport that has evolved, via training technology and industrial design, into a form of gladiatorialism whose future human and economic viability is questionable. The New Yorker and The New York Times have started assessing this cultural phenomenon with their own brands of competence and Ivy League restraint. From the closeted gutter of pro wrestling, where all the same venalities play out with less pretense, I’m here to tell “the rest of the story” – such as how the same corrupt doctors who work for the NFL also shill for World Wrestling Entertainment, and how it’s all part of the same stock exchange of ethics for profits and jock-sniffing privileges.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

There’s No Overstating Where the Dave Duerson Suicide Story Could Lead

Good work as usual from Alan Schwarz of The New York Times:

“Before Shooting Himself, Duerson Said He Wanted Brain Study”

Off-Topic But Fun: My Son’s Blog From Shanghai

CT Dems Run Endless Anti-Linda McMahon Campaign ... While Doing Nothing About McMahonism

Connecticut State Democratic Party chair Nancy DiNardo has raised the first peep this year against once-and-future Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon. But if the Dems expect me to be impressed, they’ll be disappointed.

McMahon is appearing at a get-out-the-vote rally for Republican State Senate candidate Robert Kolenberg. In a press release, DiNardo says “Kolenberg shows his true colors” by spending the final days of the campaign with McMahon and the losing Republican candidate for governor in 2010, Tom Foley. The former, DiNardo adds, “made millions through a business that promoted steroid abuse and degraded women.” (The statement doesn’t even name Kolenberg’s Democratic State Senate race opponent, State Representative Carlo Leone.)


It’s all well and good that Democrats oppose Linda McMahon, but more than two years after her entry into public life, it might be time for them to do a little something about Linda McMahonism, as well. Those of most familiar with Vince and Linda McMahon’s highly profitable and influential World Wrestling Entertainment marketing machine are dubious that its most pressing public-interest problems can be reduced to campaign slogans about steroid abuse and degradation of women. For example, there’s the little issue of industrial death, caused by absence of occupational health and safety standards and regulation, and by the misclassification of WWE’s main revenue-generating assets, its wrestlers, as independent contractors.

When he takes office on March 1, Connecticut’s new labor commissioner, Glenn Marshall, will inherit a Labor Department audit of WWE’s classification practices, which both rob the cash-strapped state government of payroll taxes and deprive the death-defying talent of employer-provided health care, vacations, pensions, and other benefits. Why don’t Democratic chair DiNardo and candidate Leone speak out on that one?

Meanwhile, from Washington, I am not aware that new U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who defeated McMahon last year, has said or done anything about any WWE-related issue since taking office. And there are several such issues, reaching all the way to how the company’s medical director, also a National Football League contract doctor, has helped spearhead the denial of the seriousness of the national athletic brain-trauma crisis. For details, follow this blog.

Irv Muchnick

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Muchnick vs. WWE Lawyer Jerry McDevitt — February’s American Lawyer Magazine

Did WWE’s Lance Cade Have Brain Damage? It May Not Be Too Late to Find Out

[posted 2/15/11 to]

Yesterday I reviewed the story of how Shawn Michaels very possibly – if no doubt inadvertently – sent his World Wrestling Entertainment protégé Lance Cade on the course of early death with the “punishment” chair beatdown on Raw in October 2008. (“WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels Should Speak Up on What Happened to Lance Cade,”

Now here’s why this is important beyond the hook of Michaels’ WWE Hall of Fame induction this spring.

Earlier I told of how Dr. Bennet Omalu, the discoverer of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, met resistance in publishing the third finding of CTE in a National Football League player. Omalu’s studies of Mike Webster and Terry Long were published in the journal Neurosurgery, but his proposed article on a third case, Andre Waters, was initially nitpicked to distraction in peer review. The reason is that in scientific circles, it’s that No. 3 that turns a medical pathology from an anomaly to an irrefutable pattern.

In pro wrestling, Lance Cade (real name Lance McNaught) could be that No. 3. (No. 1 was Chris Benoit. No. 2 was Andrew “Test” Martin.)

When Lance died in August 2010 at age 29 – in the middle of Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign in Connecticut – I believe that overtures were made to the McNaught family to donate his brain for CTE research. But it didn’t happen, although Harley McNaught, Lance’s father, did go public with his anger over McMahon’s callous comments about her dead wrestler having been another “addict” whom she “might have met once.”

But the story doesn’t have to end there. According to experts I’ve consulted, coroners often preserve for some time the brain tissue of the corpses they examined. If the coroner in San Antonio did so in Lance’s case, then the tissue still could be turned over to either of the two main research groups looking for evidence of CTE-indicative tau protein accumulations in the brains of dead athletes who participated in contact sports.

