Sunday, April 24, 2011

‘Will Ritalin Become the Human Growth Hormone of Sports Concussion Testing?’ (full text from Beyond Chron)

[posted 4/21/11 to]

[originally published April 18 at Beyond Chron,]

by Irvin Muchnick

Here’s a story you may be hearing a lot more about in six months or six years: National Football Leaguers – followed by college, high school, and youth league football players – soon will be gaming corrupt Pittsburgh Steelers/World Wrestling Entertainment doctor Joseph Maroon’s “ImPACT” concussion management software system by taking the amphetamine-family drug Ritalin before being retested to assess their recovery from head injuries.

According to one concussion expert I’ve spoken with, this has already started happening at the NFL level. And of course it makes perfect sense. Ritalin is the medication prescribed most notoriously for “hyperactive” kids and sufferers from ADD (attention deficit disorder), with the goal of improving mental focus. Inevitably, professional athletes and their handlers would seize on Ritalin’s ability to mask the fact that they hadn’t entirely “cleared the cobwebs” from recent blows to the brain. (The phrase in quotes was used last week in an admirably candid interview by Fox TV commentator Terry Bradshaw, 62, discussing how concussions during his own Hall of Fame career have proceeded to impair his quality of life.)

With the assistance of a doc with a promiscuous prescription pad – if not simply a friendly pharmacist who doesn’t need to get too rigorous about the whole script thing – a player who “got his bell rung” can ease the process of identifying whether the diagnostician in front of him is holding up three fingers or four. Which, in more technologically sophisticated form, basically describes the ImPACT program that Maroon and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center colleagues have successfully pushed on the sports establishment – aided by authoritative-sounding articles in journals such as Neurosurgery.

Yet somehow this same class of esteemed researchers went 74 years between the 1928 discovery of dementia pugilistica (“punch drunk syndrome” in boxers) and that of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in athletes in other contact sports. It took a Nigerian-born forensic pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, to come across the latter almost inadvertently in autopsies of retired Steeler Mike Webster and others. Since Omalu wasn’t well-connected or sufficiently coached in how far he was supposed to go in his scientific conclusions, his follow-up articles on CTE got unofficially blacklisted from Neurosurgery until very recently.

Meanwhile, Dr. Maroon – pillar of the community, 70-year-old ironman competitor, supplement huckster – forges on. Two weeks ago he advised World Wrestling Entertainment star Edge that he should retire because of a damaged neck, eight years after WWE paid for the wrestler’s cervical fusion surgery. Last year non-star wrestler Charlie Haas had been advised by his own doctor to consider the same operation. But Maroon, according to Haas, then said naw, it was just a “stinger” (the broken neck’s analogy to a “rung bell”), and WWE quickly released Haas. These are all “independent contractors,” you see.

Though I’m hard on Maroon, I am somewhat sympathetic about the shortcomings of ImPACT. People who know a lot more about the subject than I do say it’s a decent tool. “I use it to scare players and their parents when they get complacent about a concussion,” a high school trainer explained to me. “ImPACT does establish a baseline of certain neurological functions, and it has value. But concussion management is still a subjective thing.”

The problem with ImPACT is that it was overhyped as a solution, at the expense of attention that should have been paid to more central considerations: prevention and unbiased, uncommercialized basic research.

The result, I fear, is that medical paraprofessionals like this trainer, and all of amateur sports in America, will find themselves in the same pickle with concussions that we already face with steroid abuse. (That’s assuming there is any more such a thing as an amateur sport – which anyone who last week viewed the PBS Frontline documentary on high school football might be led to question.) In recent decades, elaborate specialized cat-and-mouse protocols were set up to test athletes’ urine, but the most ambitious and resourceful among them simply moved on to human growth hormone, which doesn’t show up in their pee-pee.
Ritalin potentially is the HGH of concussion t I didn’t expect ever to find myself typing the words “I feel for Roger Goodell,” but the NFL commissioner has a point when he jawbones for HGH blood testing during collective bargaining with the players association. Now, in order to demonstrate responsibility for the health of its athletes and, more importantly, the overall gross national mental health, the league will have to do more than cite the very limited ImPACT system, along with the very limited and inaccurately targeted $20 million in research the league has spent – mostly to bolster the clinical-corporate yes men epitomized by Joseph Maroon.

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

In Story, Doc Confirms Report on Ritalin and Beating Concussion Tests

[posted 4/21/11 to]

Today’s column by Alex Marvez, FoxSports.com’s lead National Football League writer, confirms our story earlier this week on how Dr. Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT concussion test can be manipulated by taking the drug Ritalin and by other means.

See “Players could try to beat concussion tests,” The Marvez piece draws from interviews he and former quarterback and NFL most valuable player Rich Gannon conducted on their Sirius radio show with brain imaging expert Dr. Daniel Amen and with Ronnie Barnes, the New York Giants’ vice president of medical services. The FoxSports link also embeds Marvez’s earlier video report on Dr. Amen’s work.

Marvez: “Baseline testing is the crux of the NFL’s new ‘go/no-go’ concussion policy. Any player who suffers a head injury must now pass a six- to eight-minute test that measures such elements as cognitive thinking, memory, concentration and balance. Those results are then compared to how the player scored in the preseason to determine clearance for an in-game return.” But Amen told him that a number of his player patients have said “they purposely do bad on the testing to start so if they get a concussion it doesn’t affect them.”

Amen also verifies that using Ritalin is another potential form of cheating. “Ritalin will work,” Amen said. “It helps boost activity to the front part of the brain. In my mind, it’s not the first thing I would do to rehabilitate a concussion but it would be on the list of things to do.” The doctor underscored that this practice is “not approved or a smart thing to do.”

Marvez cites my Monday article about this issue for Beyond Chron, which will be reposted in full on this blog shortly.

As I have been saying for months, the investigations of football helmet safety claims by Congress and federal regulatory agencies are incomplete and a disservice to public health unless they drill deeper into the work of the concussion researchers who have profited from academic publications promoting commercial products that they own or endorse. Dr. Maroon, a Pittsburgh Steelers neurologist, an NFL spokesman on traumatic brain injuries, and the medical director of World Wrestling Entertainment, co-authored the Neurosurgery article underpinning the hype of the Riddell company’s “Revolution” helmet. Maroon also developed and co-owns the easy-to-beat ImPACT concussion testing system, endorses at least one supplement with exaggerated claims, and endorses and owns, at minimum, an indirect equity interest in another supplement product line.

Player health and safety is at the heart of the currently stalled NFL labor talks. The time is now for Senators Tom Udall and Richard Blumenthal, among others, to direct the public to this important information.

Irv Muchnick

Sad (And Getting Sadder) Story of Olympic Gold Medalist and Pro Wrestling Train Wreck Kurt Angle

[posted 4/20/11 to]

From David Bixenspan of Cageside Seats:

Ritalin for the Once-Concussed ... and the Many-Times-Concussed

[posted 4/20/11 to]

Two days ago this blog broke the story of how concussed athletes use Ritalin to beat National Football League/World Wrestling Entertainment doctor Joseph Maroon’s patented ImPACT neurocognitive testing system. I’ll have the full text of that piece up here as soon as it rotates off the front page at Beyond Chron.

