If Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Ron “Doom” Simmons, and Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall managed to follow the coverage of Wednesday’s sensational House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing – in which baseball’s Roger Clemens denied that he ever used anabolic steroids or human growth hormone – those three worthies would have had to do so from the rec room of an Atlanta-area rehab facility where they are attempting to kick drug addictions. (Check out Jake the Snake’s message on his MySpace page.)
The rehab tabs of Roberts, Simmons, and Hall are being footed by World Wrestling Entertainment. This is part of the fallout of WWE’s finding itself in the crosshairs of two Congressional committees following the June 2007 double-murder-suicide of star wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy, and their son Daniel.
Over the last decade “an inordinate number of wrestlers have passed away,” said a September letter to all former talent from WWE honcho Vince McMahon, a 62-year-old slab of beefcake himself, who is not otherwise known for understatement. (In late December I started counting pro wrestler deaths under age 50 in 2007, and stopped at 21. Dave Meltzer, publisher of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, toted up 62 young deaths of wrestlers on the rosters of “major league” organizations in the ’97-’07 period.)
As part of a WWE campaign to keep Congress from lowering the investigative boom, McMahon offered to pay for any former company wrestler’s substance-abuse program. Out of the goodness of his heart, of course.
A fourth wrestler has also taken McMahon up on it: Sean Waltman. This week, from rehab, Waltman denied a report in a radio interview by another wrestler, Juventud Guerrera, that Waltman recently attempted suicide. Au contraire, the erstwhile “1-2-3 Kid” and “X-Pac”said; he just had a bad reaction from mixing alcohol with antidepressants. “I wasn’t doing any hard drug or anything like that,” Waltman told James Caldwell of Pro Wrestling Torch.
Last year your correspondent got clotheslined for bad taste, or worse, in much of the fan blogosphere for reporting a rumor that one of WWE’s current top stars, Randy Orton, had attempted suicide in 2006. The incident is relevant because it sheds light on the company’s Wellness Policy – “sports entertainment”-speak for drug testing.
The policy itself couldn’t be said to be all that healthy after Chris Benoit was found to have strangled his wife with a cord, killed their seven-year-old son with a version of his “Crippler Crossface” hold, and suspended himself by the neck from a home-gym pulley. Two months earlier Benoit had passed his Wellness Policy test at a time when, we now know, a doctor to the stars by the name of Phil Astin, now under federal indictment, was prescribing him a ten-month supply of steroids every three to four weeks.
My Orton report was as accurate as, or more so than, Guerrera’s on Waltman, for I had the both the name of the suburban St. Louis hospital where Orton had been rushed and the information that WWE had been concerned enough about the episode at the time to conduct its own investigation. That WWE apparently concluded that Orton only accidentally almost killed himself should be taken with a few thimblefuls of sodium chloride, inasmuch as Orton (along with Benoit, numerous other WWE performers, and some baseball and football names) would turn up in records of orders of banned substances from the Internet gray-market dealer Signature Pharmacy. But Orton, curiously, was not disciplined, while fellow wrestlers in the dragnet of the district attorney in Albany, New York, got thrown under the proverbial autobus.
The lesson for the Roger Clemens-Brian McNamee showdown is a tenet of postmodernism; and that tenet, in turn, is one of the engines of late-empire America. You can’t legislate irony. In polite company, it will always be more respectable to discuss whether Clemens set fake records in a real sport than to ponder a pandemic of avoidable real deaths in a fake sport.
I’m glad Roberts, Simmons, Hall, and Waltman are trying to clean themselves up with the help of WWE (a publicly traded company, which just reported profits of $21.5 million, on gross revenues of $132.6 million, for the fourth quarter of last year). However, I haven’t given up on the possibility that Congressman Henry Waxman and his committee will return their focus to the unregulated, out-of-control industry that showed the way for Roger Clemens and the Mitchell Report generation. Call it the audacity of hope.
Irvin Muchnick is the author of Wrestling Babylon, co-author of Benoit, and at work on a book about the Benoit murder-suicide. He was interviewed on “A Fight to the Death,” a documentary about Benoit on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “the fifth estate,” which can be streamed at http://cbc.ca/fifth.