I hope Harley McNaught is within earshot of this post, and I hope he will understand that it is not too late to take that step. The pain Mr. McNaught and his family have endured over the last six months is unimaginable. Our children are supposed to bury us, not the other way around. But if Lance indeed had CTE (and only expert pathologists could make a certain determination), then sharing that information with the world could help give his career and life a positive legacy.

Irv Muchnick

WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels Should Speak Up on What Happened to Lance Cade

[posted 2/14/11 to]

by Irvin Muchnick

Shawn Michaels heads the 2011 World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame class, and no one not blinded by personal resentment could fail to see that he deserves it. Michaels was one of the great workers of his generation, both in the ring and at the mike.

But I break ranks with the hero-worshippers in also pointing out that the Heartbreak Kid’s Hall of Fame induction the night before WrestleMania is a teaching moment that will likely go both wasted and without significant remark, except for right here.

Michaels was intimately involved in one of the most heinous episodes in the industry’s history. No, folks, I’m not talking about the 1997 “screwjob” with Bret Hart. I’m talking about the punishment chair beatdown – which included one clear and vicious head shot – delivered by Michaels to Lance Cade on the October 6, 2008, edition of Raw. Cade would die less than two years later, at age 29, from “heart failure.”

Before reviewing that sordid chain of events, let me make it clear that I recognize ugly stuff has always happened in this business. In 1952 Wladek Kowalski accidentally severed most of “Yukon Eric” Holmback’s left ear during a match in Montreal, and this helped catapult the erstwhile babyface “Tarzan” Kowalski to superstardom as heel “Killer” Kowalski. He talked about Yukon Eric’s spontaneous ear amputation in publicity interviews, even joked about it, all the way up to and beyond Eric’s 1965 suicide. By most accounts, Kowalski was a sweet soul in real life. To my knowledge, no one ever blamed him for what was obviously an industrial mishap, or even for proceeding to exploit it.

In today’s era, though, industrial death happens much too frequently and cuts far too close to scripted reality for my stomach. That is the lesson of the story of Shawn Michaels and Lance “Cade” McNaught, whom the former had trained in San Antonio and mentored through a career that came crashing down, along with his very life, in a piece of arcane inside code which seemingly didn’t know when to stop.

The background is that Michaels had rewarded Cade with a clean pinfall victory over him on television, and etiquette called for the young star to show gratitude to the veteran legend. Either defiantly or cluelessly, Cade chose to depart without shaking Michaels’ hand in the dressing room.

In return, WWE booked a “no disqualification” match on Raw in which Michaels battered Cade with a steel chair 19 times by my count — 12 times before the pin and seven times afterward. The first was square on the top of the skull; the subsequent ones were distributed with more humanitarian discretion across midsection, back, and torso.

(At, this video clip is overlaid with audio of my interview about it on Connecticut public radio, shortly after Cade’s death and during Linda McMahon’s campaign for the U.S. Senate.)

You can’t hang this borderline-criminal act entirely on Michaels; it was a sickeningly mortal byproduct of corporate culture. A year earlier, following the Chris Benoit murder-suicide, Vince McMahon had said on a CNN documentary that WWE was eliminating chair shots to the head. But as the incident on Raw the next year showed, McMahon’s words were meaningless. Chair shots to the head would remain heavily and gleefully promoted all the way through the December 2009 “Tables, Ladders, and Chairs” pay-per-view, by which time Linda’s race for elected office was in high gear.

Say what you will about WWE’s decision to auction off the autographed chair Michaels used on Cade (it fetched $315). Much more disturbing was what happened to Cade’s health. I don’t know if he also previously had a painkiller problem, but there is no question that his infamous seizure on an airplane flight, which necessitated an emergency landing, came a few days after the Raw beatdown, and his release by WWE followed a few days after that. He undertook some drug rehab and had one more WWE stint, which ended abruptly months before his death.

Spare me the calls for a Nobel Prize for WWE for footing the rehab bills of Cade and others. Above all, please spare all of us this revolting remark by Linda McMahon as scrutiny of her and her husband’s stewardship of their billion-dollar company undermined her electoral ambitions: “Who knows what causes people to have addictions and do what they do?”

Nor was the Michaels-Cade fallout an insolated event. In 2003 the Undertaker leveled Chris “Kanyon” Klutsarits with a sick head chair shot, seven years before Klutsarits’ suicide. See

There is a school of thought holding that systematic death in worked entertainment is OK, that it’s the omelette you just can’t make without cracking eggs. I disagree. I call on Shawn Michaels to acknowledge in his Hall of Fame speech that signature moment with Lance Cade, and to explain to the world why the celebration of his career on April 2 is not compromised with disgust.