One of the seminal national magazine articles on chronic traumatic encephalopathy – “Game Brain” by Jeanne Marie Laskas in the October 2009 issue of GQ – suggests that the Ritalin trail also extends to the post-career agony of brain-damaged football players.

“Game Brain” tells the story of the late Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Mike Webster’s descent into mental illness and homelessness, and the postmortem discovery of his CTE by Dr. Bennet Omalu. In 1997, Laskas writes, Webster met Bob Fitzsimmons, a lawyer who is now on the board of directors of West Virginia University’s Brain Injury Research Institute:

“Mike Webster sat down and told Fitzsimmons what he could remember about his life. He had been to perhaps dozens of lawyers and dozens of doctors. He really couldn’t remember whom he’d seen or when. He couldn’t remember if he was married or not. He had a vague memory of divorce court. And Ritalin. Lots of Ritalin.”

The full text of the article is viewable at It was an exhibit of WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt’s most recent saber-rattling letter to me last December (see

Irv Muchnick

Weicker-WWE Split Was Reported April 7 by Don Michak of Manchester Journal Inquirer

[posted 4/19/11 to]

Following up on my previous item, the story of Lowell Weicker’s departure from the WWE board was actually broken on April 7 by the Manchester Journal Inquirer, in a piece by reporter Don Michak scrutinizing the company’s recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Journal Inquirer work, in general, gets undervalued in the blogosphere because most of the newspaper’s content is behind a paywall online.

Michak noted that Weicker, a WWE director since the company went public in 1999, is not standing for reelection at the April 29 annual stockholders’ meeting.

Weicker collected an annual retainer from the company, plus fees for attending board meetings and chairing the compensation committee. Last year Weicker received an $80,000 retainer, a $12,000 fee for the compensation committee, and either $1,500 or $500 for each board meeting (depending on whether he attended it in person or joined it by conference call). As of March 4, Weicker and his wife together held 3,282 shares of WWE’s unrestricted Class A common stock.

Irv Muchnick

Lowell Weicker, the McMahons’ Most Powerful Pal, Leaves WWE Board

[posted 4/18/11 to]

The McMahons of Greenwich suffer fools but n dissidents. Lowell Weicker, the former Connecticut senator and governor who helped buff the image of the then World Wrestling Federation in its hour of greatest need in the 1990s, and was a charter board member of the publicly traded World Wrestling Entertainment, has parted ways with WWE.

See the report by Hearst’s Neil Vigdor, “The breakup: Weicker to leave the board of WWE,”

Weicker’s association with Vince and Linda McMahon, originally through the Connecticut branch of the Special Olympics, was of no small importance when the wrestling company was reeling from sex and drug scandals, which culminated in Vince’s acquittal at a 1994 federal trial on charges of conspiracy to distribute steroids to his performers.

But Weicker, a quirky Republican-Independent and a friend of fellow ex-Senator Chris Dodd, refused to endorse Linda McMahon in her own Senate run last year, either before or after Dodd announced he was standing down. In a New York Times Magazine article about the Richard Blumenthal-McMahon Senate race, Weicker was quoted as brutally, if accurately, dismissing the state Republican Party as a “non-entity.”

I do not yet have inside information on what precipitated Weicker’s departure from the WWE board, but I do know that this is a corporation that, more than most, likes to speak with a single voice. Several years ago another highly respected board member, Bob Bowman – who is credited with building Major League Baseball’s new media operations – left the WWE board shortly after public comments critical of the company’s drug-testing policies.

The Weicker resignation comes at a moment of unusual volatility for WWE even by its standards. In January the chief operating officer, Donna Goldsmith, resigned; she was seen as a steadying balance to the mercurial ways of Vince, who has been CEO as well as chairman since Linda relinquished the former post to pursue her political career.

WWE, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, also has taken a hit in its stock price in the face of evidence that pay-per-view business, in particular, is declining. (Numbers aren’t yet in for the biggest show of the year, WrestleMania, which took place two weeks ago.) Wall Street analysts grumble that the property was propped up by artificially high and unsustainable dividends.

Most recently, Vince announced the rebranding of World Wrestling Entertainment as “WWE,” an all-purpose entertainment and media conglomerate. He has banned the utterance of the word “wrestling” even by his wrestlers, and had the PR department badger journalists who didn’t go along with the program.

McMahon’s new vision for WWE includes taking on debt to buy other entertainment companies and leverage WWE’s presence on Madison Avenue and in Hollywood – which is substantial but, mostly because of perceived downscale demographics, not commensurate with its success as the USA cable network’s flagship producer of original programming.

The Weicker-McMahon split figures in some way in the general turmoil these days at Titan Tower in Stamford. Exactly how is a question I can’t yet answer.

Irv Muchnick

‘Will Ritalin Become the Human Growth Hormone of Sports Concussion Testing?’ ... today at Beyond Chron

[posted 4/18/11 to]

Here’s a story you may be hearing a lot more about in six months or six years: National Football Leaguers – followed by college, high school, and youth league football players – soon will be gaming corrupt Pittsburgh Steelers/World Wrestling Entertainment doctor Joseph Maroon’s “ImPACT” concussion management software system by taking the amphetamine-family drug Ritalin before being retested to assess their recovery from head injuries.

According to one concussion expert I’ve spoken with, this has already started happening at the NFL level. And of course it makes perfect sense. Ritalin is the medication prescribed most notoriously for “hyperactive” kids and sufferers from ADD (attention deficit disorder), with the goal of improving mental focus. Inevitably, professional athletes and their handlers would seize on Ritalin’s ability to mask the fact that they hadn’t entirely “cleared the cobwebs” from recent blows to the brain.


WWE’s Edge Retires on Top. But What About the Spinal Fusion Surgery the Company Did Not Underwrite for Mid-Carder Charlie Haas?

[posted 4/13/11 to]

Wrestling star Adam “Edge” Copeland abruptly announced his retirement on Monday’s edition of Raw. Eight days earlier he had successfully defended his “world championship” at WrestleMania. The next day Copeland, 37, had an MRI for a chronic neck injury, and it confirmed that he risked becoming a cripple if he continued to perform.

Copeland (whom I’ve never met) seems smarter than the average pro wrestler, and I both applaud his move and wish him the very best.

But let’s pause a moment on the information that Edge had spinal fusion surgery eight years ago. He is one of a number of WWE performers who have undergone this expensive and risky procedure. Unfortunately for the illusion that this company takes care of its “independent contractors” regardless of the letter of its legal obligations, the history shows that WWE makes this investment only for its perceived top tier of stars.

As I reported last August, mid-card wrestler Charlie Haas was injured in January 2010 and had an MRI that revealed neck damage. WWE medical director Joseph Maroon – now in hot water for his concussion management and skewed research on behalf of the National Football League – dismissed Haas’s concerns without even examining him. According to Haas, Maroon said the disk herniation the wrestler had had independently diagnosed was a run-of-the-mill “stinger.” Haas had been advised to consider fusion surgery if physical rehab didn’t take, but before he could even reach that point, WWE released him. Haas now wrestles for another group, Ring of Honor.

