AS I SEE IT 7/9: Employee Assistance Programs & the Benoit's

Bob Magee
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets

Would an WWE Employee Assistance Program have saved the lives of Chris, Nancy, and Daniel Benoit?

It's not the first time that I've brought up this issue in AS I SEE IT. The sad thing is the words below come from an AS I SEE IT column...on January 28, 2000. Obviously there is no more WCW and ECW as there was seven years ago, but otherwise, the words ring as true as they did over seven years ago and speak for themselves:

"It's time for WCW, the WWF, and ECW to make an effort to enact REAL drug testing. NOW.

By that, I mean LEGITIMATE drug testing. I don't mean the farce that results in stars being conveniently leaked times when testing will take place, but REAL honest to God testing. I don't mean the farce that allows dirty tests to be ignored if it will interfere with a major storyline and PPV main event.

It's time to start a policy of universal random testing within wrestling companies for the use of somas and other muscle relaxers, for painkillers, for cocaine, for Nu-Bain and other narcotics; as well as for steroids and other growth-enhancing substances...testing for the drugs being used by wrestlers today on an all too frequent basis.

Somas are one of the most widely used drug by wrestlers, used both to relieve physical pain from ringwork, as well as for "recreational" purposes...

Firing or suspending someone so they won't 'die on my watch' (a phrase uttered by Paul Heyman about Louie Spicolli, who wound up employed in another major company shortly afterward, and died from a soma overdose shortly after that) won't help one bit. It'll just cause a wrestler to deny that he or she has a drug problem and more effort in concealing it than in ENDING the drug problem; just to save their jobs. That policy will just cause more wrestlers to die.

It is time for Time-Warner-Turner, WWF Entertainment, and ECW to enact an Employee Assistance Program to allow for drug/alcohol counseling of workers and office employees. Employee Assistance Programs are a common practice all over corporate America. These programs involve making counseling services available through a third-party who will not disclose the nature of the counseling to the employer, but will provide services that may save a life."

Would an Employee Assistance Program have saved the lives of Chris Benoit, Nancy Benoit, and Daniel Benoit?

We don't know. None was ever enacted, even though such a program might have the demons that took over Chris Benoit stopped from exploding, resulted in the murder of his wife and son and his own suicide.

To explain, Employee Assistance Programs are commonplace in many major American companies.

Employee Assistance Programs are part of the medical benefits offered by major companies. Typically included are (at minimum) a certain number of sessions without additional costs (beyond any premiums already being paid by the employee) providing assistance with issues relating to mental health, alcohol or drug abuse assessment, family issues, child or elder care, grief counseling and legal or financial services, career planning and retirement

An employer contracts with an outside third party company (there are many) to manage its Employee Assistance Program. As per the Federal HIPPA law, participation in an program managed by an outside party is confidential. This arrangement, as opposed to a self-administered program (which does allow limited access to information by employers) is the only model that would work for professional wrestling; because few if any wrestlers would participate in a program that gave a promoter a chance to pull their push, or evidence to terminate their services.

Forget the fact that we're talking about companies with some form of medical benefits...which doesn;t exist for national wrestling touring companies. TNA claimed to have some sort of program, but won't tell anyone what it consists of, so fans have to assume it doesn't exist unless or until provided proof. Employee Assistance Program. What did happen after 2000? We all know what happened.

Wrestlers kept dying.

Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy: July 16, 2001 (blood clot in the heart); Rhonda Singh: August 2, 2001 (drug overdose); "Gentleman" Chris Adams: October 7, 2001 (shot to death); Alex (Big Dick Dudley) Rizzo: May 16, 2002 (kidney failure); Davey Boy Smith: May 18, 2002 (heart attack); Curt Hennig: February 10, 2003 (acute cocaine intoxication); Michael (Road Warrior Hawk) Hegstrand, October 19, 2003 (heart attack); Mike (Crash Holly) Lockwood, November 6, 2003 (drug overdose/suicide); Jerry (Malice/The Wall) Tuite (December 6, 2003 (heart attack); Chris Candido, April 28, 2005 (blood clot); Eddie Guerrero, November 13, 2005 (heart attack due to years of drug/steroid use); Michael (Johnny Grunge) Durham, February 16, 2006 (drug use and obesity); Scott "Bam Bam" Bigelow, January 19, 2007 (drug use); Mike "Awesome" Alfonso, February 17, 2007 (suicide); Sherri (Martel) Russell; June 15, 2007 (cause unknown); Nancy "Woman" Benoit, June 25, 2007 (strangulation murder), and son Daniel (suffocation murder); Chris Benoit, June 25, 2007 (suicide).

Drug use continued after Eddie Guerrero's death. While WWE instituted a "Wellness Program" and a few mid-level workers, like Nick Dinsmore and Chris Masters, were made examples of and suspended, and the names that were "suspended", like Randy Orton were told to work without pay; little truly changed.

In two notable cases, Randy Orton and Chris masters were openly ridiculed on air for having smaller builds after presumably getting off, however temporarily; whatever growth-enhancing drugs they'd been using.

Needless to say, the true message went out: do what you have to do to have the build we want, just don't get caught. Anyone who thinks wrestlers look like WWE and TNA wrestlers look naturally is out of their minds....even now. The use of growth-enhancing substance goes on...with some wrestlers who make enough money moving on to more expensive and undetectable growth-enhancing substances like HGH, so WWE and TNA can maintain plausible deniability regarding anyone failing the steroid component of a drug test.

WWE clearly won't do anything about this problem.

Until State Athletic Commissions step in and mandate truly independent and truly random testing, or the DEA starts making unannounced visits at live shows, TV tapings, and PPV events; nothing's going to change.

Before I get the inevitable WWE trolls, TNA is no better. It's been suggested that TNA will happily take any of WWE's drug failures and behavioral problems, as long as they have a name. The most notable recent example is Kurt Angle, whose participation in the internet pharmacy ring, including the use of equine steroids; is well-documented by Sports Illustrated.

Until next time...

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