NEXT: Did Lance Cade Have Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy? It May Not Be Too Late to Find Out

‘Helmet to Helmet: FTC’s Investigation Could Be the Super Bowl for Corrupt NFL Doctors and the National Concussion Crisis’ (full text, Beyond Chron)

[posted 2/11/11 to]

[originally published February 7 at Beyond Chron,]

by Irvin Muchnick

With the Super Bowl out of the way, the National Football League is fraught with the unfinished business of a new collective bargaining agreement between owners and players. Far less attention has been given to a threat that may be even bigger: the Federal Trade Commission’s announced probe of the exaggerated safety claims of football helmet manufacturers.

All too often, government investigations of industry culminate in bland consent decrees whereby the corporations alleged to have offended standards promise to abandon particular claims without admitting they did anything wrong. If that becomes the end result of the FTC examination of Riddell, the official helmet supplier for the NFL, and of Riddell’s chief competitor Schutt Sports, then an important opportunity will have been missed to shine light on what is now the 17-year-old story of the NFL’s controversial management of the concussion issue.

There’s plenty to suggest that the FTC, at the urging of Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, intends to go beyond the advertising and YouTube promo videos of Riddell and Schutt, and follow the story to its source: the process and substance of the clinical research over the last two decades that has slowed and misled the public in understanding the causes and magnitude of systematic brain trauma in football. If the feds pursue that trail, they will unravel the enmeshment of corrupt NFL doctors with a prominent medical institution and a prominent journal that have skewed studies and publications in ways favorable to a league facing potentially cataclysmic legal exposure.

Udall’s January 4 letter to the FTC opened a can of worms that can’t be resealed where it noted that Riddell cites research showing that its Revolution helmet – heavily marketed all the way down to youth leagues through the company’s NFL connection – is based on a 2006 article in the journal Neurosurgery.

The article had five co-authors. One was Thad Ide, Riddell’s chief engineer. Three others were University of Pittsburgh Medical Center colleagues Mark Lovell, Micky Collins, and Joseph Maroon. Lovell is the chairman and Collins the chief clinical officer for the for-profit Pittsburgh company imPACT Applications, Inc., which markets concussion-management software to the NFL and many other leagues and teams in all sports.

Dr. Maroon is the third imPACT owner associated with the Riddell study, as well as numerous other studies touted in Neurosurgery, the journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. He is listed as imPACT’s chief medical officer. Maroon also is the long-time neurosurgeon for the Steelers and a member, since its creation in 1994 by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, of the NFL’s policy committee on traumatic brain injuries.

According to the The New York Times, Maroon now discredits Riddell’s advertising claim with a claim of his own – that company promos stretched the Neurosurgery research data for lay consumers. But Maroon’s semantic nuance is not supported by a plain reading of the article, whose own abstract states: “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.”

Nor does Maroon’s insistence that Riddell distorted his work address why neither he nor the NFL raised a peep during at least two years of promotion of the Revolution helmet using the 31 percent figure.

So there is strong justification for a sophisticated government examination of the role of the league and its doctors in the “evolution of the Revolution.” Above all, the national public health crisis of sports concussions – estimated to total four million annually, not including the possibility that tens of millions more “sub-concussive” head blows contribute to youth mental deterioration – demands a new round of Congressional hearings on how the NFL has framed, manipulated, and stalled. Such an initiative will not resume at the House Judiciary Committee, which held hearings in 2009, since the Democrats no longer hold a majority there. But Udall could take up at the cause at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Another possibility is Connecticut’s new senator, Richard Blumenthal, who has been appointed to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Blumenthal won a hard-fought election last November against Republican nominee Linda McMahon, who “self-funded” her campaign with $50 million of wealth generated by the billion-dollar publicly traded corporation World Wrestling Entertainment, which she had co-founded with her husband Vince.

Maroon himself counts a cushy consultancy for the McMahons among his many entrepreneurial hats: WWE named Maroon its “medical director” and installed his imPACT system there following the 2007 double murder/suicide of star wrestler Chris Benoit. Buttressed by his NFL experience, Maroon dutifully enabled or directly uttered dubious WWE representations on everything from its tolerance for “chair shots” to the head as part of its choreographed entertainment, to its access to the Benoit brain study by Dr. Bennet Omalu, the pioneer of “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” research, to whether WWE performers use steroids.

Federal investigators who look into the full range of work of the doctor who conveniently cried foul at Riddell’s exploitation of his research will find that he is also an endorser of unregulated supplements and a huckster for the demographically ripe field of anti-aging “wellness.”

The NFL offseason began with Aaron Rodgers’ final kneeldown at Cowboys Stadium. Our elected leaders shouldn’t waste a day following the FTC’s Riddell investigation wherever it leads.