One thing the Haas anecdote exposes is the bankruptcy of the arguments of WWE’s defenders with respect to wrestlers who fall on hard times or even die young, but are no longer on the company roster at the time of their medical and financial declines.

The other thing all this shows is that WWE “sports entertainers” must be classified as employees, not independent contractors. Vince McMahon and company may have gone out of their way to foot the medical bills of his son-in-law Triple H – and of the late Chris Benoit and Andrew Martin (who would have chronic traumatic encephalopathy at their times of death), Stone Cold Steve Austin, and others. However, the illegal and one-sided structure of WWE contracts does nothing for Charlie Haas and the hundreds of others whose daily work builds a billion-dollar brand.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, at the federal level, and Connecticut Labor Commissioner Glenn Marshall, at the state level, need to do some about that.

See “Treatment of WWE Performer Charlie Haas Is a Study of Linda McMahon’s Character,” August 18, 2010,

Irv Muchnick

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New Wrestling Death: Chip Fairway, 38

[posted 4/12/11 to]

New Wrestling Death: Larry Sweeney, 29

[posted 4/11/11 to]

Vince McMahon and Triple H Thread the Needle on Cranial Chair Shots – Will the Old Sew-and-Sews Get Away With It?

[posted 4/8/11 to]

I live 2,927 miles from Greenwich, Connecticut, home of Linda McMahon – this according to Google Maps, one of the bêtes noires of Richard Blumenthal, the man who defeated her last year for a U.S. Senate seat.

So I have no idea what Linda talks about these days behind gated doors with her husband Vince, the chairman of The New WWE (née World Wrestling Entertainment) and with their daughter Stephanie and her husband Paul “Triple H” Levesque. But I can imagine all of them enjoying a good laugh over the corporate announcement earlier this week that Levesque and his WrestleMania Sunday ballet partner, Mark “Undertaker” Calloway, were “fined” an undisclosed amount for the steel chair the former delivered to the latter’s head during their match in Atlanta.

“Pursuant to WWE’s Concussion policy, the stunt of using a folded metal chair shot to the head is prohibited,” the website release deadpanned. I wonder if the script writer had to restrain himself from adding the old gag: “Especially without their knowledge.”

There’s nothing funny about the reality of long-term brain injury in contact sports and “sports entertainment,” about the findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of dead WWE guys Chris Benoit and Andrew Martin, or about the likelihood that CTE is seriously mixed up in what a Connecticut political reporter last year delicately called the wrestling industry’s “high mortality rate.”

But gallows humor will have to suffice for the moment. That’s because almost everyone reading this already thinks he’s so smart that he’s in on the joke.

While Mr. Stephanie McMahon Levesque either does or doesn’t write a check of indeterminate sum, transferring a tiny percentage of his WrestleMania payoff from the couple’s bank account to Vince and Linda’s billion-dollar company’s, we still have no explanation for the lower-profile head chair shot that took place nine days before WrestleMania at a WWE show in Champaign, Illinois. In that particular pas de bourreé, Stephen Farrelly (“Sheamus”) gave and Bryan Danielson (“Daniel Bryan”) received.

So far as we know, nothing happened to Farrelly and Danielson. The backstage agent or “producer” of the Illinois show, Dave “Fit” Finlay, was himself fired shortly thereafter, but only for the coincidental sin of having pissed off a WWE sponsor, the Army National Guard, by allowing wrestling villain The Miz to interrupt the national anthem. Dave Meltzer, publisher of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, is confident in his conclusion that the head chair shot was not Finlay’s firing offense. Meltzer also points out, compellingly, that WWE didn’t take even its dubiously toothful disciplinary step against Levesque and Calloway until the company confronted what Meltzer called (on his subscribers’ discussion board) a “shitstorm” of media inquiries.

More from here later on the ambiguous fates of Finlay, Farrelly, and Danielson. Let’s stick with the central theme: WWE, which has lied serially about its awareness of head injuries and elimination of chair shots, just brought this stunt back not once but twice – the second time with the boss’s son-in-law and in a way that once again directed more focus to the act’s magic-show execution than to the act itself.

For, you see, a number of self-labeled “smart” wrestling fans are now lecturing me that I should have taken pains to note that Levesque’s hit on Calloway doesn’t count, or doesn’t count quite as much – or whatever the hell they are arguing – by virtue of Calloway’s having possibly succeeded in sticking up a hand between Levesque’s chair shot and his own noodle. Which would make this a second-degree “protected” head chair shot rather than a first-degree “unprotected” head chair shot. It seems that WWE doesn’t even have to waste energy mounting a defense; voices claiming to advocate an end to its death-mill working conditions are happy to do the corporation’s bidding without even being asked. (If WWE itself regarded such a defense as anything more than risible, then do you think it would even have bothered with the charade of announcing fines two days later?)

I don’t know if Levesque and Calloway pulled this stunt entirely on their own, or with a nod and a wink from “Mr. McMahon,” and I don’t care. As The Rock would say, “It doesn’t matter.” (But again, a Meltzer point: The WrestleMania pay-per-view production crew cued up an instant replay of the spot; no one seemed abashed by it at the time.)

What matters is that out-of-control entertainment values, once again, have trumped occupational health and safety.

That’s why I’m hoping that, in addition to looking out for my privacy against the predators of Google, Senator Blumenthal – a co-sponsor of a Congressional initiative for football helmet safety – will find a way to do something meaningful to regulate a brick-and-mortar (and flesh-and-blood) menace close to home.

Irv Muchnick

Chair Shots to the Head Are Fine. Just Watch Those ‘Unprotected’ Ones. Got That?

[posted 4/7/11 to]

Sean Radican, who writes for Pro Wrestling Torch, is a nice guy who seems to suffer from an acute, perhaps terminal, case of rationalizing fandom. Radican just gave the world what it doesn’ need in the wake of the WrestleMania chair-shot controversy involving Triple H and the Undertaker: an essay on the crucial difference between choreographing a spot in which a guy gets hit hard with a steel folding chair right on the noggin, and one in which the guy either did or might have had a chance to stick a hand up in there just as the steel folding chair was being swung hard right at his noggin.

And you thought bullfighting was sick.

See “RINGSIDE WITH RADICAN: A response to Muchnick’s reporting on the Undertaker chairshot at WrestleMania,”

I agree with Radican that the incident Sunday was less appalling than “if Undertaker had simply offered up his head to take the entire force of the blow from the chair Triple H swung at him.” Glad we’re setting the bar so high! A poke in the eye with a sharp stick would have been better still, if our goal as a society from pro wrestling spectacles were to shift the epidemiology away from cumulative and massive brain damage and early death, and in the direction of instant blinding.

As for the rest ...

“I exchanged messages with Muchnick about the matter and gave up because it seemed to be splitting hairs to me,” Radican writes. But then he changed his mind and wrote the Torch piece after having “some time to reflect.” Sad to say, but Sean should have stuck with his initial instinct. If there’s one thing worse than splitting hairs, it’s splitting the brain cells under the hairs – which is exactly what this kind of thinking continues to enable.

