WWE makes controversial changes to their Wellness Policy

Randy Orton presumably loves the recent changes made to the WWE Wellness Policy - Gallo Images

In July, WWE quietly changed its Wellness Policy to allow Therapeutic Use Exceptions for banned substances and introduced a redemption program that would enable performers who have violated the policy twice to get one of their two strikes removed.

In news that was only discovered by chance last week by Stephen Fernades of PWInsider.com, WWE made some controversial changes to their Wellness Policy in July.

The first change is that WWE talent may request a Therapeutic Use Exception (TUE) for substances banned under the policy if (i) it is needed for a legitimate medical purpose and a prescription for its usage has been obtained from their doctor, (ii) the use of the drug is required for more than 60 days, (iii) the medical need for the prescription and for the prescribed dosage is documented in accordance with standards and practices commonly accepted within the United States medical community; and (iv) the medical need is confirmed by WWE's Medical Director, Dr. Joseph Maroon.

Other key points about WWE's new policy on TUEs:

  • Maroon has the power to make WWE talent see other physicians and make them undergo further medical testing to prove their need for a TUE.
  • The continuing need for any TUE granted by Maroon will be reviewed on a yearly basis.
  • A urine sample which is found to contain a prohibited drug will not be deemed to be a positive test result if it was provided by a WWE performer with an approved TUE for that prohibited drug.

The change is controversial as WWE's original Wellness Policy unofficially allowed TUEs for testosterone from soon after its inception in February 2006 until their practices were investigated by the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform following Chris Benoit's double murder suicide. Although many WWE performers at the time may have legitimately required such a TUE by damaging their endocrine system through prior steroid usage, the belief is that several wrestlers like Benoit abused their TUE by taking more testosterone than they needed for bodybuilding purposes. Indeed, Dr. Tracy Ray, their WWE's medical review officer, frankly admitted to Congressional staffers that: "There's still shadiness in almost every case that I've reviewed".

That said, it's hard to criticise the new policy on TUEs if they follow it to the word and rigorously ensure that anyone granted a TUE for medical purposes isn't abusing their prescription. In the case of testosterone, hopefully any talent given a TUE would have to submit to regular blood testing to ensure that the levels of testosterone in their body is at normal levels to prove that such abuse isn't happening.

One wonders whether this reform has been prompted by the proliferation of TUEs for testosterone that have been granted by UFC and state athletic commissions in the past few years. The fact that their main combat sports competitor on pay-per-view has no problem with their top fighters like Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Dan Henderson, Frank Mir and Rampage Jackson (before he left for Bellator) being given such TUEs surely can't have escaped everyone's notice inside WWE?

The second major change to the WWE Wellness Policy is that a performer who has violated the policy twice may enter a redemption program to get one of their two strikes removed, which it would behoove them to enter as a third violation would mean automatic termination of their WWE contract.

Successful completion of the redemption program would require (i) undergoing an initial assessment by Dr. Joseph Maroon (or a specialist he refers them to) to analyse their addiction and health problems in order to develop treatments, therapies and/or support programs that may assist them in managing their issues, (ii) compliance with the assessment recommendations made during the initial diagnosis for the duration of the 18 month program, (iii) submitting to mandatory unannounced follow-up testing for those 18 months, and (iv) no further Wellness Policy violations during this time.

I don't really have a problem with this amendment, as the focus of the program should be on the health and wellbeing of the WWE performers, rather than a blunt tool to punish them with. Giving them an incentive to go on a treatment plan to get better and help them resist future temptations is a positive in my book, and having instant dismissal hanging over your head for the remainder of your career seems a bit harsh if you prove to be clean for a significant amount of time.

The list of wrestlers who have committed two Wellness Policy violations is small: Randy OrtonRey MysterioEvan Bourne, Jeff Hardy, Booker T, William Regal, Chris Masters and the late Umaga. It's interesting to note that Orton's renewed main event push directly coincided with the implementation of this policy change and perhaps suggests that it was written with him in mind.

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