For continuing developments, follow my blog at

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

Football Helmet Group Head ‘Has Talked With’ Senator Udall And ‘Is Encouraging’ FTC Investigation -- Thanks For Nothing

[posted 2/10/11 to]

Earlier this week Mike Oliver, executive director of the National Operating Committee on Sports Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), explained to me that the organization’s pre-Super Bowl public alert to athletes and parents made no reference to a new Federal Trade Commission investigation of Riddell football helmet promotional claims because “we certainly don’t feel as though we are in a position to speak on behalf of the FTC.”

Yet last week MIT’s Technology Review reported that “Oliver says he has talked with [Senator Tom] Udall and is encouraging the [FTC] investigation.” See “What’s Next for Concussions in Football?”,

So if NOCSAE is encouraging the investigation, why isn’t it telling athletes and parents that the investigation exists?

Oliver says test data show that all the helmets on the market are nearly identical in performance. By “performance,” he seems to mean preventing concussions.

Meanwhile, Dr. Joseph Maroon, whose National Football League-funded study and Neurosurgery article are used by Riddell to hype its Revolution helmet as showing a 31 percent reduced concussion risk – the central claim under scrutiny by the FTC – told Technology Review, “There is a lot about concussions and head injury that researchers don’t fully understand.”

Yeah, sure. But aren’t articles in clinical journals supposed to be about what researchers believe they do understand? Where’s the accountability here?

Maroon serves the information-gap market by peddling to the NFL and others “imPACT,” a software system that measures neurological function. Similarly, the punch line of NOCSAE’s message to Technology Review is that the league plans to start using Riddell’s patented “HIT sensor” inside helmets to measure location, magnitude, and direction of blows during games.

Oliver, according to TR: Any claim “not based in fact or science is potentially very damaging.” Concussions in football are “a complex issue” and “it won’t be until we can really understand the injury that we can build better helmet technology.” But he’s “confident that will happen, soon.”

While the careerist experts busy themselves handing out and receiving grants, and delivering self-serving lectures on the complexity of it all, it’s time for Congress to step in with public hearings. Oliver may be “confident” about the march of commercial technology. The rest of us, however, have unanswered questions about the interaction of that process with the dissemination of basic public health information.

And a good place to start is with Joseph Maroon, doctor and public special teams player for both the National Football League and World Wrestling Entertainment.

Irv Muchnick

Sunday, February 13, 2011

EXCLUSIVE: Dr. Bennet Omalu, Barred From Publishing Chris Benoit Brain Findings in Neurosurgery, Has Article Scheduled for Journal’s March 2011 Issue

[posted 2/8/11 to]

(2/16/11 CLARIFICATION: According to Duncan MacRae, managing editor of Neurosurgery, Dr. Bennet Omalu’s article “Emerging Histomorphologic Phenotypes of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy [CTE] in American Athletes” is scheduled to be published in the journal’s July 2011 issue. — Irv Muchnick)

In his latest letter to me last year threatening to sue me for my reporting, World Wrestling Entertainment lawyer Jerry McDevitt pointed out that Dr. Bennet Omalu’s study of dead wrestler Chris Benoit’s brain was not published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal until 2010, and then only in “an obscure nursing journal.” See “New Threats From WWE Lawyer Jerry McDevitt,” December 17, 2010,

It turns out that there is a long and involved story behind why Omalu’s article in the Journal of Forensic Nursing, “Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a professional American wrestler,” was not published in Neurosurgery. (The piece itself, an exhibit of McDevitt’s letter to me, is viewable at

And this is not a story that I expect WWE – let alone the National Football League – to enjoy.

Before proceeding, let me clarify that the source for the following information is not Dr. Nelson Oyesiku, the current editor-in-chief of Neurosurgery. Neither Oyesiku nor Dr. Christopher Getch, the current president of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (publisher of Neurosurgery), has responded to my email queries.

However, I understand that Oyesiku was named to replace Dr. Michael Apuzzo as editor of Neurosurgery with a mandate that included reversing the journal’s perception as a de facto NFL house organ for academic articles answering loaded questions, which in turn served the commercial interests of the league and its contract doctors and business partners. Apuzzo, a consultant for the New York Giants, had overseen the publication of a decade’s worth of controversial studies on aspects of brain trauma in sports – including the 2006 article on the Riddell helmet manufacturer’s new design, which was co-authored by the company’s chief engineer and by Pittsburgh Steelers team neurologist and imPACT software entrepreneur Dr. Joseph Maroon, and is now the focus of a Federal Trade Commission probe of Riddell’s allegedly misleading promotional claims.