Irv Muchnick

‘NFL Labor Negotiations Aren’t Just a Bilateral Affair’ (full text from Beyond Chron)

[originally published April 4 at Beyond Chron,]

by Irvin Muchnick

Addicted populist poseurs that so many of them are, our elected leaders can soon be counted on to move from March Madness to camera-hog jawboning to save the 2011 National Football League season – which evidently is as much in the national interest as eliminating Muammar Qaddafi.

But their problem will become clear: keeping autumn Sundays, as well as Mondays and occasional Thursdays, safe for diva wide receivers, vulgar coaches, and Bud Light commercials is not a conventional labor-management dispute. Here’s a scorecard of the various splinter constituencies putting both material and moral pressure on the pocketbooks and (if possible) the consciences of the National Football League and the NFL Players Association.

The following draws from my blog’s reporting on the league’s potential legal exposure for a generation of low-balling concussion syndrome; on “the rest of the story” of the suicide of Dave Duerson; and on the plight of medically and financially disabled players. Without pinning my interpretations on him, I also owe much here to the fine work of senior NFL writer Alex Marvez, one of the few beat journalists to cut past the atomized sob stories to the structural nitty-gritty. (CNN yesterday reported that yet another NFL suicide, former Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Shane Dronett, who shot himself in 2009, was found in postmortem brain studies to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy from a career of diagnosed and undiagnosed concussions.)

A group of former players, led by Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Carl Eller, has filed an innovative lawsuit, one of whose goals is to keep the NFL’s obligations to retirees in force during the owners’ lockout. That is just one of several tangled subplots.

As Marvez reported, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith recently met with George Martin, the former New York Giant who is now president and executive director of the NFL Alumni Association. This long-overdue consultation did not go well, according to an internal memo obtained by, as Martin did not get the one-on-one he thought he had been promised, and felt generally patronized and disrespected. Martin’s group exists in the first place because active – and, let’s face it, shortsighted and dumb – players have not well served the interests of the whole athletes’ community.

Before collective bargaining broke off, the NFL had proposed kicking in an additional $84 million over the next two years in aid to retired players. That offer is now in limbo.
The players’ union contends that it should have sole jurisdiction over negotiation of benefits to retirees. Some Players Association officials suggest that the Alumni Association is compromised by having received league funding. Innuendo to the effect that the alumni constitute a kind of “company union” is interesting in light of evidence of how the NFLPA itself colluded with management to suppress the full story of player concussions, disability, and early death – largely because the rank and file, like their owners, prefer to focus on immediate profiteering.

Yet not even the rumblings of the Eller lawsuit and the Martin group d the extent of the issue. Retired defensive tackle Dave Pear (whose career included one of the Oakland Raiders’ Super Bowl champions), just concluded the first annual convention of his Independent Football Veterans (

Former Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Brent Boyd heads another wildcat faction, Dignity After Football ( The Boyd group, though perhaps not as well organized as Pear’s, collects compelling testimony of the consequences of NFL head injuries at a level fans and sponsors can no longer responsibly ignore.

Boyd’s own legal fight with the NFL brought him into direct conflict with Dave Duerson, who despite also himself possibly suffering from CTE – a piece of speculation that could be confirmed by the brain study requested in his suicide note – served on the player-management panel that ruled on and sometimes rejected other retirees’ disability claims.

In view of what a pervasive national amateur sports problem traumatic brain injury has become – due in large measure to NFL-affiliated doctors’ foot-dragging, book-cooking academic research – I have called, specifically, for the reopening of the 11 claims rejected by NFL Player Care, with Duerson’s participation, under the John Mackey “88 Plan,” which defrays acute care expenses for victims of mental illness. Families of these players or others with information are invited to contact me at

For the same reason, the dynamic of NFL labor negotiations also will be affected by the investigation of the Federal Trade Commission and by Senator Tom Udall’s proposed legislation on football helmet manufacturers’ consumer safety claims.

Ordinarily in sports contract disputes, the general public has the luxury of sitting on the sidelines while the two sides slug it out. But not in this one. Public health is at stake. That’s a game in which all of us are players, not spectators.

Irvin Muchnick, author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, blogs about the history of his involvement in writers’ rights issues at He is @irvmuch on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Connecticut Sponsor of MMA Legalization Won’t Comment on Wrestling Regulation

[posted 4/7/11 to]

The Connecticut state representative who introduced legislation to legalize mixed martial arts won’t comment on parallel efforts to regulate the pro wrestling industry, which is dominated by one of the state’s most powerful corporations, World Wrestling Entertainment.

But that hasn’t stopped Matt Lesser, the Democrat representing Connecticut’s 100th district, from using Twitter for half-assed non sequiturs on the links between the two issues.

Three days ago Daniela Altimari of the Hartford Courant retweeted my item about Triple H’s head chair shot to the Undertaker at WrestleMania. “According to Muchnick, #WWE brings back chair shots to the head,” “@capitolwatch” posted.

Representative Lesser then recirculated that tweet with this added comment: “And yet MMA is still not legal in CT.”

Yet for the second time in two months, Lesser did not respond to a query I emailed to his office. It seems that it’s easier to hit the RT button on your Twitter app than it is to formulate coherent public policy.

Irv Muchnick


Developing: WWE Reinstitutes Chair Shots to the Head

Time to Stop Making Excuses for WWE’s Criminal Choreography

Vince McMahon ‘Fines’ His Son-in-Law Triple H for WrestleMania Chair Shot

WWE’s Secret Weapon: The Public Hits ITSELF Over the Head With a Proverbial Chair and Forgets Everything!

Hits Keep Coming From WWE – Where They Don’t Do Chair Shots to the Head Except When They Do

Hits Keep Coming From WWE – Where They Don’t Do Chair Shots to the Head Except When They Do

[posted 4/6/11 to]

A new Cageside Seats piece by David Bixenspan has chilling additions to the reporting here on World Wrestling Entertainment’s ugly history of indefensible cranial chair shots, accompanied by lies about the termination of these practices.

See “WWE fines Undertaker and Triple H for chairshot, but does that matter?”,

Bixenspan notes that in 2007, when the since-deceased Eddie “Umaga” Fatu had to serve a suspension upon being exposed as a customer of Internet steroid dealer Signature Pharmacy, Vince McMahon staged an “angle” on Raw to write Umaga out of the TV story. Umaga was put on the receiving end of a series of sick chairs to the head by the one and only Triple H, Vince’s son-in-law. The Cageside story links to the YouTube clips of the incident.

But there’s more. The WWE website followed up the Raw angle with a retrospective headlined “Chair Classic Moments.” That story was almost immediately taken down from the site because it wound up coinciding with the Sports Legacy Institute’s release of the Chris Benoit brain study, with the finding that Benoit had chronic traumatic encephalopathy. See Cageside’s link to where this charming WWE document got preserved at another fan site, The Other Arena.

In an email, Bixenspan’s Cageside Seats colleague, Keith Harris, told me that my blog post earlier today, a chronology of WWE head chair shots subsequent to McMahon’s 2007 public statements that they were being discontinued, was incomplete.

