As I've mentioned before on this blog you can always rely on at least one current or former WWE wrestler to run in and make the save for Linda McMahon, excusing her of any culpability in the recent deaths of Umaga, Chris Kanyon, Lance Cade and now Luna Vachon, and defending the independent contractor status of her contracted wrestlers. The New Haven Register found four such wrestlers - Mick Foley, Kane, William Regal and Matt "Doink" Osborne in their piece yesterday entitled "McMahon slammed in death of wrestlers; Blumenthal, others say her firm is at fault".
Firstly, William Regal made the audacious claim that WWE did everything they could to keep Lance Cade's life straight:
"I know for a fact that Lance Cade was put into rehab by the WWE … and they did everything they could to keep his life straight," said Darren Matthews, who wrestles under the name William Regal. "They gave him all the opportunities … and paid for it all."
Matthews said he, too, went into rehab, paid for by the WWE, which then fired him when he relapsed. Later, he was given another chance and rehired, he said.
"The thing is, when you stop making excuses for yourself, you can get on with your life," said Matthews, 42, who lives in Georgia and started professional wrestling in his native England.
I suppose it depends on your definition of straight, as even William "Darren Matthews" Regal, perhaps WWE’s greatest success story in helping turn someone’s life around from GHB junkie to long term sober (for wrestling standards) WWE independent contractor, received stanozolol, somatropin, genotropin, and anastrozole between November 2004 and November 2006 from Signature Pharmacy, resulting in his first WWE suspension in September 2007 when that came out. Then, coinciding with the biggest push he received in years by being crowned the 2008 King of the Ring, he was suspended once again on May 20th 2008 for failing a drug test believed to be for steroids. Surely if WWE did everything they could to keep Darren Matthews’ life straight, then he wouldn’t have felt the pressure to continue abusing steroids to justify his push. More after the jump.
Company spokesman Robert Zimmerman amusingly pointed to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in his defence of WWE:
Zimmerman said WWE should not be blamed. He pointed to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that overdoses from cocaine, heroin and prescription painkillers were second to auto accidents as a cause of "unintentional injury death" in 2007.
Amusing, because even though drug overdoses were second only to auto accidents as a cause of "unintentional injury death" in 2007 the death rate was still less than 10 people per 100,000. You don't even need to crunch the numbers and do a formal statistical hypothesis test to know that the death rate of wrestlers from drug overdoses is significantly higher than the general population.
Zimmerman also falsely claimed that WWE has never terminated anyone while injured:
"This is a company that’s not going to hide behind a contract," Zimmerman said. "If someone is injured we have the option of terminating them, but it’s never been done."
I suppose the dead Andrew Martin doesn't count for some reason because he was fired while still recovering from neck fusion surgery.
Mick Foley claimed that WWE weren't in any way shape or form to blame for Luna Vachon's death given that she had mental health difficulties before being signed by the company:
"Luna had difficulties for a long time, dating well before she joined WWE the first time," Foley said. "She was a beautiful, unique but also very fragile person and I don’t see how WWE can be blamed in any way."
Foley, whose book "Countdown to Lockdown" comes out in October, also works with the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network. He praised the WWE’s wellness policy and defended McMahon, even though the company dropped its drug-testing program between 1996 and 2006, largely because of competition from cable mogul Ted Turner.
"I believe that Mrs. McMahon is singled out because some people don’t care for the type of entertainment that she was involved in."
What Foley ignores is that the wrestling business is dog eat dog and often chews up and spits out the most vulnerable. Steroids, concussions, the pressure of being one of the few women in the business without a model's physique and the paranoia that the business breeds through the disingenuous nature and vindictive whims of bookers everywhere all likely contributed to exacerbating her pre existing bipolar disorder. I also don't see how Linda is being unfairly singled out, given that wrestling had a much worse drug problem than baseball did and had only a fraction of the media scrutiny. Not to mention that negative campaigning is part of the bread and butter of politics, a skill Linda has already ably used herself to put Dick Blumenthal on the back foot before the last couple of ex WWE wrestler deaths occurred. This isn't the year 2000 and the Parents Television Council defaming WWE to cause a media backlash against their TV programming, Mick.
Unsurprisingly libertarian millionaire Glenn "Kane" Jacobs, who has no problem affording health insurance for his whole family and is lucky enough to be a member of the Screen Actors Guild through his WWE film work, selfishly approved of being treated as an independent contractor by the McMahon family:
Glenn "Kane" Jacobs said he had no issue with being an independent contractor, with the opportunity to decide for himself what medical coverage he will buy. "I actually like to know how much money I make," said Jacobs, 43, who is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and had a small part in the "MacGruber" movie.
"One of the things that’s beneficial to me is I live in Tennessee, and I believe that If I was an employee of WWE I would have to pay Connecticut state income taxes." WWE is based in Stamford.
At least for Matt "Doink" Osborne, it seems that WWE sponsored rehab wasn't too little too late like it proved to be for Lance Cade and Luna Vachon, and his words of praise for the company in his case seemed warranted:
Matt Osborne grew up around professional wrestling with his father, "Tough Tony" Osborne, who coincidentally died at 84 on Aug. 27, the day Vachon died.
Matt Osborne, whose first character was Doink the Clown, went to the Menninger Clinic after his career ended, with WWE paying the bill. "After that three months they suggested I go to a step-down program … On top of that they suggested I stay in that environment till I got a year of sobriety under my belt."
Osborne said he took steroids "to have that edge," but said the professional wrestling culture has changed, along with increased testing.
Thankfully, Chris Nowinski and Lance Cade's father, Harley McNaught, were once again on hand to give a more realistic picture of WWE's treatment of their performers:
To McMahon’s opponents, however, the WWE only helps its performers after it first exploits them.
"Lance Cade didn’t die necessarily from what happened to him in 2010," said Chris Nowinski, a former pro wrestler who is co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University. His area of interest is concussion research.
To Nowinski, those like McNaught who got hooked on painkillers because of injuries suffered in the ring do not deserve total blame for their addictions.
"Rational people understand cause and effect, and they didn’t have protections that even football players had or even actors had," he said.
McMahon and her husband Vince didn’t have to allow risky jumps and hits to the head with metal folding chairs, Nowinski said. "We’re talking about a fake show. You could make it as safe as you want."
McNaught’s father, Harley McNaught of San Antonio, calls WWE’s defense of how the company helped his son "bogus."
"I can’t say they’re totally to blame, because obviously he was a big boy and (painkillers) took away his pain," Harley McNaught said. But after he came out of rehab "I had never seen look so good" and the news that he was being released "just ripped his heart out." That might have led Lance to start using again, McNaught said.