But equally important is what Neurosurgery did not publish under editor Apuzzo. Some of it was seminal research authored by Dr. Omalu. In light of everything we all now know about the NFL’s snail-paced and grudging acceptance of CTE as a real and discrete pathology – a chronology exposed most famously in 2009 hearings of the House Judiciary Committee – it is not hard to imagine that Omalu’s roadblocks to publication were more political than scientific.

Omalu’s first round of CTE studies involved six brains of death athletes. Benoit’s was number six – and the fifth positive finding.

The case studies of two Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Webster and Terry Long, written up by Omalu and co-authors, were published in Neurosurgery. But Omalu met resistance in getting publication approval for a third article, on Andre Waters. Omalu came to believe that the reason was that the pattern was becoming all too clear both for his medical colleagues and for the general public. One case is “interesting.” Two can still be written off as anomalous. By the time you get to a third, you have what is known within the profession as a “case series” – something controlled and replicated enough times to take very seriously for redoubled study (as well as, of course, more readily available funding and attention).

It was during this period of, essentially, exile from Neurosurgery that Omalu published the Benoit study in the Journal of Forensic Nursing. By the way, just because the nursing journal is not as well known as Neurosurgery has nothing to do with the rigor of the former’s own peer-review process and editorial standards, or with the soundness of Omalu’s work. Whether the Journal of Forensic Nursing has the resources to issue accompanying press releases for its articles – another piece of McDevitt mudslinging – is similarly irrelevant.

I am happy to report that the new regime of Neurosurgery lists Omalu on its masthead as an associate editor, Sports & Rehabilitation. The section editor is Dr. Julian Bailes, Omalu’s co-director of the West Virginia Brain Injury Research Institute.

In addition, I am told that Omalu has a piece upcoming in the March issue of Neurosurgery. The article will review the whole history, scientific and political, of his groundbreaking CTE work. Doctors and lay observers alike eagerly await it.

Irv Muchnick

American Lawyer Magazine on Irvin ‘The Muckraker’ Muchnick vs. Jerry ‘The Litigator’ McDevitt

[posted 2/7/11 to]

The February issue of American Lawyer magazine has an amusing piece in its front-of-the-book section, Bar Talk, about my most recent correspondence (in December) with World Wrestling Entertainment attorney Jerry McDevitt.

The elaborately produced box, written by magazine staffer Victor Li, does not seem to be available online even to subscribers. I have a request in for permission to post the story here. In the absence of such permission, let me describe and quote from it.

The article is headlined “And in This Corner ... A lawyer and his nemesis jump back in the ring,” and is built around tale-of-the-tape type graphics. My decapitated mug is photoshopped onto a cartoon muscleman obviously modeled after the Ultimate Warrior; I’m even given his face paint and bicep bands. McDevitt’s own gray pompadour contrasts with my high hairline, and his fantasy hunk is stuffed into a wrestling singlet with a WWE championship belt.

After a preamble, the piece is built around dueling quotes from McDevitt and me: “... ON STEROIDS,” “... ON WRESTLER HEALTH,” “... ON EMPLOYMENT LAW,” “... ON CHRIS BENOIT,” and finally “... ON EACH OTHER,” which I quote in full:

He’s a great lawyer,” Muchnick tells Bar Talk. “If he wants to sue me, I look forward to it. After all, the truth is always a defense.”

He’s a vicious man,” McDevitt tells Bar Talk. He declined to say whether he has any plans to sue Muchnick.

Irv Muchnick

NOCSAE Head: ‘Not in Position to Speak on Behalf of the FTC’ on Helmet Safety Investigation

[posted 2/7/11 to]

Michael Oliver, executive director and general counsel of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) responded to my previous post criticizing the organization for failing to publicize the Federal Trade Commission’s investigation of the safety claims of football helmet manufacturers.

Oliver was gracious but not persuasive. “In this situation, we certainly don’t feel as though we are in position to speak on behalf of the FTC,” he emailed. “Our focus in this outreach directed to athletes and parents was to encourage them to seek information that goes beyond marketing and promotional materials. We want to make sure they are aware of practical resources they can access to get necessary information. That is a part of our role to enhance the safety of athletes.”

I wrote back, in part, “I am not urging you to speak ‘on behalf of the FTC.’ Rather, I am exhorting you to speak ABOUT what the FTC is doing, since that is a news development central to NOCSAE’s mission.”

Irv Muchnick

Why Is Athletic Equipment Standards Group Talking in Code About FTC Investigation of NFL’s Riddell Helmets?

[posted 2/7/11 to]

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) issued a press release on the eve of the Super Bowl, urging “athletes and parents to get the facts about helmets and concussion protection.”