“The Hell in the Cell main events at Survivor Series 2007 (just days after Vince’s CNN interview) and SummerSlam 2008 both featured chair shots to the head,” Harris said.

Irv Muchnick

WWE’s Secret Weapon: The Public Hits ITSELF Over the Head With a Proverbial Chair and Forgets Everything!

[posted 4/6/11 to]

Linda McMahon, unsuccessful 2010 candidate for the U.S. Senate and presumed frontrunner for the 2012 Republican nomination for Connecticut’s other Senate seat, is “distancing herself” from her company, World Wrestling Entertainment, and everyone is letting her get away with it.

At WrestleMania on Sunday, Linda and Vince McMahon’s son-in-law and presumed heir to the throne of running WWE, wrestler Paul “Triple H” Levesque, used a chair to the head of the Undertaker in their match, in violation of company policy. Or is it company “policy”? The consequence is that Triple H and Taker have been fined. Or is it “fined”?

Some not-so-ancient history is instructive.

SUMMER/FALL 2007: Chris Benoit CTE finding and the ban on chair shots to the head

WWE star Chris Benoit murdered his wife and their 7-year-old son before killing himself. A postmortem examination of his brain revealed the serial-concussion syndrome chronic traumatic encephelopathy.

In their joint interview for the November 7, 2007, CNN documentary Death Grip: Inside Pro Wrestling, Linda and Vince McMahon downplayed the evidence of CTE in Benoit.

“These studies, you know, have not been — they’ve not been proven, if you will,” Linda said.

Vince 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. But other than that, you know, it’s what it is in the ring. You know, accidents do occur. It’s not ballet, as they say.”

DECEMBER 2007: The McMahons’ daughter (and Triple H’s wife) Stephanie lies to Congress
Question from Stephanie McMahon Levesque’s December 14, 2007, interview by staff investigators for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: “Are you aware of any incident where a wrestler in a match received a concussion?”

Stephanie McMahon Levesque: “No.”


OCTOBER 2008: Lance Cade battered with chair shots, including one square to the skull; dies 22 months later, at 29, of “heart failure”

DECEMBER 2009: WWE lies to ESPN about access to Benoit studies

On December 9, 2009, ESPN’s Greg Garber reported findings of CTE in the brain of a second dead wrestler, Andrew “Test” Martin.

WWE issued a statement to ESPN: “WWE is 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 tests results in the case of Mr. Benoit for years and has not been supplied with them.”

In fact, as my blog reported, on October 1, 2008, WWE medical director Joseph Maroon had met with Dr. Bennet Omalu and others at the West Virginia Brain Research Institute and shown the slides of Benoit’s preserved brain tissue.
Later WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt would contend that the statement was accurate because WWE does not necessarily accept that Omalu documented chain of custody and did not switch Benoit’s brain tissue with someone else’s.

DECEMBER 2009: WWE promotes chair shots to the head

The December 13, 2009, WWE pay-per-view show “Tables, Ladders and Chairs” was promoted with videos showing chair shots to the skulls of wrestlers – including one to wrestler Chris Jericho, which was followed by cartoon cuckoo birds encircling his head.

EARLY 2010: Ban on chair shots to the head announced

WWE officially promulgated the ban on chair shots to the head on its we

On his own blog, off-and-on company executive and ring announcer Jim Ross wrote: “Nice to see WWE focus on eliminating chair shots to the heat of their athletes. I blogged about this several weeks ago which I am sure means nothing in regard to this decision being made. 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 utmost priority.”


On March 25, Sheamus hit Daniel Bryan with a chair to the head at a WWE show in Champaign, Illinois.

On April 3, Triple H hit the Undertaker with a chair to the head at WrestleMania in Atlanta.

Irv Muchnick

Vince McMahon ‘Fines’ His Son-in-Law Triple H for WrestleMania Chair Shot

[posted 4/6/11 to]

World Wrestling Entertainment announced on its corporate website that the two wrestlers involved in the cranial chair-shot spot in Sunday’s WrestleMania were fined. The complete statement:

Superstars Fined for Chair Shot

Pursuant to WWE’s Concussion policy, the stunt of using a folded metal chair shot to the head is prohibited. Triple H and The Undertaker have both been fined for violating this policy at WrestleMania XXVII. WWE penalizes through fine and/or suspension for violation of this policy, which is unchanged and still in effect.


Triple H, who delivered the chair shot, is Paul Levesque, the husband of Vince and Linda McMahon’s daughter Stephanie.

The company’s statement is not credible. Spokesman Robert Zimmerman has not responded to my query on whether there were also consequences for another documented head chair shot incident, involving wrestlers Daniel Bryan and Sheamus at a March 25 show in Champaign, Illinois. WWE also offers no details on the fines to Levesque and the Undertaker (Mark Calloway). In the past, corporate press releases have gleefully played into storyline “angles.”

The website news updaters at the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and Pro Wrestling Torch know all this, and more. They should be ashamed of themselves for reporting this development with straight faces. (“Good move from WWE,” James Caldwell of the Torch summed up.)

Next here will be the four-year chronology of WWE’s public misstatements and lies on industrial brain injuries.

Irv Muchnick

Time to Stop Making Excuses for WWE’s Criminal Choreography

[posted 4/5/11 to]

A guy who signed his email “Chris” sent me this comment on the report here yesterday that World Wrestling Entertainment is again using chair shots to the head, despite public statements and a published “wellness policy” to the contrary:

“to be fair, mr. muchnick, if you saw the wm 28 [sic] ppv, you would have seen that the undertake [sic] put his hands up in front of his face and his hands absorbed that fake chair shot from hhh.”

The best answer to this is the excellent item by David Bixenspan at Cageside Seats: “After Wrestlemania, it looks like WWE has unbanned chairs to the head,”

“Undertaker may have gotten a hand up at the last second, but as hard as the shot hit, that probably didn’t help matters much at all,” Bixenspan writes.

In an email to me, Bixenspan called the Triple H-Undertaker stunt on Sunday night “stupid, careless, and hypocritical” since these were not two independent garbage wrestlers who might feel they need to resort to dangerous chair shots in order to get a crowd “pop.” When the two most respected veterans in WWE do that, “what kind of message does it send to the other wrestlers?”

But here’s the kicker: Cageside Seats uncovered that this was no isolated Vince McMahon son-in-law exception.

On a March 25 WWE show, in Champaign, Illinois, Sheamus hit Daniel Bryan on the head with a chair in the middle of a move called a tope (a kind of flying head butt). Bixenspan: “The spot was made most famous by Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit in their ladder match at the 2001 Royal Rumble, where Benoit took the full force of the chair while rocketing into it.” Bixenspan says the two incidents, in combination, “lead us to believe that chairshots to the head have been unbanned.”

Also yesterday, I emailed all the leading wrestling fan newsletter journalists, from Wrestling Observer‘s Dave Meltzer on down. I have received no response to this message:

What is your published response to Hunter’s chair shot to Taker’s head?

