AS I SEE IT 11/28: WWE finally responds...

Bob Magee
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets

In response to the death of Eddie Guerrero and likely the incident involving Nick Dinsmore; as well as calls by such writers as frequent critic Phil Mushnick, WWE is announcing a new drug policy for its in-ring talent involving recreational, performance-enhancing, and painkilling drugs.

In the recent past, WWE informally helped wrestlers with acute drug problems, including Eddie ro and Steven (William) Regal, who successfully got themselves clean after drug and alcohol addictions; but no formal drug policy existed since the 1992-1996 drug testing program.

Vince McMahon announced the policy on November 21 to a joint meeting with both "brand" rosters in Sheffield, UK. In the policy, a new drug testing policy will be implemented in the next several weeks involving performance enhancing drugs (such as steroids), and recreational drugs. The policy will also test for abuse of prescription drugs. Those considered to be abusing would be taken off the road and put into rehabilitation if deemed appropriate.

Unlike with the previous 1992-1996 WWF drug testing policy, there is said to be an independent and autonomous testing authority who would administer testing and rehabilitation. As McMahon stated in the presentation to the locker room, the testing authority would report first to the talent being tested to advise of positive results, and then report his findings to Vince McMahon.

In addition to the new drug testing procedure, there will also be an emphasis on cardiovascular examinations; tests of the type that might well have caught ahead the cardiac distress and eventual heart failure that killed Eddie Guerrero.

McMahon's statement of the locker room was that WWE would be testing for "drugs of abuse" (recreational?), prescription drugs, growth enhancers, and steroids. McMahon further stated that the policy will be "strict", and will consist of random and "relatively frequent" testing on all individuals under full time contracts with WWE, handled by a third party agency.

Now some questions...

First, how legitimate is the WWE's testing company? Why should the public believe this will be different than the 1992-1996 WWF drug testing policy?

The WWE of 2005 going into 2006 is a publicly traded company, unlike the WWF of 1992-1996. Although the McMahon family obviously owns a sizable majority of the company stock, the company is subject to public comment and scrutiny. In fact, the Second Quarter Fiscal 2006 Earnings Release and Conference Call takes place this Thursday, December 1st. Assuming the public comments are allowed, it's easy to imagine some questions being asked by the media and stockholders.

If this testing is NOT legitimate, then Vince McMahon set himself up for the greatest possible public fallout, given the fact that the announcement was made publicly...with video footage of the announcement put on the company's website at this link.

As for the differences between the program of 1992-1996 and the new testing program... what, if any, differences there are between them remains to be seen. If the public sees certain physiques shrinking, it may believe the testing's legitimate. If the public sees that a wrestler in a key storyline is suspended at the most inconvenient may believe the testing is legitimate. If the public finds out that action under this testing program or the associated cardiovascular testing has saved someone's life, it may believe the testing is legitimate....and will be very thankful.

But if none of these changes take will be very clear that the announcement made on November 21 was little more than a public relations exercise.

The obvious loophole to any testing method, even if the testing is legitimate, is that Human Growth Hormone cannot be detected with current testing methods used by professional sports. Even the testing authority for amateur and Olympic sports, the World Anti-Doping Agency, has researched for years to find a test for HGH. With all their efforts, they only have a test for biochemical changes in the body that occur after HGH is injected, but not yet a tests for the hormone itself.

So those who want to avoid testing, and feel the need for assistance to maintain their physiques can continue to use HGH for at least the time being, as well as the numerous designer steroids that tests don't yet exist for. Will wrestlers at a top level, like professional athletes and bodybuilders who feel the pressure to maintain a certain physical size, use HGH or designer steroids as a way to evade such testing?

Another question is how the use and abuse of somas and other painkillers will be dealt with. Notable in McMahon's locker room speech is that the "abuse" of painkillers will be dealt with. While McMahon gave little detail in his announcement, it appears that WWE full time talent will be required to provide prescriptions for whatever medications they are on, and presumably to establish some sort of baseline level of medication. Those found to be using such medication without prescriptions (or notifying WWE about it?) or with levels deemed to be "abuse" would be liable to suspension or required to enter drug treatment.

Under such a regime, I have to wonder how wrestlers will deal with the pain of taking bumps, travel, and the insane road schedules of WWE. They'll find a way...the question is how, and how some will attempt to evade testing.

Will wrestlers be taking more time off to deal with injuries? How does that affect storylines for TV and PPV? Is Vince McMahon willing to deal with this reality that will occur as the result of a drug-free(r) company?

Second, will the results be made public if a wrestler tests positive for a banned substance? I have to say I was shocked when WWE reported on its own website that Nick Dinsmore had been suspended because of passing out after taking somas and other prescription medication (attributed to taking the somas because of a knee injury). But to be blunt, Nick Dinsmore isn't a major name in WWE.

What happens when a major star tests positive for steroids or other drugs? Is Vince McMahon willing to run the risk of killing the career of a talent that draws money for him by placing a tag of drug abuser on him? To be Vince McMahon willing to suspend his son-in-law should he test positive for steroids or other drugs? Is he willing to suspend a Kurt Angle or Batista? That kind of situation may well be the test of the legitimacy of such a policy.

As noted this week by Dave Meltzer; in the 1992-1996 WWF testing program, it's known that certain wrestlers who tested positive continued on tours or on PPVs, with the feeling that their suspension would be disruptive to storylines. If a wrestler tested positive yet remained on tour or TV in 2005 and 2006, news would likely leak out and the new drug policy would be seriously questioned.

Finally, there comes the issue of costs and the bottom line. The 1992-1996 testing program was reported to have been abandoned due to the considerable costs involved. WWE's finances are in a much better shape than ten years ago, so costs may not be a major consideration at this time...although the costs entailed in such a program will presumably be available to stockholders and to the public.

More significantly, what about the effect on the bottom line? What happens if smaller or less defined bodies attract fewer viewers, attract fewer live fans at house shows, and result in fewer PPV buys?

What happens if wrestlers need to take more time off because they aren't using painkillers and muscle relaxants...or are using them to a greatly reduced degree? Will WWE be able to make the needed adjustments to storylines for PPVs and TV? What effect will those adjustments have on the bottom line?

I don't pretend to have the definitive answers to any of these questions...but all of those questions are there. They're real. Until we know the answer to them, we'll have no way of telling if this new drug policy is legitimate, a PR exercise, or somewhere inbetween.

Until next time...


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