But there’s something big missing in NOCSAE’s alert: it doesn’t mention the Federal Trade Commission investigation of official National Football League supplier Riddell that was launched last month at the behest of Senator Tom Udall.

In this respect, NOCSAE mirrors The New York Times and mainstream media in talking in code about the national concussion crisis. The Times broke the story of the FTC probe last month but I do not believe has made a single reference to it since then.

No outlet, except for this blog, has begun to explore the deeper meaning of a federal investigation based on claims stemming from clinical research funded by industry and the NFL, which also served the for-profit motives of NFL doctors and consultants.

Communicators for news organizations and public-interest groups need to do some more communicatin’.

Irv Muchnick


“FTC Investigation Could Be the Super Bowl for Corrupt NFL Doctors and the National Concussion Crisis … today at Beyond Chron,”

“Super Bowl Concussion Hype Week, Part 2: What’s the Deal With the NFL and the Journal Neurosurgery?”,

“Pittsburgh Steelers Physician Joseph Maroon Key Figure in Sports Concussion Probe,”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

‘FTC Investigation Could Be the Super Bowl for Corrupt NFL Doctors and the National Concussion Crisis’ ... today at Beyond Chron

[posted 2/7/11 to]

With the Super Bowl out of the way, the National Football League is fraught with the unfinished business of a new collective bargaining agreement between owners and players. Far less attention has been given to a threat that may be even bigger: the Federal Trade Commission’s announced probe of the exaggerated safety claims of football helmet manufacturers.

All too often, government investigations of industry culminate in bland consent decrees whereby the corporations alleged to have offended standards promise to abandon particular claims without admitting they did anything wrong. If that becomes the end result of the FTC examination of Riddell, the official helmet supplier for the NFL, and of Riddell’s chief competitor Schutt Sports, then an important opportunity will have been missed to shine light on what is now the 17-year-old story of the NFL’s controversial management of the concussion issue.

There’s plenty to suggest that the FTC, at the urging of Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, intends to go beyond the advertising and YouTube promo videos of Riddell and Schutt, and follow the story to its source: the process and substance of the clinical research over the last two decades that has slowed and misled the public in understanding the causes and magnitude of systematic brain trauma in football. If the feds pursue that trail, they will unravel the enmeshment of corrupt NFL doctors with a prominent medical institution and a prominent journal that have skewed studies and publications in ways favorable to a league facing potentially cataclysmic legal exposure.


Super Bowl Concussion Hype Week, Part 2: What’s the Deal with the NFL and the Journal Neurosurgery?

[posted 2/2/11 to]


“Pittsburgh Steelers’ Physician Joseph Maroon Key Figure in Sports Concussion Probe,”

“NFL Concussion Hype Week, Part 1: Los Angeles Times’ NFL Writer Pens a Promo for Riddell Helmets,”

I don’t think Dr. Joseph Maroon – team neurologist for the Pittsburgh Steelers, National Football League concussion consultant, and medical director for World Wrestling Entertainment – gets off the hook in the Federal Trade Commission investigation of Riddell helmets just by asserting that the company inflated the claims of the assessment of the helmets’ safety in the article Maroon co-authored for Neurosurgery, the journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, a professional group.

Nor do I think Neurosurgery itself gets off the hook for publishing a decade’s worth of research, much of it funded by the NFL, that arguably retarded rather than accelerated professional and public awareness of the magnitude of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and related issues.

I have not received a response to my email to Dr. Nelson Oyesiku of Emory University, the current editor-in-chief of Neurosurgery. (Interestingly, Oyesiku is Nigerian – as is Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered CTE.)

Here are the questions I asked Oyesiku:

1. There is currently a Federal Trade Commission investigation of promotional claims by the Riddell football helmet manufacturer that were based on data in a 2006 article in Neurosurgery.

Does the journal have a comment on this controversy?

Are there historical examples of allegations of exaggerated claims from Neurosurgery-published research by another marketer of a consumer product? I exclude here the categories of professional debates over the efficacy of particular pharmaceuticals, surgical techniques, therapies, and the like; I am referring only to products sold in general consumer markets. If the answer is yes, could you provide some parallel examples?

2. Questions have arisen concerning the relationships of authors of articles published in Neurosurgery with the National Football League.

Particular controversy surrounded work by Dr. Elliot Pellman, then chair of the NFL’s concussion policy committee, with a series of articles, beginning in 2003, in Neurosurgery, which at the time was edited by Dr. Mike Apuzzo, a consultant for the New York Giants. Dr. Robert Cantu, then a senior editor of the journal, suggested that the sample size of the data would not have warranted publication of a similar article about a subject other than football head injuries. And according to reports, Dr. Pellman revised one of the articles post-peer review and prior to publication, and without consulting co-authors. Did the Congress of Neurological Surgeons publish any subsequent correction or clarification? Was any other action taken?