The following don’t count:

* grading this safety policy on the curve based on how good you thought the match was

* the son-in-law exception

* contorted analysis of whether Taker actually got his hand in there to cushion the blow

* above all, snide and ultimately toothless comments about how these people always lie, so what do you expect?

Irv Muchnick

Developing: WWE Reinstitutes Chair Shots to the Head

[posted 4/4/11 to]

Paul Levesque — the wrestler known as “Triple H,” who is slated to take over top management of World Wrestling Entertainment when his in-laws, Vince and Linda McMahon, leave the scene — hit his opponent Mark “Undertaker” Calloway with a chair to the head last night at WrestleMania in Atlanta.

But weren’t chair shots to the head banned in WWE? That’s what Vince McMahon said in 2007 after the double murder/suicide of star wrestler Chris Benoit — even if McMahon didn’t get around to promulgating it as company policy until his wife was running unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate last year.

Once again we see that self-regulation of the pro wrestling industry, in which the deaths of performers under the age of 50 far exceed the body count of even the concussion-soaked National Football League, is an oxymoron.

More on this story as it develops — including a review of the history of WWE’s lies on the subject, some of them to Congress.

And while we’re at it, where is Dr. Joseph Maroon, the “medical director” of WWE who simultaneously bloviates and contracts for the NFL? I’m looking forward to seeing how Senator Richard Blumenthal, who defeated Linda McMahon in the recent election, intends to incorporate wrestling brain injuries into the fight he has joined with Senate colleague Tom Udall to ameliorate concussions in football.

I also expect the auditors of the Connecticut Labor Department, who are probing WWE’s abuse of the independent contractor classification for its wrestlers, to consider the stakes of their investigation.

Irv Muchnick

A Few Words About WWE Hall of Famer and Bloodlust Sicko ‘Abdullah the Butcher’

[posted 4/2/11 to]

The traditional WrestleMania Eve induction ceremony for the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame is tonight in Atlanta. I’ve reported previously on lead inductee Shawn Michaels’ 2008 chair beating of the late Lance Cade, which an aggressive prosecutor might have investigated for manslaughter. But I haven’t gotten around to talking about another inductee, a blood fetishist and seriously sick cult legend by the name of Abdullah the Butcher.

Abdullah, real name Larry Shreve, has had no career connection to WWE. He was selected for the Hall of Fame for two reasons: now semi-retired, he owns a popular restaurant in the Atlanta area; and WWE owner Vince McMahon’s mission in his late life includes appropriating, self-curating, and domesticating the entir history of the pro wrestling industry.

This week a Canadian wrestler on the independent scene, Devon Nicholson, went public with allegations that the commingling of his blood with Shreve’s in their matches was the cause of Nicholson’s diagnosis of Hepatitis C, which cost him a job with WWE. Read the story at, a site in Thunder Bay, Ontario:

“’Don’t Bleed on Me’: A Scary Look at Pro Wrestling,”

The piece embeds an extended excerpt of a new documentary film airing Nicholson’s charges. He is supported by prominent retired WWE wrestlers Superstar Bil Graham and Wayne “Honky Tonk Man” Ferris.

Whether Nicholson, Graham, and Ferris’s overall credibility quotients are high matters less than the fact that their specific allegations here about Shreve seem to hang together.

David Bixenspan of Cageside Seats has a good overview of the controversy at

Fan-news bellwether Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer dropped the ball on this story; his coverage is unacceptable. In an online update this week, Meltzer wrote: “Canadian independent wrestler Devon Nicholson said that he had a WWE deal in 2009, underwent the medicals and found out he had Hepatitis C, and thus the company rescinded their offer. He blames it on his matches on the indie scene with Abdullah the Butcher at I don’t know that he’ll get another shot given that he shot on Tommy Dreamer in the middle of a worked match a few months back.”

Meltzer misses the point in every important way. It is revealing and sad that he would frame for his readers a bedrock anecdote about occupational health and safety almost solely in terms of insider frat-boy politics.

Of course, insider frat-boy politics is nearly the whole name of the game for Meltzer’s online partner, Figure Four Weekly publisher Bryan Alvarez. The Observer/F4 brand recently launched its very own addition to the arrested-development video genre known as “shoot interviews,” and Abdullah the Butcher was Alvarez’s kickoff subject.

Meltzer and Alvarez were emailed for comment for this post, but offered none.

Irv Muchnick

From the Wrestling Babylon Archives

[posted 3/30/11 to]

World Wrestling Entertainment’s WrestleMania 27 takes place in Atlanta o Sunday. Here are some of the most popular WrestleMania-based articles at our archive on topics you won’t be reading much, if anything, about in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter or Pro Wrestling Torch, much less the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It is the 20th anniversary of the 1991 WrestleMania, which included no fewer than 11 performers who would die before age 50. In January of last year this blog published a seven-part series documenting all the deaths. The series was combined into a single post:

‘The Question’ – Senate Candidate Linda McMahon (Still) Can’t Answer It (complete 7-part series as a single post)
The night before WrestleMania is the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. The lead inductee this year is Shawn Michaels. Last month I wrote a two-part series on the October 2008 incident in which Michaels punished Lance Cade with a chair. Cade would die a little less than two years later.

WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels Should Speak Up on What Happened to Lance Cade
Did WWE’s Lance Cade Have Brain Damage? It May Not Be Too Late to Find Out

WWE is under investigation by the Connec Labor Department for alleged misclassification of its wrestlers as independent contractors. A few weeks ago we had a guide on how people within the industry can file complaints with government agencies.

WrestleMania Preview: How Wrestlers Can File Complaints With Government Agencies (Part 1 – OSHA)

WrestleMania Preview: How Wrestlers Can File Complaints With Government Agencies (Part 2 – Connecticut Labor Department)

WWE’s medical director, Dr. Joseph Maroon, is at the center of a federal investigation of concussions in sports. Here are a couple of recent pieces of reporting in that area:

Introducing ‘What the Feds Must Investigate About WWE-NFL Doc Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT Concussion Product’

Subpoena Cena: Does WWE Medical Director Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT System Manage Concussions – Or Merely ‘Manage’ ‘Concussions’?

Finally, in the category of nostalgia, just a few days ago we remembered the late vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro’s inadvertent involvement in the hype for the very first WrestleMania in 1985.

Wrestling Note on Late Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro

Irv Muchnick

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Wrestling Note on Late Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro

[posted 3/26/11 to http:]

Below I’ve corrected the original post, which said that the Felt Forum is now the Manhattan Center. Manhattan Center is a different nearby building. Thanks to David Bixenspan and Dave Meltzer.

Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman nominated by a major party on a presidential ticket, has died. Ferraro was Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale’s vice presidential running mate in their unsuccessful 1984 attempt to block Ronald Reagan’s reelection. Ferraro also was among the first, and perhaps the very first, prominent national politician to be duped by Vincent Kennedy McMahon and Linda Edwards McMahon, the first couple of what is now World Wrestling Entertainment. Here are a few morsels of the Ferraro obituary that won’t make it into The New York Times.