Was this scenario covered by the Congress’s existing code of ethics? If so, in what particular passages? If not, were changes contemplated in the wake of the Pellman episode?

3. Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, director of the Sports Research Laboratory at the University of North Carolina, was quoted by ESPN as saying, “The data that hasn’t shown up makes [the NFL doctors' work] questionable industry-funded research.” What is your response to that allegation?

Irv Muchnick

Super Bowl Concussion Hype Week, Part 1: Los Angeles Times’ NFL Writer Pens a Promo for Riddell Helmets

[posted 2/2/11 to]

SEE ALSO: “Pittsburgh Steelers’ Physician Joseph Maroon Key Figure in Sports Concussion Probe,”

Sam Farmer, the NFL writer for the Los Angeles Times, offers a great example of the benighted coverage of the football concussion crisis by most of the media. See “New helmets should be a hit,” January 29,,0,5864830.story.

In what is basically a promo for Riddell helmets, Farmer doesn’t get around to mentioning that Riddell is currently under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly exaggerating the safety claims in NFL-funded research at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, as published by the journal Neurosurgery in an article co-authored by Dr. Joseph Maroon, a doctor for both the Pittsburgh Steelers and World Wrestling Entertainment.

Asked for comment, Farmer emailed back, “Thanks for your information. Be well.”

NEXT: What’s the deal with the NFL and the journal Neurosurgery?

Irv Muchnick

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pittsburgh Steelers’ Physician Joseph Maroon Key Figure in Sports Concussion Probe

[posted 1/31/11 to]

After the Pittsburgh Steelers play in next Sunday’s Super Bowl, one of the sports world’s most important back stories will play out in Congress and the federal bureaucracy: a Federal Trade Commission investigation, initiated by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, of the safety claims of Riddell helmets, the official supplier of the National Football League.

To college, high school, and youth league programs, Riddell has promoted its Revolution model as promising a 31 percent reduction in the risk of concussions. The claim is based on a study at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, underwritten by the NFL and published in 2006 in the clinical research journal Neurosurgery. A co-author of the article was Dr. Joseph Maroon, a team neurologist for the Steelers, a prominent member of the league’s traumatic brain injury policy committee, and the medical director of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Maroon told The New York Times that Riddell took out of context for a lay audience the data from his academic research. In sports vernacular, the physician threw the helmet manufacturer “under the bus.”

Now Senator Udall and others need to ask more pointed questions of Maroon himself, a central figure in the national sports concussion crisis – which is not just an imminent legal headache for the NFL but also an urgent concern for the health and safety of millions of younger, amateur, much less protected and informed athletes.

The head trauma issue reached critical mass in public consciousness with the discovery by doctors of tau protein accumulations in the brains of dead performers in contact sports; pioneer researcher Dr. Bennet Omalu and others named this phenomenon “chronic traumatic encephalopathy,” or CTE. The NFL’s slowness to acknowledge the reality of CTE became the focus of 2009 hearings of the House Judiciary Committee, which in turn led to the resignations of the co-chairs of the the league concussion policy committee. Most of the heat was directed at Dr. Ira Casson, who no-showed the hearings.

Another NFL policy committee casualty was its chairman until 2007, Dr. Elliot Pellman, who had brutally manipulated the commercial and scientific interests of league-funded research – in one case making last-minute revisions of an article for Neurosurgery after it was peer-reviewed but before it was published, and without even consulting co-authors. After the 2009 Judiciary Committee public grilling, the league dropped Pellman altogether from its internal committee.

Dr. Maroon, who did provide perfunctory testimony to the Judiciary Committee and remains an NFL consultant, was not the villain of the event. However, Congresswoman Linda Sanchez of California alertly pointed out that Maroon and other Pitt med center clinicians who help formulate league policy market their privately owned company’s product, a concussion-management system called imPACT, to the NFL and other sports entities worldwide.

As with the other doctors, Maroon’s independence and transparency are highly questionable. And his outside business empire is even more formidable.

That empire includes his portfolio as medical director of World Wrestling Entertainment. After the double murder/suicide of pro wrestler Chris Benoit in 2007, WWE hired Maroon to install imPACT there and to oversee other aspects of what the company calls its “wellness policy.” In this role, Maroon has either uttered or enabled a series of false or misleading public statements, including his own preposterous remark – during last year’s Connecticut U.S. Senate campaign of former WWE chief executive Linda McMahon – that “we have no talent now on steroids.”

In 2009, for an ESPN report on the CTE findings in the brain of another dead young wrestler, Andrew Martin, WWE asserted that it had never been given access to the Benoit brain studies. In fact, Maroon attended an October 2008 meeting at the West Virginia Brain Injury Research Institute at which Drs. Omalu and Julian Bailes showed Benoit specimens; another independent attendee said Maroon had “brokered” the meeting. (WWE now says that its statement meant that it challenges the “chain of custody” of Omalu’s histologic slides.)

In addition, Maroon aggressively promotes products for at least two unregulated supplement companies. If he doesn’t have an equity interest in one of them, Vinomis Labs, he does in the company that licensed research to it. Maroon’s University of Pittsburgh colleague Dr. Bryan Donohue – also WWE’s consulting cardiologist – is a company investor and officer.

The root of the investigation of sports concussions is the ecosystem of clinical research, an interdependent web of doctors, research journals and funding, and for-profit output. All roads in that probe go through Dr. Joseph Maroon. His involvement in the Riddell helmet matter is just one of many coming government investigative offshoots. He belongs at the center of the public conversation of concussions during Super Bowl week.

WWE’s No. 2, Donna Goldsmith, Departs

[posted 1/29/11 to]

Donna Goldsmith, the chief operating officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, has resigned. According to Wrestling Observer‘s Dave Meltzer, no one saw this coming: “The speculation was that it is tied to the disappointing fourth quarter [earnings results].”

Most Popular January Posts at This Blog

1. “WWE Investigation Should Be on Track With New Connecticut Labor Commissioner,” January 25, 2011,

2. “Muchnick Book Bonus: In Bed With the WWF – Sex and Scandal in Pro Wrestling,” May 15, 2010,

3. “NFL Bans Coaches From Relationships With Supplement Companies. But NFL and WWE Doctor Joseph Maroon? Ka-Ching!”, January 20, 2011,

4. “New Threats From WWE Lawyer Jerry McDevitt,” December 17, 2010,

5. “Linda McMahon’s Role in the WWE Pedophile Scandal Still Hangs, Unpublished, in the Politicos’ Air,” July 14, 2010,

“Pitt Med Center Doctors’ Supplement Company and WWE Ties Skirt Ethics Policy,” January 4, 2011,

7. “Steelers’ Wheel: Pittsburgh Media Are Mum on the Connections of Pitt Med Center, Pittsburgh Steelers, and WWE Scandals,” January 7, 2011,

8. “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,” Januay 18, 2011,

9. “Linda McMahon 2012? Bring It On!”, January 19, 2011,

10. “Sports Concussion Scandal Ground Zero: NFL and WWE Doc Joseph Maroon’s Hype Article in ‘Neurosurgery’ on Riddell Football Helmets,” January 23, 2011,

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wrestling and Mainstream Media on Pittsburgh Steelers / WWE Doc Joseph Maroon ...

... are both Missing In Action.

Once again, the people who care so much about pro wrestling that they protect it, and the people who care so little about it that they dismiss it, are tag-team partners.

Irv Muchnick

Senator Blumenthal, on Judiciary Committee, Has Another Perspective on Linda McMahon

[posted 1/27/11 to]

One of the committee assignments Senator Richard Blumenthal has landed is Judiciary. It’s a reminder that the campaign for the Senate seat last year reopened questions about obstruction of justice from 1989 to 1994 by Linda McMahon and her company, the forerunner of World Wrestling Entertainment.

In April, reporter Ted Mann of New London’s The Day dug out of court archives McMahon’s December 1, 1989, memo instructing wrestling executive Pat Patterson to tip off Pennsylvania ring doctor George Zahorian that he was under federal criminal investigation for steroid distribution. The document is viewable at

I remain interested in Mann’s original coverage of the source of the leak to McMahon. She said it was James West, at the time the George H.W. Bush administration’s U.S. attorney for the middle district of Pennsylvania. West said “no” to Mann and “no comment” to me; the second answer is different than the first and lends itself to follow-up and specifics.

The passing along of such information by a federal prosecutor would be a very serious matter warranting exposure and airing, no matter how many years later. In addition, that history bears on efforts to reform and regulate the pro wrestling industry moving forward.

But let’s face it: If Linda McMahon is intent on running for office again in 2012 — as all reports and as her visibility on the “rubber chicken circuit” suggest — then her opponents will have their own reasons to be pressuring new Senate Judiciary Committee member Blumenthal to look more closely at the dangling mysteries of that 1989 memo.


“How the McMahons’ WWE Beat the Rap in the 1990s (Part 2, the Steroid Charges),” November 30, 2010,

“How Vince and Linda McMahon’s WWE Beat the 1990s Steroid Charges: A Resource Guide,” November 30, 2010,

Irv Muchnick