In 1984 singer Cyndi Lauper, a pro wrestling fan and a friend of wrestler-manager Captain Lou Albano, had one of the first breakout music videos, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” which co-starred Albano as her finger-wagging father.

Throughout that year, Lauper got involved in an extended skit on the McMahons’ wrestling telecasts – then finding a national audience in the early days of cable – in which she feuded with Albano and ultimately turned him from a “heel” to a “babyface.”

In December 1984, Ms. Magazine held its annual awards banquet. The honorees included both Lauper and Geraldine Ferraro. Hulk Hogan attended and a then-World Wrestling Federation crew recorded it as documentation of the new “rock and wrestling connection.” The WWF producer talked both Ferraro and Gloria Steinem, a founding editor of Ms., to “cut promos” on Hogan’s No. 1 antagonist of that season, Rowdy Roddy Piper. With some misgivings, Ferraro and Steinem went ahead and recited their lines. Since they included homophobic catcalls about the “Scottish” Piper’s “skirt” (the kilt he used to wear into the ring as part of his gimmick), the verbiage was both imbued with undeniable populist humor and politically incorrect.

Two months later WWF was building toward its first WrestleMania extravaganza on closed circuit and pay-per-view TV. The main event of the set-up February 1985 show at Madison Square Garden in New York was Hogan vs. Piper. The Garden was sold out with an audience that legitimately included Andy Warhol. Along with the rest of the overflow crowd, I watched the closed-circuit feed in the adjoining Felt Forum (now called The Theater At Madison Square Garden). The show was simulcast on both the MSG regional cable network and the emerging national cable channel MTV. I believe it was the first non-music-video programming in MTV’s history and it drew record ratings.

Ferraro and Steinem were not at the Garden show. However, WWF, in building the buzz for their camp-art phenomenon, neatly edited the December clips of them into the opening cut-in of the broadcast to create the illusion that they were there. Ferraro looked at the camera and challenged the skirted Piper to “fight like a man.”

The tabloid gossip columns picked it up. Ferraro complained that she’d been had by WWF.

She wouldn’t be the last.

Irv Muchnick

‘ImPACT’ of Dr. Maroon’s and Colleagues’ Writings

[posted 3/25/11 to http:]


* “Introducing ‘What the Feds Must Investigate About WWE-NFL Doc Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT Concussion Product’”

* “Subpoena Cena: Does WWE Medical Director Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT System Manage Concussions – Or Merely ‘Manage’ ‘Concussions’?”

* “FLASHBACK: ESPN’s Peter Keating Was First to Expose NFL and WWE Concussion Doc Joseph Maroon’s Conflicts of Interest”

In his 2007 article in ESPN The Magazine (linked in the previous post in this series), Peter Keating wrote extensively about the start-up company ImPACT Applications, whose concussion-management software was by then being used by 30 of the 32 National Football League teams.

Two of ImPACT’s co-founders, Drs. Joseph Maroon and Mark Lovell of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, were members of the NFL’s Committee on Mild Traumatic Brain Injury.

Christopher Randolph, professor of neurology at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, and former team neuropsychologist for the Chicago Bears, told Keating, “It is a major conflict of interest, scientifically irresponsible.”

Other key points:

- Lovell and a third Pitt Med Center colleague and ImPACT stakeholder, Michael Collins, were co-authors of all 19 of the publications listed in the “Reliability and Validity” section of the ImPACT website.

- In 2005 Loyola’s Randolph published a study in Journal of Athletic Training, which found that only one peer-reviewed article involving a prospective controlled study with ImPACT had been published.

- Another then unpublished study by Stephen Broglio, professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign concluded that ImPACT and two other tested computerized systems were “less than optimal.”

- Without disclosing their financial interests, Maroon and Collins published laudatory comments on a 2006 Neurosurgery article about ImPACT that was co-authored by Lovell and three other members of the NFL concussion committee.

- Lovell declined to be interviewed for ESPN’s investigative series Outside the Lines.

Irv Muchnick

Thursday, April 14, 2011

‘It’s the Concussion Crisis, Stupid’ (full text from Beyond Chron)

[originally published March 21 at Beyond Chron,]

by Irvin Muchnick

Senator Tom Udall’s proposed bill on football helmet safety, announced last week, is a step on the road to national sports concussion reform. An analogy might be the scandal over the quality of the body armor secured for our troops in Asia. Policy questions are rarely about hardware. They’re about software – the human decisions to put our military in harm’s way abroad, or to expose our youth to unacceptable risks in fun and games at home.

We seem headed for helmet hearings in Congress in some form, on either Udall’s initiative or that of Democrats at the House Commerce Committee. What’s important at this point is to make sure these C-SPAN exercises don’t just scapegoat the manufacturers, which are almost certainly producing progressively improved helmets. Nor is the villain of the piece NOCSAE – the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, an overmatched trade oversight group. The root problem is that there’s no such thing as a concussion-proof football helmet.

Let’s direct the fire where it belongs: at the industry’s upper-echelon custodians in the National Football League. Uncontrolled collisions are what have driven television rights fees and merchandise through the roofs of municipal-financed stadiums, and the league has done as little about the problem as it could get away with. Meanwhile, at great public health cost, concussion syndrome permeated down through amateur sports in frightening dimensions we are just beginning to quantify.

The situation with exaggerated promotional claims of helmet companies is exactly parallel to the NFL’s slowness to reorient coaching and rules on the field once blocking and tackling were supplanted by head-hunting.

Says Sean Morley, a former wide receiver who is now on the NFL Players Association executive committee: “Generally what they’ve done is try to blame players for how violent the game has become. They had ample opportunity to look at the science and make practical changes and give coaches an opportunity to coach players, and give the players realistic expectations of how they should change the way they hit. And they didn’t.”

The league controlled much of the basic research on concussions, largely through grants to NFL-affiliated doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, led by Dr. Joseph Maroon, who is also the “medical director” of World Wrestling Entertainment. Such phrases probably belong in quotation marks in pro football as well as pro wrestling.

The past body of commercially compromised articles on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, published over the last decade in the prestigious journal Neurosurgery, shows a pattern of obscuring the magnitude of concussion syndrome while pushing Maroon’s band-aid diagnostic software, known as ImPACT, which is now used widely in sports at all levels.

In 2006 Maroon co-authored a Neurosurgery article, based on NFL-funded research, about the new “Revolution” design of the league’s official helmet supplier, Riddell. It turns out that the sample for Riddell’s claim of a 31 percent reduction in concussion risk was a three-year survey of 2,141 high school players in western Pennsylvania. Imagine a tobacco company bragging about reduced tar and nicotine results from a cohort of emerging smokers, rather than entrenched two-pack-a-day addicts.

In January, when Udall referred the Riddell promos to the Federal Trade Commission for further investigation, Maroon neatly triangulated, insisting that the company had distorted his findings. At the top of the Congressional witness list should be both Maroon and one of the other co-authors of the Neurosurgery article, Riddell chief engineer Thad Ide.

The public also needs to hear from Riddell’s competitors. A Boston mouth-guard manufacturer, Mahercor Laboratories, claims that as many as 30 percent of football concussions are transmitted through the jaw and dental architecture. Mahercor’s product is used by the New England Patriots, whose reported concussion rate is consistently among the industry’s lowest, but the company says it can’t get a league-wide foothold despite its recent embrace by the American military.

Vincent Ferrara, the CEO of Xenith, an innovative helmet manufacturer, told me, “Xenith has welcomed the input of the federal government in this issue. We need a more level playing field for new tech to take hold.”

Even more than a level playing field, along with lip service about increased awareness of head injuries, we need the unfiltered history of the $9-billion-a-year National Football League’s management of a generation-long phenomenon, which is responsible for a decline in gross national mental health. It’s not just the helmets. It’s the concussion crisis, stupid.

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

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

[posted 3/24/11 to http:]


* “Introducing ‘What the Feds Must Investigate About WWE-NFL Doc Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT Concussion Product’”

* “Subpoena Cena: Does WWE Medical Director Joseph Maroon ’s ImPACT System Manage Concussions — Or Merely ‘Manage’ ‘Concussions’?”

Before proceeding to post new material on the history and controversies surrounding Dr. Joseph Maroon’s for-profit ImPACT concussion-management product, let’s pause to acknowledge again that ESPN, often justly criticized for its cross-promotional synergy and shoddy journalistic standards, deserves credit for publishing some of the earliest and hardest-hitting stories about the concussion crisis. ESPN’s Peter Keating, in particular, had several important exclusives. For whatever reason, the network lately has done more following than leading on this issue. But my January 21 post, reproduced below, reminds us that this year’s investigation of Maroon and football helmet safety claims builds on Keating’s 2007 coverage.
... 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.

Irv Muchnick

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cageside Seats: ‘Call for WWE Wrestlers to Stand Up’

[posted 3/24/11 to http:]

Thanks to Keith Harris of Cageside Seats for his new item — inspired by this blog — urging World Wrestling Entertainment talent to provide information in the Connecticut Labor Department’s investigation of the company for independent contractor misclassification. Recommended reading:

Call for WWE wrestlers to stand up for their withheld employee benefits

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Subpoena Cena: Does WWE Medical Director Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT System Manage Concussions – Or Merely ‘Manage’ ‘Concussions’?

[posted 3/23/11 to http:]


“Introducing ‘What the Feds Must Investigate About WWE-NFL Doc Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT Concussion Product’”

John Cena, World Wrestling Entertainment’s top star, is funny enough to kill. In January 2010 he posted notes on Twitter about suffering a concussion in a televised skit and undergoing WWE medical director Joseph Maroon’s patented ImPACT testing before being cleared to return to action.(See Earlier this month he tweeted again about suffering a new concussion and undergoing ImPACT testing before, presto!, jumping right back into the wrestling tour, media appearances, and TV tapings. (See

Yes, pro wrestlers do ridiculous things to themselves and each other, which cause real concussions – that has been extensively documented here. However, it is highly unlikely that Cena’s January 2010 and March 2011 Internet postings were anything other than hype for each year’s WrestleMania show.

So for concussion investigators I have the following question: Dr. Maroon takes money from WWE ... is promoted on its website as the director of its “wellness program” ... yet allows his best-known and personally developed clinical tool to be used repeatedly as a prop for fictional shtick … what does that tell us about the doctor, WWE, and his No. 1 client, the National Football League?

Senator Tom Udall needs to ask John Cena to testify at football helmet safety hearings, along with Maroon and Thad Ide, the chief engineer for the Riddell helmet company. I’m confident that the co-sponsor of Udall’s legislation, Senator Richard Blumenthal from WWE’s home state of Connecticut, can lend a hand in issuing the subpoena.

Maroon told The New York Times that Riddell helmet promos stretched the safety claims of the Neurosurgery journal article he had co-authored with Ide and with NFL grant money – though Maroon never said a word about his alleged displeasure until the feds were on the case. Presumably, with WWE, the soap opera “medical director” would disclaim responsibility for scripted medical subplots.

And, of course, many people readily see through Cena and WWE’s bad jokes about concussions (among other subjects). But the same is not true of the NFL’s management of head injuries, which is also done with a nod and wink toward reliance on Maroon’s ImPACT.

This year’s Super Bowl featured two quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger, who both had had recent concussion episodes. If you think they were returned to play under some pure and objective medical standard, then you are naïve.

That’s OK: professional athletes and entertainers – football players and wrestlers and their handlers – take crazy risks for millions of dollars. Their adoring public doesn’t necessarily need to know all the details. What’s troubling about ImPACT is that amateur and youth sports leagues also use it, and its appeal is based largely on the NFL propaganda-manufactured illusion that it is a reliable return-to-play standard, rather than just a slightly more sophisticated diagnostic toy and band-aid.

Irv Muchnick

Introducing ‘What the Feds Must Investigate About WWE-NFL Doc Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT Concussion Product’

[posted 3/23/11 to]

Government football helmet investigations are in the air: the Federal Trade Commission is probing promotional safety claims by the Riddell manufacturer, at the behest of Senator Tom Udall, who also introduced a bill to codify and improve safety standards.

I argue that helmet investigations, per se, are meaningless without folding them into the entire context of the national sports concussion crisis. This includes the chronology of what the National Football League knew about chronic traumatic encephalopathy and when it knew it. And it includes examining the range of commercial products that have been pushed at the amateur level through NFL connections and NFL-funded research.

The useful starting point for Udall and the feds is the Riddell-friendly hype published in the academic journal Neurosurgery and co-authored by Dr. Joseph Maroon of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center – a team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers and concussion expert for the NFL, who also is listed by World Wrestling Entertainment as its “medical director.”

A meaningful investigation of Riddell has to move on to cover other products with which Maroon is even more closely associated, and in some cases enjoys an equity business interest.

With that mission, this blog begins publishing a new series on the popular “ImPACT” concussion management software, which is marketed to the NFL and many professional and amateur sports leagues through a company whose owners include Maroon and UPMC colleagues.

First up, later today, will be a piece headlined “Subpoena Cena: Does WWE-NFL Doc Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT Software Manage Concussions – Or Merely ‘Manage’ ‘Concussions’?”

Before reading it, you are invited to review stories from our archive whose links are listed below. These are matters of concern not only for Senator Udall but also for one of his bill’s co-sponsors, Senator Richard Blumenthal, who owes his freshman seat to his 2010 election win over Linda McMahon, the former CEO of WWE.

Irv Muchnick


“Roundup of Coverage of Pittsburgh Steelers / NFL / WWE Doc Joseph Maroon’s Misstatements and Ethical Shortcuts on Concussion Research,” January 21,
“Sports Concussion Scandal Ground Zero: NFL and WWE Doc Joseph Maroon’s Hype Article in Neurosurgery on Riddell Football Helmets,” January 23,

“Timeline of Dr. Joseph Maroon’s Work As WWE Medical Director,” January 24, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpr

“Pittsburgh Steelers Physician Joseph Maroon Key Figure in Sports Concussion Probe,” January 31,

“Helmet to Helmet: FTC’s Investigation Could be the Super Bowl for Corrupt NFL Doctors and the National Concussion Crisis,” February 11,